D.C. Drops Speed Limit to 20 MPH On Local Roads to Combat Reckless Driving

June 1, 2020 by Gaspard Le Dem

WASHINGTON – District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser announced on Friday that the default speed limit on local D.C. roads will be lowered from 25 to 20 mph.

The decision to lower the speed limit was prompted by an uptick in speeding on D.C. roads during the coronavirus pandemic, Bowser said. The changes are permanent and will go into effect on June 1.

“One thing that we have for sure learned with less traffic on the streets is that people are driving faster,” Bowser said during a press briefing. “And we see it all over.”

The announcement comes as the District enters the first phase of its reopening plan, which will allow a select number of businesses — including barber shops and restaurants — to resume operations while observing new social distancing guidelines.

Lowering the speed limit — even by 5 mph — will keep D.C. residents safe, Bowser said. “While it may seem like a small change, we know that surviving accidents is strongly correlated to speed,” she said. Last year, the District reduced the speed limit near schools and recreation centers to 15 mph.

Bowser also unveiled a new “Slow Streets” initiative that will restrict some areas with heavy foot and bicycle traffic to local car traffic only, while lowering the speed limit on those roads to 15 mph.

The District Department of Transportation has already been exploring ways to give residents more room to practice social distancing during the pandemic, like extending sidewalks near grocery stores and other businesses.

Many U.S. cities have adopted “Open Streets” plans to facilitate social distancing in public. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has opened 43 miles of roadways to cyclists and pedestrians. In Oregon, Portland has “repurposed” roughly 100 miles of neighborhood streets for pedestrians. 

Meanwhile, Kansas City has launched an initiative that allows residents to apply for a permit to temporarily close neighborhood streets to through traffic. 

Though coronavirus-related shutdowns have eased traffic conditions across the nation, a number of cities have seen a surge in speeding and reckless driving. Despite an 80% drop in congestion in Washington D.C., speeding violations for going 21-25 mph over the limit were up by 40% in April, according to a study by Forbes.

In many states, highway safety officials have reported severe spikes in speeding, with some noting a significant increase in vehicles going faster than 100 mph, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

The District has recently been cracking down on speeding and aggressive driving after a sharp increase in traffic fatalities in 2018. The District handed out nearly 3 million traffic tickets to motorists during fiscal year 2019, shattering records for previous years, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

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