A proposal to drop the speed limit to 20 miles per hour on Rochester’s residential streets had some elected officials wanting to step on the brakes.
“I came into this thinking this was about 25 (mph),” said Rochester City Council member Patrick Keane. “This was the first time I’ve heard of 20.”
The 20-mph proposal was the result of a speed-limit evaluation conducted after new state rules opened a path for cities to set their own speed limits.
In October, a speed-limit discussion centered around dropping residential limits from 30 mph to 25 mph and putting the authority to change speed limits in the hands of the city engineer.
On Monday, City Engineer Dillon Dombrovski said the recommendation landed at 20 mph.
“This is truly about safety, and that’s why we are here today,” he said. “It’s about making safer streets.”
Rochester Mayor Kim Norton, who lobbied the Minnesota Legislature for last year’s rule change, voiced disappointment in the proposal.
“I have to say that I’m concerned with the assumption of 20 and would be far more comfortable with 25 as a starting place,” she said, adding that she feels strongly about making smaller changes.
City Council President Randy Staver said he’s not specifically opposed to lowering speed limits to a 20-mph base, but he said more public input is needed before making a citywide change.
“I would wager the vast majority of the public has no clue about this,” he said, suggesting a public hearing be planned.
Dombrovski predicted a hearing could end up focusing on driver preference rather than safety, citing statistics that a 20-mph limit would reduce chances of death or severe injury for pedestrians.
Council member Michael Wojcik said he believes the proposal addresses neighborhood concerns about speeds on residential streets.
“It is a small step we can take that I think is incredibly popular with people that are frustrated with speeding in their neighborhoods,” he said.
Council member Shaun Palmer said he doubts the proposed change would actually reduce speed, since current limits are routinely violated, based on the number of calls the city receives.
Dombrovski said it won’t create an immediate change, but it will inform future road design and raise awareness throughout the city.
After nearly an hour of discussion, the council moved forward with putting oversight of speed limits in the city engineer’s hands, but it stopped short of endorsing the plan for 20-mph limits, opting instead for a public hearing and review of the planned speed-limit policy.
Staver said he doesn’t anticipate the policy presented at the hearing will change from what was seen Monday.
“Clearly, in the presentation materials, the city engineer has stated their desired direction,” he said. “In fact, he’s passionate about it.”
While the proposed policy would set 20 mph as the base speed for approximately 345 miles of residential limits, other streets would be evaluated for different speed limits based on use.
Sam Budzyna, Rochester’s traffic and parking manager, has said the state rules call for changes to be clear and consistent. As a result, streets with limits above or below the base limit would need to be clearly marked.
If the plan, or an alternative, is approved, Dombrovski said it will take time to determine the appropriate speed limits for more heavily traveled streets.
“It’s not all going to happen at once,” he said.
Staver said the goals and process should be clearly defined when the issue returns to the council.
“Clearly, we still have some confusion,” the council president said. “Some people are thinking 20, and some 25. This has been probably more painful than it needed to be.”