Speed Limit Reduced on Hartford, Crescent and Bacon

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

Image (c) www.mhd.state.ma.us
Image (c) www.mhd.state.ma.us

DPW Director Roy Sorenson requested on October 21 that the Selectmen approve lowering the speed limit from 30 to 25 miles per hour on the Hartford Street/ Crescent Avenue/ Bacon Road corridor. This action would complete an initiative begun by former Public Works Director Rich Warrington in response to resident complaints about cut-through traffic. Sorenson asked the Selectmen, as Bedford’s Road Commissioners, to authorize the changes approved by the State Department of Transportation and said once he received their ok, signs would be posted with the lower limit.

In a March 2013 letter to the state DOT, Warrington wrote that the DPW—in partnership with the Bedford Police—had conducted an obligatory “traffic speed analysis” of the streets in question and found that 85% of vehicles traveled at 25 miles per hour. The 85th percentile of travel velocity is the yardstick by which the state determines how high a speed limit should be.

“If the result had come back that the 85th percentile was 30 miles per hour, we would not have been able to set the speed at 25 mph,” said Town Manager Rick Reed. “By state and federal regulation, you have to set the speed limit at the 85th percentile of the overall travel speed.”

“That doesn’t make any sense to me,” commented Selectman Mike Rosenberg. “I’ve never been able to understand it. Suppose [drivers are] going fifty?”

“What traffic engineering research has found over time,” explained Reed, “is that 85% of the people will drive the safe speed.”

“It’s the safe speed to operate the vehicle at, not the safe speed for the pedestrians or the kids or the dog or whoever’s using the street,” said Selectman Margot Fleischman. “So the straighter and wider the street, the higher the 85th percentile will be. In this case, we at least have a street that [winds a bit] and so people do slow down on it. But, [the state and federal way of calculating the speed limit] is perverse, I absolutely agree.”

“Perverse or not, it is federal regulation in the ‘Uniform Manual of Traffic Control Devices’ which Massachusetts has adopted,” replied Town Manager Reed. “Forty-nine or fifty out of fifty states use the Manual because if they refuse to adopt the standard, they will lose [federal] transportation funding.”

Additionally, Town Engineer Adrienne St. John said the Hartford, Crescent and Bacon neighborhood has approached the DPW about installation of sidewalks.

“Unfortunately, those streets are part of our older network of roadways so there’s not a nice, clean four foot right-of-way,” said St. John. “If we’re going to pursue a sidewalk, we’ll first need to survey to determine property limits and see if we have what we need for a sidewalk. Then we’ll probably have to put the road up for complete re-construction—that’s when we could look at curbing to narrow the roads, signage and a sidewalk on one side or another. It’s another way to let the through-traffic know that they’re allowed to be on the road but it is somebody’s neighborhood.

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