Study could lower speed limits, reduce deaths, on Atlanta streets

UPDATE: Atlanta City Council passed the  legislation at its Sept. 16 meeting.

ORIGINAL STORY: Following several pedestrian and scooter-related deaths and injuries this summer, Atlanta City Council's transportation committee requested the city planning department conduct a study evaluating the city's speed limits in an effort to make them and the city's streets safer for residents.

Councilman Andre Dickens presented the legislation at Wednesday’s committee meeting after he said residents suggested lower speed limits to make streets safer for bicyclists, pedestrians and scooter riders. The legislation also comes three weeks after the city held a mobility town hall to discuss transportation issues in the city. Dickens serves as chair of the transportation committee, which unanimously approved the legislation.

“We’ve had a lot of discussions that came out of that (town hall) meeting that said let’s not just look at scooters, bicycles, and pedestrians,” Dickens told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We need to look at cars on the road, too, to just see if the speed limit is appropriate in the areas where we’re having incidents, injuries, and fatalities.”

If the Atlanta City Council approves the legislation at Monday’s meeting, the city department would have 60 days to conduct the study and present its findings to the transportation committee.


Dickens said the study would also examine if the city should add more sidewalks or lighting in areas that don’t have them to prevent crashes. That could also mean installing automated speed enforcement devices such as speed cameras that track a car’s speed.

More than 40 U.S. cities have changed their speed limits as part of the international Vision Zero campaign, which aims to eliminate traffic fatalities and injuries through safer street designs. Atlanta is not a Vision Zero city, but it plans to include the same principals as part of its transportation plan.

Atlanta Bicycle Coalition executive director Rebecca Serna said she’s advocated for reducing speed limits and thinks the study is a step in the right direction. She’s hoping speeds will be reduced.

"If we can slow down cars, we can save lives," Serna said pointing to a 2013 study by Health Resources in Action, a Boston-based organization focused on public health and medical research.

According to the study, a pedestrian’s risk of death lowers if the speed limit is decreased. A pedestrian has a 6% chance of death if the speed limit is 20 mph as opposed to 45 mph, which increases the risk of death by 65%. Serna admitted until recently she didn’t think speed limits mattered until she saw the statistics.

“We’re improving people’s odds of surviving if they are in a crash,” she said.

Dickens doesn’t anticipate the study will firmly say the city must decrease its speed limit.

“It’s an overall complex solution we’re looking for, but it’s the start of the conversation,” Dickens said of the study.


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