Summit County can’t change its speed limits, but a new bill could change that
February 23, 2018
Brooks Mulica, a 6-year-old Dillon Valley resident, was at the State Capitol on Thursday with a simple message for lawmakers.
"I'm sad because I can't ride my bike because the cars go too fast," he told members of the House Transportation and Energy Committee during an afternoon hearing.
Mulica and his mother Emily were part of a retinue of Summit County residents and officials asking their representatives to support a bill that would give county governments more freedom to change speed limits.
Currently, most county governments have to jump through a more complex series of hoops to change speed limits than municipal governments do. In practice, that means counties can very rarely set speed limits lower than 30 miles per hour, even in dense residential areas near schools. In urbanizing Summit County, that has become problematic in communities like Dillon Valley and Summit Cove.
House Bill 1191, which passed out of committee on a 9-3 vote Thursday, would allow counties to consider factors like road character and pedestrian traffic when setting speed limits.
"This adds flexibility for local governments," said Rep. Faith Winter, the bill's main sponsor. "It's a good local control bill and a good public safety bill."
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HB 1191 will now advance to a full House vote. If it passes, it would continue on to the Senate.
"We want some additional criteria that we can look at and consider when determining what kind of speed is appropriate on county roads," said County Commissioner Thomas Davidson, reached by phone Friday.
Davidson testified in favor of the bill during Thursday's hearing. Like many Summit residents, he lives in an unincorporated area where the 30 mph speed limit doesn't fit with the neighborhood character. Recently, someone used spray paint to change a speed limit sign to 20 mph.
"We just need the ability to respond to folks who are saying, 'This is our neighborhood and we want a speed limit that is fitting with our neighborhood,'" Davidson told the committee. "I need some way to respond to my constituents who are going out there changing the speed limits with spray paint."
As Summit County has grown, unincorporated areas governed by the county have become much more like towns than rural hinterlands. Areas like Summit Cove and Dillon Valley haven't fully adapted to the change, remaining unsafe to walk or bike through.
"Where we live, it doesn't feel like a rural neighborhood," Emily Mulica told the committee. "We just happen to be unincorporated. And the 30 mph speed limit is quite incongruous with it. I'm not a helicopter mom, but right now I really don't feel comfortable letting my kids ride their bikes to school."
Mulica is the founder of Walkable Dillon Valley, a citizens group aiming to make neighborhoods safer for pedestrians and cyclists. In December, she took a group of Girl Scouts and a petition with more than 100 signatures to the Board of County Commissioners asking them to do something about high speeds in county neighborhoods.
Unlike town governments, however, the county is bound by a state law requiring it to conduct a lengthy traffic study before changing speed limits, which must be in line with the speed that 85 percent of drivers are found to travel at on that road. Sometimes, that speed might be even higher than 30 mph.
"For unincorporated parts of the county we're required to go through an extensive traffic analysis before we can have a speed set other than 30 miles an hour, and in many cases after spending all of that money (on a study) you may not end up with a result that the community actually wants," Davidson explained.
If that's the case, the county's only option would be making physical changes to the road that would slow people down. If HB 1191 passed, however, the county could look at other factors that might outweigh the findings of the traffic study.
"Speed studies tend to always indicate higher speed limits when often citizens and local governments are looking for a way to lower the speed limit," Rep. Winter said. "This would let them take into account what's around, who's on road, are there sidewalks, are there parks, are there schools and things like that. So this adds flexibility for local governments. It's a good local control bill and a good public safety bill."
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