Municipal Modernization Bill Allows Cities and Towns to Adopt Lower Speed Limits


Municipalities now have new powers to make their streets and neighborhoods safer. Introduced as an amendment to the recently-adopted Municipal Modernization bill by State Representative Denise Provost of Somerville, the bill authorizes cities and towns to reduce the existing 30 mph speed limit to speed limits of 25 mph on local roads in “thickly settled” or business districts. Municipalities may also create “safety zones,” where the speed limit is 20 mph “in the interests of public safety and without further authority.”


This legislation changes existing Massachusetts law, which has a uniform default speed limit of 30 mph for thickly settled or business districts. Communities could petition the state for a lower speed limit on a local road, which had to be set at the 85th percentile of actual speeds traveled by vehicles on the road, based on a “speed study” which the municipality had to pay for. Cities, towns, and pedestrian advocates had been frustrated for decades by this law.


The amendment was based on legislation that Rep. Provost has been introducing in the House of Representatives since 2007, and represents more than a decade of work. The Municipal Modernization bill was debated in the House on June 15th and passed both chambers on the last night of the 2015-2016 legislative session, July 31st; Governor Baker signed the bill into law on August 9th.


“Cities and towns have long wanted to be able to reduce speed limits, and I’ve worked for more than 10 years to make that goal possible,” said Provost. “I’m grateful to a series of state transportation officials – Luisa Paiewonsky, Frank DePaola, Tom Tinlin, and Stephanie Pollack – for their enlightened, cooperative efforts to allow speed limits to be better tailored to specific local conditions and mixes of road users. We’ve now reached a consensus which could be enacted into law.”


“We’re thrilled that cities and towns will now have another tool to make it safer for people walking, biking, taking transit, or driving – there is still much work to be done to fix streets and sidewalks, but this is a huge step forward!” added WalkBoston Executive Director Wendy Landman

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