Why Texas Cities Need Lower Speed Limits for Safe Neighborhood Streets


I’ve spent part of every week for the last three years researching, experimenting, and advocating for allowing Texas cities more leeway to design safer neighborhood streets. This legislative session, there are three different safe neighborhood streets bills in the Texas House and Senate — and a real breakthrough is within reach.

Together these bills would reset the default speed limit on residential streets from 30 to 25 mph, and make it easier for cities to try out 20 mph streets as well.

All over Texas, there are fortunate neighborhoods that enjoy the benefits of 25 mph neighborhood streets. We’ve all experienced them. But cities are only allowed to deploy these lower speed limits where they have conducted a study to show it is needed for safety, placed signs on both ends of the block, and have the capability to manage the cumbersome reporting requirements.

To me, allowing cities to respond to neighborhoods desperate for safer streets is an obvious good policy choice. But why do we have to lower the speed limit to make streets safe? Isn’t this just a trap to write more tickets?

These are legitimate concerns. Thus, I support changing the design of streets to match the speed limits we desire. And this is why I was so happy when someone recently sent me this section of the TXDOT Procedures for Establishing Speed Zones. I knew this was the conceptual basis of all of my work, but had never found it documented in writing by the state of Texas:

New or reconstructed roadways (and roadway sections) should be designed to accommodate operating speeds consistent with the roadway’s highest anticipated posted speed limit based on the roadway’s initial or ultimate function.

These 31 words are the reason every Texas legislator can embrace the safe neighborhood streets bills. This is why we must allow our cities to use 20 mph speed limits on residential streets. To whatever extent the legislature limits the ability of cities to set lower speed limits, they are limiting the ability of Texas engineers to design for safer driving speeds.

Texas has the best engineers in the world. We’ve built more bridges than any other state. We built the Astrodome. We’ve been to the moon, walked on it, and come back home.

And our engineers know how to follow instructions.

We keep building new streets all across Texas, and our engineers keep following the instructions of these 31 words. They know that the default speed limit for residential neighborhood streets is 30 mph, so they design the streets to accommodate a minimum of driving speeds of 30 mph.

In fact, many cities, counties, and TXDOT often ask their engineers to design streets and roads to accommodate speeds well above the speed limit, which the agency considers good practice because it purportedly leads to road designs that can handle the bad apples who are going to drive too fast. Yet designing roads for high speeds also leads the typical driver to go faster. That’s why the City of Houston ended the practice of designing all roads for high speeds with a 2015 change to its Infrastructure Design Manual that instructs engineers to design for the posted speed limit.

Houston’s policy change was an improvement step, but it’s not enough. When a driver traveling at 30 mph hits someone, that person has a 60 percent chance of survival. But at 20 mph, the survival rate is 95 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Texas is suffering from an epidemic of traffic deaths, with more fatalities than any other state in the nation. We must empower the smartest engineers in the world with the ability to design neighborhood streets for driving speeds that won’t kill people. Twenty mph is plenty for our neighborhood streets.

Texas legislators face many moral choices this spring. A yes vote for SB 2103 and HB 1368 / SB 1244 is one of easy moral choices they can make to reduce the toll of traffic deaths and serious injuries across our state.

  • That 10 MPH is incredibly deadly. At 30 MPH literally half of cyclists and pedestrians hit by cars die within 30 days, but at 20 MPH only about 5% will die. That is literally a 1000% increase in lethality for 10 MPH. Even looking at it as a percentage of change in speed that’s 1000% more lethal for a 50% increase in speed, or going the other direction a 90% reduction in fatalities for a 33% reduction in speed.

  • Jeff

    How many extra deaths from stress-related causes will result from all the frustration involved in not being able to get anywhere fast? Add to this all the various “traffic-calming” measures currently in vogue. If you’re out of milk while cooking, then going to Braum’s or Tom Thumb should not require a journey like the Iliad and the Odyssey. Plus, all that extra idling and waiting at intersections is bound to increase pollution.

    People should be encouraged to walk and take public transport, but annoying, harrying, and frustrating drivers should not be the part of the “encouragement.”

  • Ronald Viscon (RestaVista)

    It’s so sad to hear or listing any accident news on the media. It’s unfortunate that some people died. http://www.daisylimo.com Travel and Transportation need more regulation when it comes to today’s world. We need better roads, better signs and use more technology.

  • Lord Andrew of Turner, Esq.

    Most neighborhoods in central Texas don’t have any posted speed limits. 30 MPH is incredibly fast though a neighborhood, and most people are going a lot faster than 30 (how often are they going to get caught–police don’t tend to patrol low-crime residential areas. or sit near corners to catch speeders. I usually drive 25 through the neighborhood, and people will pass me–I often see residents speed down their own streets, barrel into their driveways, and then take their time getting out and going inside, no hurry at all.

  • Classax

    Uhggg. Out of towners moving in from the north and north east where the speed limits are only 55 and 20mph in their tiny neighbor hoods that feature no side walks or bike paths. Stop it already. Texas has had 30mph residential speed limits for decades. Do you really want peak hour school zone limits in every neighborhood? In a place like Ohio where you can drive across the state in two hours at 55 and the neighborhood streets are only a quarter mile long I suppose that is fine, but here in Texas our average neighborhood street is just over a mile long. Not only do we have extra wide side walks and bike paths but the law requires they be used when present by cyclist and pedestrians respectively. The author confuses the idea of safety and risk. The reasons why pedestrians or cyclist are hit by vehicles can/will not fundamentally change with the lowering of speed limits, at best only the potential for severity of any injuries may be marginally reduced. I don’t hear anyone arguing for 15mph school zones where their is extremely high risk of pedestrian vehicle interaction yet 30 mph in areas designated by engineers to have negligible risk is too fast. You’re not in Kansas, Akron, Cleveland, Buffalo, Philly or Chicago any more so leave the failed policies of those cities where you employed them, and start adhering to what was clearly working well before you got here.

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  • Sweetpea

    I live in Cypress, TX northwest outside of Houston. The speed limit here is 40mph to 45mph on busy residential streets with businesses. It would be fine if people drove the speed limit here but they drive like 50 – 60 mph. It’s not an isolated little town anymore there’s a lot more homes and businesses. I really wish they would lower the speed limit here. We have been having a lot of accidents lately. I think 35 mph would be great. At night there’s a lot of racing going on. We don’t have cops here making sure people stick to the speed limit. People drive on the streets as if they were driving on a highway. Yesterday there was a terrible accident. A really high speed limit and aggressive drivers is not a good combination.



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