A majority of the Rochester City Council appear ready to take local control of setting residential speed limits in the city, but some members questioned whether official action would be enough.

“If we drop it to 25 mph, nobody is going to drop (actual travel speeds) to that,” Council Member Shaun Palmer said Monday, pointing to specific streets where drivers feel safe at higher speeds.

Rochester City Engineer Dillon Dombrovski said such circumstances highlight problems seen in many parts of the community, especially on residential streets established when wider streets were in fashion.

“The former street designs make people feel like they can drive faster,” he said, noting the city has started making design changes to calm traffic speeds.

At the same time, he noted a combination of design changes and reduced speed limits could help reduce the potential for crashes and injuries.

Sam Budzyna, Rochester’s traffic and parking manager, said the City Council has choices regarding how it decides to adjust speed limits, or whether it makes changes at all.

“What we’d like to get is some direction on the policy,” he told the council Monday.

State statute sets most residential speed limits at 30 mph, but new rules allow cities to lower speed restrictions for residential streets that primarily serve neighborhoods. Streets that serve to get vehicles through the city or connect directly to busier streets wouldn’t be changed.

To change the speed limits, cities must develop procedures based on safety, engineering and traffic analysis. The process for implementing any change must be clear and consistent.

However, Budzyna noted the definition of consistent isn’t defined in the new state law.

With 345 miles of local streets that could fall under the category of residential streets, Budzyna said a wholesale change could be daunting since state rules would require posting speed-limit signs at each end of each affected street.

“It’s not a very useful policy for us,” he said. “It’s a lot of signs.”

In discussing the 2020 city budget, council members have considered earmarking $50,000 for new speed limit signs.

Council President Randy Staver said he’d prefer to start with a deeper dive into options for taking over the authority for speed limits, noting any decision will likely produce pushback in the community.

“Speed limits, in and of themselves, are not going to solve all our problems,” he said, adding that he’s unsure of how such decisions should be made.

Most council members indicated they’d support moving forward.

“I lobbied for giving the city the authority to do that,” Council Member Mark Bilderback said.

Public Works Director Chris Petree said a decision on the city assuming authority over speed limits could be made by the council as early as its Nov. 18 meeting.

If approved, he said, future decisions will set specific policies that could lead to changes.

Petree noted policy options are wide-ranging if the council eventually approves taking control of local speed limits.

“We can take the same exact approach (the Minnesota Department of Transportation) does,” he said, adding that other potential changes could lower limits in a variety of ways.

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