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Can We Get Westminster Street's Speed to the 20 mph Gold Standard?


As part of an ongoing series of traffic studies for Eco Rhode Island, I sat in a lawn chair this morning to count how many cars were speeding at Westminster & Parade Sts.

Motor safety in American cities has focused on getting speeds to 20 mph.  At 20 mph and below, the chances of injury to pedestrians and cyclists is near zero.  At 25 mph the risk increases.  Between 25 mph and 35 mph, the risk of serious or life-threatening injury to pedestrians and cyclists doubles from its 25 mph levels.

The study took place from 7:20-8:00, using a radar gun.  For the purposes of the study, cars were tallied in columns representing 5 mph intervals, because traffic was too heavy to write down individual speeds.  When the speed gun (which had a range of 15 mph-199 mph) did not register a speed, cars were tallied as obeying the speed limit by default, although there were many instances where this assumption went against subjective visual evidence.

181 cars were counted on the eastbound side of Westminster.  Approximately 54% were within five mph of the speed limit.  The remaining 46% were speeding significantly.  Seven cars  (about 4%) were driving over 40 mph on a 25 mph street.  The highest speed recorded was 42 mph; the lowest 25 mph on the dot.

Other data help to deepen the interpretation that nearly half the cars driving on Westminster speed.  There was a visible correlation between driving the speed limit and being in a relatively dense cluster of cars.  Traffic on Westminster this morning didn’t ever get bad enough to slow people to below the speed limit, but it frequently held them in check to it.  Other reasons for people slowing down included cars turning in front of them, and buses or delivery trucks obstructing part of the lane.

During a five minute interval, a Fed Ex trucks made a delivery right in front of the survey area, which slowed some cars down, although many cars just kept pace and crossed the double-yellow lines to pass it on the left side of the road.

When cars were not prevented from driving more quickly, they usually did.  Almost all of the cars that had free road ahead of them drove faster than 30 mph, with most within that group pushing closer to 35 mph.  The seven cars that west above 40 mph did so when they had relatively empty road.

This study raises questions about what Providence can do to put Westminster businesses in a safer environment, how it can improve pedestrian access to the park, and what it’s plans are for improving safe routes to nearby neighborhood schools.

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