SOMERVILLE – As of Monday, November 7, new speed limit signs will be up at city entrances and lower speed limits will be in effect across the City of Somerville. The new speed limit throughout the city is 25 mph unless otherwise posted. Posted exceptions with higher speed limits include some main thoroughfares as well as state roads such as Route 16 and McGrath Highway. Posted exceptions with lower speed limits include slow zones such as those near schools.
The change in speed limits comes as the Municipal Modernization Act goes into effect Monday, November 7, throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Language in the Act – added by State Representative Denise Provost of Somerville, a long-time champion of safer speed limits – allows cities and towns to decrease their speed limits to 25 mph in thickly settled areas and to designate 20 mph safety zones. The act allows cities and towns to decide whether to implement the limits, and in Somerville, Mayor Curtatone, the Board of Aldermen, and the Traffic Commission were all in favor.
A growing body of research shows that, at the range of speeds people tend to drive in cities (about 20-40 mph), for every mile slower you drive, you are less likely to cause severe injury or death should your car strike a pedestrian—or cyclist. For example, the data have shown that when struck by a vehicle going 40 mph, only one in ten pedestrians survive. Conversely, when struck by a car going just 20 mph, nine out of ten pedestrians survive.
“Since my days in local government, I’ve known that communities all over the state have wanted safer speed limits, and I went to work on the problem as soon as I was elected in 2006,” said Provost. “Six Transportation Secretaries, six legislative sessions, three governors, and three state highway administrators later, we were able to negotiate language all parties could agree on to bring about more local control. It is my great hope that this legislation will reduce serious injuries and save lives.”
“We are lowering the speed limit from 30 to 25 on most roads for one simple reason: Because the data show that slowing down saves lives and prevents serious injuries,” Mayor Joseph Curtatone said. “More than 16,000 people commute by foot in Somerville, including school children, and 12.5 percent commute by bike. We’ve made it a priority to make infrastructure changes to keep them safe, and lowering the speed limits is another crucial element of that effort.”
Lowering the speed limits has long been a priority in Somerville. Before the passing of the Municipal Modernization Act granted municipalities the ability to reduce speed limits, Ward 3 Alderman Bob McWatters (who also serves on the Traffic Commission) proposed using a Home Rule Petition to lower city speed limits, which was also approved by the Board of Aldermen.
“This is an important step forward in keeping people in our city safe,” Alderman McWatters said. “We know we have a high number of pedestrians out at any given time, but we also have more than 50,000 registered cars in the City. Reducing the speeds at which those cars are travelling plays a big part in reducing the number of serious or fatal crashes especially where pedestrians or cyclists are involved.”
The City also plans to use the provisions set forth in the Municipal Modernization Act to establish more 20 mph safety zones in addition to those already in effect near schools. This measure was also approved by the Board of Aldermen. Currently being reviewed are streets with high volumes of vulnerable pedestrian traffic such as areas near playgrounds, hospitals, parks, places of worship, and areas frequented by senior citizens (senior housing, assisted living facilities, and community centers that regularly host senior programming).
The lower speed limits should cause minimal impacts on travel times through Somerville. For example, the 3.2 miles from Stop & Shop on Alewife Brook Parkway to Mount Vernon Restaurant on East Broadway runs the length of Somerville. Stop lights and other interruptions excluded, driving 30 miles per hour, this journey takes 6 minutes 24 seconds. At 25 miles per hour, it takes 7 minutes 41 seconds, a difference of 77 seconds. The new speed limit aims to make Somerville much safer with minimal inconvenience to drivers.