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City not ready to raise speed limits despite recommendations

Charlottesville has no plans to increase the speed limits on several busy roads, despite recommendations from the city’s new traffic engineer that the posted limits on some streets are too low.

Traffic engineer Rashad M. Hanbali counted traffic volumes at several locations across the city and concluded that limits on Brandywine Drive, Elliott Avenue, Greenbrier Drive and Locust Avenue should be higher than the posted 25 mph limit.

“Reasonable posted speed limit should be at least 30 mph for this collector link to the [Route 250 Bypass],” wrote Hanbali in his recommendation for Locust Avenue.

Several of Hanbali’s results had been posted to the city’s website but were later removed last week after news spread through the social media pages of several neighborhood associations.

The director of the city’s neighborhood development services department confirmed the studies were conducted but said they were not intended to be made public.

“It wasn’t supposed to be posted on the website,” Alexander Ikefuna said in an email. “Right now we are evaluating the recommendations.”

Ikefuna said there is no plan to increase speed limits and that the studies were conducted to determine the optimal speed based on usage.

“What we have is the result of a traffic study and what the study concluded,” Ikefuna said.

Traffic engineers generally set speed limits based on measurements of how fast motorists drive on a road. The appropriate speed is that which 85 percent of vehicles do not exceed.

Hanbali’s recommendations are based on observations made in the field throughout the year.

Data collected last November and this August showed that the 85th percentile for Locust Avenue is 31 mph.

For Elliott Avenue, that figure was 33 mph and it was 39 mph for Greenbrier.

“Reasonable posted speed limit should be at least 30 mph for sloped collector roads,” reads the recommendation for Brandywine, which had an 85th percentile measurement of 33 mph.

Hanbali recommended keeping the speed limits the same on other streets because measured speeds were within federal guidelines.

The studies were noticed by Paul Reynolds, a Locust Avenue resident and retired University of Virginia computer science professor. Reynolds has developed software that can track speeds of vehicles that pass in front of his house and heard a presentation from Hanbali at last week’s meeting of the Locust Grove Neighborhood Association.

“At that meeting, he announced to a group of about 20 that he was doing these traffic studies and would make them public,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said the 85th percentile standard should not apply to neighborhood streets.

“In my opinion, this may work on interstates, arterial roads and country roads but it’s an awful rule for residential streets because it does not allow for the needs of people outside of vehicles using those streets,” Reynolds said. “On Locust Avenue, the 85 percentile rule could lead to an absurd speed limit as the rule is applied over time.”

One city councilor said raising the limits would go against established policy.

“In light of council’s adoption of the Streets That Work policy, the bike-pedestrian plan and our ongoing investments in making streets and intersections safer for walking and cycling, raising the speed limit on Locust Avenue to 30 mph would run counter to council’s positions,” said Councilor Kathy Galvin.

Galvin said many streets have “sharrow” markers that indicate cyclists are allowed to use the entire travel line.

“The maximum safe speed for that to occur is 25 mph or less, not 30 mph,” Galvin said.

City Manager Maurice Jones confirmed at the City Council’s meeting Monday that the speed limits are not going to increase soon.

“[This] is causing a lot of concern and it’s unnecessary,” Jones said.