Friday, April 6, 2012

Cities speed-trapped themselves

For 15 years, Idaho cities were entitled to set speeds on state highways that passed through their towns. Some cities abused that power by extending slow speed zones to unnecessary lengths, and the Legislature wasted no time in taking it away from them this year.

Legislators called the change an "anti-speed trap" measure.

Rural cities like Carey, as just one example, lowered the 65 mph speed limit to 55 mph on state Highway 20 for miles outside the inhabited parts of town. Regular travelers on that stretch, which included southeastern Idaho legislators who used the highway on trips to Boise, chafed at the slow-down.

The stretch may have produced more scofflaws per mile than any highway in the state. With little but hay fields, pastures and wetlands on either side, it was excruciating to drive at the posted limit.

The cities of Bellevue and Hailey insisted on 25 mph from one end of town to the other—even as they allowed development to creep north, which made the trek through the towns snail-like.

Even so, the legislators who voted overwhelmingly to return the power to set speed limits to the Idaho Transportation Department failed to consider that slower speed limits through communities offer pedestrians trying to cross wide state highways a greater measure of safety.

It's not easy to get across a five-lane crosswalk before the control signal starts flashing a warning.

To keep low speed limits, cities will now have to get the ITD to agree and speeds will have to be based on traffic studies, not community sentiment. If the cities disagree, the ITD's determination will prevail.

Start your engines.

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