Wider use of traffic-calming tools like curb extensions and more ticket-writing cops were among the ideas floated Tuesday as the Bloomington Transportation Commission began tackling a request from aldermen to curb speeding in residential neighborhoods.
Commission Chairman Michael Gorman expressed support for a broad lowering of speed limits across Bloomington and a more liberal use of traffic-calming tools, such as lane narrowing or changes in roadway texture or color. He asked for city staff to gather research on the legal and budget implications of changes that would represent a “fundamental change” to street design in Bloomington.
“One of my biggest pet peeves with the current state of driving in Bloomington-Normal is that the streets are really not safe for anyone outside the car,” said Gorman, a past leader in the Bike BloNo advocacy group. “And I think vehicle streets are a primary factor in that, along with the extent our streets are overbuilt for a traditional urban and suburban context.”
Tuesday’s discussion came by request of Alderman Karen Schmidt from Ward 6, with support from seven other aldermen. The meeting began with several residents sharing personal stories from their neighborhoods about dangerous speeders flying down their streets.
No formal votes or recommendations were made. But the commission asked Bloomington city staff to come back within a couple of months with research on the legal and budget ramifications of possible changes. Gorman specifically asked a city attorney to explore any restrictions state law puts on citywide speed limits in municipalities like Bloomington.
Generally, the city can respond to neighborhood concerns about speeding in one of two ways. Bloomington Police can temporarily step up enforcement in an area, such as patrols or speed signs, or the city can research the problem for a potential traffic-calming solution.
The 30-mph default speed limit in Bloomington doesn’t mean every street is marked 30 mph. Those streets with higher speed limits are generally set by what’s called the 85th percentile method, the speed that 85 percent of vehicles do not exceed. Bloomington aldermen have intervened to lower speed limits in the past. In early 2017, for example, they lowered speed limits on Hershey Road from 40 and 35 mph down to 30 mph.
“For me, every single street in Bloomington-Normal should be primarily there to serve its neighborhood,” Gorman said. “We need arterial streets to convey traffic, but we also need them to be safe and comfortable for the people who live nearby. The way we’ve been designing them is really heavy on conveying traffic, and not as heavy on the neighborhood side.”
Commissioner Maureen Bradley said any wide-scale change would impact organizations like Connect Transit and school districts that have timed their routes based on existing speed limits. Bradley she said she wants to know what they think of the idea.
“There are a lot of entities we need to hear from,” Bradley said. “I’m not convinced that lowering the speed limit is necessary.”
Other commissioners asked what the potential cost would be, including new signage and whether additional police officers would be needed. The Bloomington Police eliminated its traffic enforcement division several years ago. It had three or four officers and a sergeant.
“If there was a decision made for a blanket reduction in speed, there would understandably be an expectation from the public that we’d be enforcing that new speed,” Assistant Police Chief Ken Bays told commissioners. “It would be difficult for us to address the reduction overall. We’d find a way. We always do. But that’s a consideration.”
The Bloomington Transportation Commission is expected to discuss the issue again at its next few meetings.
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