Letter: 20 is Plenty

In The Slowdown Everyone Wants (Jan. 21), I noted that Beacon’s Main Street Access Committee, which I chair, has pushed for a speed limit of 20 mph on Main Street and the two blocks on either side of Main.

The worldwide “20’s Plenty for Us” campaign (20splenty.org) — endorsed by the United Nations — is making great strides. For example, Wales is on course to implement a 20 mph (30 km/h) baseline for residential roads, and Portland, Oregon, has moved to 20 mph in residential areas. In that case, getting drivers to follow the new speed limits hasn’t been easy. A study found that, on average, drivers reduced their speed only by 1.4 mph, and police found it hard to enforce the law. But the number of cars driving more than 30 mph went down by about a third.

It may take years to make a dent in drivers’ behavior. And it may require traffic cameras at every intersection.

The design of the streets, which were created for the efficient flow of cars, not pedestrians, may need an upgrade, as well. The sidewalk bump-outs on Main Street in Beacon are part of that needed redesign, but we need more traffic-calming such as raised crosswalks at intersections and extended signal timing to allow pedestrians to cross at busy intersections with all cars in all directions stopped.

It’s important to remember the difference between 20 mph and 25 mph: Studies have found the average 30-year-old pedestrian struck by a driver traveling 20 miles per hour has about a 93 percent chance of survival; at 25 miles per hour, those odds plummet to 75 percent, and they only get worse from there.

There is one last factor in street safety that can’t be counteracted by speed regulations or redesigns: The shift from sedans and compact cars to SUVs and trucks has been linked by the Governors Highway Safety Association to increased fatalities. In 2019, 8,800 pedestrians were killed in the U.S., a 45 percent increase from a decade earlier.

Working to get those tank-sized behemoths off residential streets with regulations will take a long time. Lowering speed limits is just the first step in a multistep process to make the streets safer, but a necessary first step.

Stowe Boyd, Beacon

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