Lauderdale considers reducing speed limits

By Anne Holzman

Lauderdale may soon join neighboring cities in reducing speed limits on residential streets.

The City Council is weighing a limit of either 25 or 20 miles per hour on its streets.

In 2019, Minnesota granted cities authority to set their local street speed limit below the state level of 30 mph. City councils can set the limit at 25 mph with a simple vote. To reduce to 20 mph, the city must carry out a speed study.

At the Lauderdale council’s Oct. 25 meeting, several residents urged the council to consider 20 mph. No one appeared to advocate for other choices.

Council member Andi Moffatt, who is vice president of environmental services at WSB Engineering company, cautioned that speed studies don’t always back the lower choice.

In an email to the Bugle after the meeting, Moffatt expanded on her comments. She said she’d heard of other cities where speed studies “ended up showing the speed should be higher on some certain roads.”

The studies are not only about safety; they also consider traffic movement and established driver speeds. If enough people are already speeding, the study will recommend raising the limit.

“While I don’t think that would be the outcome of a speed study in Lauderdale,” Moffatt wrote, “I simply wanted to caution that I would not recommend immediately spending the money on a speed study until we see how a 25 mph limit affects our roads and community.”

City Administrator Heather Butkowski told the Bugle that changing speed limits signs in Lauderdale could cost the city $500 to $600. As the Bugle went to press, she didn’t have a firm figure.

Falcon Heights reduced its residential speed limits to 20 mph in 2021, partly because it shares a lot of streets with St. Paul and wanted to match the lower limits set by its larger neighbor. Roseville has been discussing the question, as well.

Butkowski said that Lauderdale doesn’t have many through streets with other cities. Larpenteur Avenue and Eustis Street are both county roads, and counties do not have the same ability to lower the limits.

Roseville’s state representative Jamie Becker-Finn introduced a bill in the Legislature in 2021 to allow counties similar powers. But the bill died without a companion measure in the Senate.

At its April 12 meeting, the Ramsey County Board heard a presentation from traffic engineers about speed concerns on county roads. Notes from the presentation suggest that county engineers do not see signage as significant in reducing speeds, arguing that law enforcement and road design contribute more to safety.

Lauderdale resident Chris Bower, who spoke at the October city council meeting, explained in an interview that the Federal Highway Administration makes the rules for speed studies. Right now, he said, if a speed study shows that most cars are exceeding the limit, the study must show that it would be safest to raise the speed limit to match driver practice.

Bower works for the Minnesota Department of Transportation but stressed that these are his private opinions. He said the federal mandate “creates a feedback loop” leading to increased speeds.

He said he is hopeful that current efforts to revise those federal rules will make it easier for local governments to lower speeds.

Bower told the council he strongly favors 20 mph. He suggested that instead of paying for a full-blown speed study, the council consider “cutting and pasting” from existing studies in neighboring cities to save costs. 

Anne Holzman covers governmental news in Lauderdale for the Bugle.

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