Survey results in speed limit changes

Survey results in  speed limit changesBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The Ridgecrest City Council approved an engineering and traffic survey report on Wednesday that will result in changes – mostly increases – to some speed limits around town.

Public Works Director Bard Lower presented the information to council during its regular meeting. The speed study was just the first portion of “a very extensive scope of work,” said Lower. That work includes street widening and realignment, traffic signal and intersection evaluations, bike paths, crosswalks and more.

According to Lower, speed limits must be validated by a speed study in order for law enforcement to use radar to assist in writing speeding tickets. The practice is supposed to prevent law-enforcement agencies from setting up speed traps where the majority of traffic travels faster than the speed limit.

The most controversial change is on the residential portion of Norma Street – from Las Flores Avenue to Ridgecrest Boulevard – where the speed limit is being increased to 35 miles per hour.

“I’m not sure the residents along there are going to be very happy about this,” said Councilmember Mike Mower.

Residents expressed worries in 2014 when the speed limit on that stretch of Norma was increased from 25 to 30. Members of the public appear concerned that increasing it even further will be more dangerous.

Speed limits are determined using the “85th-percentile” rule, said Lower. Speed limits are determined at or below – but not too far below – the speed at which 85 percent of the traffic travels. According to the survey, the average speed on the discussed section of Norma is 39 miles per hour in either direction.

Typically these results would place the speed limit at 40 miles per hour, but the city is given a discretionary five-mile-per-hour margin. According to Lower, the roadway would have to be narrowed to two lanes in order to be declared a strictly residential area – the only circumstance where the speed limit could be returned to 25 miles per hour without law-enforcement concerns.

“Council can say, ‘No, we’re not going to change those [speed limits],’” said Lower. “But the consequences on those roads is that you can no longer use radar to enforce the speed limit.”

“People are already speeding on that road,” said City Manager Ron Strand. “It all boils down to if it is raised to 35, the police department can go out and write tickets.”

Strand explained that the city could chose to maintain the current speed limit and just use “bumper pacing” to track motorist speed.

But even then, speeders could use the speed survey as justification for their speed and avoid paying tickets.

Council unanimously approved the survey and alterations.

Other changes included China Lake Boulevard from Upjohn Avenue to College Heights Boulevard (from 35-45 to 40) and from College Heights Boulevard to Downs Street (45-55 to 50), College Heights Boulevard from Franklin Avenue to the southern end (50 to 55), Drummond Avenue from Mahan Street to Downs Avenue (35 to 40) and French Avenue from Drummond Avenue to China Lake Boulevard (40 to 45).

Story First Published: 2019-04-05