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D.C. cuts speed limit to 25 mph in major routes to curb fatal crashes

Connecticut Ave NW on Sept. 16 became the first street in Washington to be affected by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser's plan to reduce the speed limit of major thoroughfares to 25 mph. The new speed limit is in effect for the entire length of the road, from Montgomery County line at Chevy Chase Circle to downtown. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

The speed limit on some of D.C.'s major commuter corridors is dropping from 30 mph to 25 mph, in the latest effort by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) to curb the rising number of serious traffic crashes in the nation’s capital.

The speed reduction went into effect Friday on Connecticut Avenue NW and will be effective this week on New York Avenue NE, two busy routes that combined carry nearly 100,000 vehicles daily and ferry significant traffic from Maryland into downtown.

Two other corridors — North Capitol Street/Blair Road NW and Wheeler Road SE — will see the speed limit reduction in coming months, the District Department of Transportation said.

The Bowser administration has claimed that slower speeds can help improve safety and has cited successes in other cities that implemented lower limits. Pedestrians are less likely to die when hit by a car traveling at the lower speed, according to research cited by the city.

“DDOT joins peer cities including New York City and Seattle by reducing the speed limit in key corridors because we know reducing speed by even five miles per hour makes a big difference in avoiding crashes and serious injury,” DDOT Director Everett Lott said in a statement.

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The move comes in response to calls for speed reductions across the city, and particularly in routes that cut through neighborhoods and areas with heavy pedestrian and bicycle traffic. In recent years, those calls have grown in response to a rash of fatal high-profile collisions involving pedestrians. Law enforcement officials cite speed as a factor in many of the District’s deadly crashes.

It is unclear, however, how effective the new posted limits would be without the city first implementing any physical improvements to the routes, some residents and elected leaders said, noting that new signs can be easily ignored in routes conducive to higher speeds and absent of enforcement.

“Our roads are not properly designed to keep speeds at or below the speed limit,” said Josh Jacobson, a Pleasant Plains resident running for an Advisory Neighborhood Commission seat in Ward 1 on a platform that calls for safer roads. “We need to add physical infrastructure to make it harder to speed and endanger our children — more raised and high-visibility crosswalks, more bollards, and reductions in lane width will slow down cars and save lives.”

Council member Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) welcomed the change to the speed limit but said more is needed for it to work, including designing the streets for 25 mph speeds, making speed limits clearer and posting better speed camera signage.

“While this won’t solve all our problems … this is a great step,” she tweeted.

Two years ago, Bowser set the default speed limit on D.C. streets at 20 mph, down from 25 mph, citing concerns about speeding and other dangerous driving behaviors that are a factor in a higher rate of traffic fatalities.

D.C. traffic crashes this year have claimed 24 people, including 13 pedestrians and three bicyclists, according to city data. The number of victims is down by five compared with the same time last year, but fatalities have trended upward in recent years. The District last year recorded its highest number of traffic deaths in 14 years, bringing increasing attention to the number of injuries and fatalities on city streets.

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Bowser is also pushing a large-scale modernization and expansion of the city’s automated enforcement program, promising to more than triple the number of traffic cameras by the end of next year to target speeding, drivers who run red lights and stop signs, and those who illegally use bike and bus lanes or pass school buses.

Transportation officials said city engineers used a federal tool known as USLIMITS2 that helps cities set safe and consistent speed limits to settle on the 25 mph limit on the key corridors. However, they did not disclose any traffic engineering studies justifying the speed limit reduction. The District in recent years has conducted other studies of Connecticut and New York avenues as part of planned changes in those corridors.

Along Connecticut Avenue NW, the city is moving forward with a plan to add northbound and southbound bike lanes and remove reversible rush-hour lanes that had been a source of confusion for drivers for years. The proposed configuration for a corridor that carries an average of 32,000 vehicles daily will result in fewer car lanes.

In Northeast, work is also advancing on the redesign of “Dave Thomas Circle,” a treacherous crossroad where First Street NE and New York and Florida avenues converge. City officials said that redesign includes adjustments to traffic-light timings, the addition of a speed camera, and the speed limit reduction. The changes at the intersections, which should be completed in two years, are expected to affect traffic flow in a route that carries an average of 65,000 vehicles daily.

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The new speed limit will be in effect for the entire five miles of Connecticut Avenue NW, from the Montgomery County line at Chevy Chase Circle to downtown. Along New York Avenue NE, the 25 mph limit is planned to extend from roughly the Prince George’s County line to downtown.