A couple of years ago, voters approved two new local option laws pertaining to local speed limits. The first allows a municipality to set a standard speed limit of 25 mph in thickly settled areas or business districts. The other allows us to establish safety zones of 20 mph adjacent to certain land uses.
Without these two local option laws, towns are required to use the statutory speed limits established by state law (20 mph in school zones; 30 mph for thickly settled areas; 45 mph for rural roads) or, after completing an engineering study that identifies the 85th percentile speed, petition the state for a special speed regulation that differs from the statutory speeds. Recently, the state has clarified how these existing laws interface with the new local option laws.
The Town has undertaken engineering studies on a handful of roads over the past few decades and has some regulatory speed limits on the books. Where these are higher than the across-the-board 25-mph designation, a request to rescind the special regulation must be made to the state.
After Town Meeting approval of the two local option speed limit laws, the Selectmen moved forward with establishing the lower speed limits. The recommendations from the Bike and Pedestrian Committee and the Downtown Improvement Committee were followed, creating a town-wide speed limit of 25 mph for all roads unless otherwise posted and creating a safety zone that extends out from the train station in a one-mile radius.
In light of clarification from the state and from driver feedback, it has become evident that additional fine-tuning of these new speed limits is needed. For example, the outer ends of School Street and Pine Street do not qualify as “thickly settled” (defined by the statutes as a house every 200 feet). 25 mph is likely too low of a speed for these sections of roadway. And speed zones are designed for certain adjacent land uses. Specifically, the state guidelines note that safety zones are “intended to be used in areas where vulnerable road users are likely to be present, such as parks and playgrounds, senior citizen housing and centers, hospitals or other medical facilities, high schools and higher education centers, and daycare facilities.” 20 mph school zones should be used around elementary schools.
Thus, the Board of Selectmen are asking that the two committees, police and fire personnel, staff from the Department of Public Works and interested citizens convene in a public working session to review our current speed postings in light of these additional details and present a new set of recommendations to the Selectmen. The Board will hold a public hearing to receive the recommendations, take public comment, and make final decisions on refining the posting of speed limits in town. These efforts will be undertaken over the next couple of months.