Councilmember Muriel Bowser (ward 4) briefly joined Monday’s hearing on the Tommy Wells-Mary Cheh speed camera bill. DDOT is studying whether to modify some speed limits, but in her opening statement, Bowser said she doesn’t support raising speed limits:

Get Microsoft Silverlight

Here are a few key quotes:

I often ask [constituents] this question, I say, “What do you think is one issue that goes across every ward, every neighborhood, every street, every part of Ward 4?” And nobody can ever guess that it’s speeding. It’s literally speeding. We get requests for stop signs, for speed bumps, for traffic and parking enforcement. [It’s] among one of the biggest type of requests that we get.

I hear a lot of people talking about DDOT reviewing the speed limits in the District, and all I hear is that DDOT may raise the speed limits in the District. And I’m not for raising the speed limits in the District.  ... If this notion is that if we can raise the speed limit high enough, then we won’t give anybody tickets. Or that if it’s a big street with wide lanes, then it’s not really a residential street so we shouldn’t have to worry about people speeding down it.

But the fact is, even on my major arterials, people live there. ... 16th Street, as one of my constituents says, is not I-16th Street. It’s a street a lot of commuters use, but people live there.

DDOT has promised to review speed limits in DC, and in some cases, possibly including some freeway segments and some non-residential arterials, I agree the speed limit is likely too low. Elsewhere, perhaps it is too high.

Many councilmembers and public witnesses called for a systematic, consistent process for setting speed limits. This makes a lot of sense, as long as the process is not the old traffic engineer practice to set speed limits at or above the speed of 80% of the cars.

The 80% rule doesn’t give pedestrians or bicyclists a vote, and they’re the more vulnerable road users. It doesn’t give parents a vote about what lets them feel safe walking around with their children, or seniors a vote about what makes them safe navigating their neighborhood. Drivers’ opinions matter, but so do everyone else’s, and making streets safe must trump speed.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle.