Setting the Pace – How Speed Limits are Determined
by Alaina Sullivan
Speed limits are a necessity when it comes to safety on the road, whether you disagree, consider them to be an annoyance or have no opinion. Increased development and safety concerns have brought about some recent changes in speed limits in Greenwood. The City Council lowered speed limits despite results from engineering studies.
Recently the City of Greenwood contacted City Engineer Mark Richards to look at Honey Creek and Sheek Roads for speed adjustments.
Requests to lower a speed limit to less than 25 mph or raise it over 30 mph require an engineering study to determine the “speed distribution of free-flowing vehicles.” If the data supports an adjustment, this change must be approved by the City Council or by the County Commissioners if outside of a town or city.
Richards’s official recommendation to the Council was to increase the speed limit on Honey Creek Road between Curry Road and Demaree Road from 30 to 40 mph. Richards did not recommend a speed change on Sheek Road.
“The speed data collected from various locations along Honey Creek Road supported a speed limit as high as 45 mph for the section north of Demaree Road and 50 mph south of Demaree, but there are also mitigating factors that caused me to adjust my recommendation to set the speed limit at 40 mph,” said Richards. “I considered width of pavement, pavement condition and sight distance in the adjustment.”
The Council later requested a study of south of Demaree which resulted in the speed limit decreasing from 45 to 40 mph north of Whiteland Road.
Council members expressed concern for pedestrians and requested the speed limit be set at 30 mph, saying an increased speed limit would increase the risk of harm to pedestrians and drivers. While any accident between a vehicle and pedestrian is severe, says Richards, the outcome of an accident at 30 mph or 40-45 mph will not be significantly different. “It will be far more effective from a safety standpoint for drivers to avoid distracted driving and obey traffic laws,” said Richards.
Speed limit reductions are almost automatic when it comes to school zones. However, enforcing speeds at a school zone is not always an easy task.
School zones can be on time of day, by flashing lights or by the vague guidelines of “When Children Present.”
According to Colonel Randy Werden of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, the last option is what leads to confusion. “Children present” can be interpreted to mean more than when children are in school. It is to the discretion of the police officer, but most err on the side of caution. After-school activities are until 5 pm or even on weekends. If that is the case, residents can argue their ticket before the judge, but it is likely the judge will consider “children present.”
“When there is a large amount of kids at a school, officers consider it a school zone,” said Werden. “Every school has different hours which makes it tough to enforce.” With so many schools changing to the balanced calendar or year-round school, the rules are not so clear, says Werden. As of 2012, schools running on a balanced calendar must mark this fact on school zone signage.
Requests for new stop signs are the most frequent requests made to control traffic, said Richards, which also require studies and approval. However, federal guidelines state that stop signs are not to be used for speed control.
To request speed limit adjustments in Johnson County, contact the Johnson County Highway Department at 317-346-4630 or talk to the Commissioner who represents your district.
In Greenwood, submit a resident request at greenwood.in.gov by clicking on “Contact Us” at the top right side of the page or talk to your City Council representative.
In Franklin, contact the Planning and Engineering Department at 317-736-3631.
Alaina Sullivan is an attorney and freelance writer in Indiana. She focuses her legal work on providing free legal services to those who cannot afford an attorney and is passionate in writing about legal issues and news in the non-profit industry.