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Bill Aims to Slow Traffic in Thousand Oaks

State legislation could create a new category for roadways, allowing local officials to lower some speed limits but still use police radar.

March 10, 2003|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

Assemblyman Tony Strickland is sponsoring legislation that would reduce the speed limits on several major streets in Thousand Oaks, including Westlake Boulevard and Lynn Road.

The bill, AB 872, would amend the California Vehicle Code by adding a new category of roadway, with a preset speed limit of 45 mph.

The code now automatically places a 25 mph speed limit on most residential streets and a 65 mph limit on freeways and major highways.

Cities have discretion in setting speed limits on other roadways, but communities that use police radar as an enforcement tool must set those limits based on traffic studies that measure how fast most motorists travel. Courts have ruled that setting limits lower than the speed at which most people drive creates a speed trap, and radar cannot be used in such cases.

Strickland's bill would establish a new category for arterial roads, with a 45 mph standard, although the state Department of Transportation or a local government could increase the limit based on engineering and traffic surveys showing that a higher speed would be safe.

"If they want to lower or raise the speed limit, they could under this bill," said Strickland (R-Moorpark), who introduced the legislation Feb. 20. "I believe in local control and local input when putting in these speed limits."

Last spring, Thousand Oaks was forced to increase speed limits on 81 sections of city roadways in order to continue using radar to monitor traffic on those streets. Most speeds were increased 5 mph -- including on Janss and Townsgate roads and Hillcrest Drive -- but they were raised 10 mph on a portion of Erbes Road.

City officials are most concerned about traffic along four major thoroughfares: Lindero Canyon, Lynn and Olsen roads, and Westlake Boulevard, where speeds were raised to 50 mph.

That is just too fast, considering that those streets have bike lanes often used by joggers or pedestrians with strollers, Deputy City Manager Jim Friedl said. There is added concern about workers who maintain landscaping on road medians and those who use the streets to access underground utilities.

A lower speed limit should reduce the danger from "speed creep," in which motorists routinely travel 5 mph to 15 mph above a posted limit, he said.

"People are going to creep, but if the limit is 45 mph, they may go 50 or 55 mph, not 60 or 65 mph," Friedl said.

Strickland's bill would add a phrase to the state vehicle code, "urban, divided and restricted access arterial highway," identifying major streets within cities designed to move large numbers of motorists between residential areas and freeways.

These streets, sometimes with two lanes but usually with four or more, also have limited access, meaning they have fewer commercial and residential driveways, which tend to slow traffic naturally.

The bill has been assigned to the Assembly Transportation Committee and could be discussed in Sacramento as early as April 7, Friedl said.

Lobbyists for organizations that have opposed earlier attempts to change state speed limits are just starting to analyze the Strickland proposal, and say they will carefully monitor it.

The Automobile Club of Southern California said it would be concerned if the law alters the uniformity of speed limits throughout the state, while the California Bus Assn., representing more than 80 private operators of tour and charter buses, wants assurances that the bill's primary goal is increased safety.

Barry Broad, legislative representative for the California Teamsters Public Affairs Council, said numerous bills attempting to adjust speed limits in the state have failed over the last 10 years.

"With bills like this, we have to balance whether there is some threat to the basic speed-trap law," Broad said. "We're a lot more comfortable with these bills when they're narrowly tailored to a specific community. A statewide change in the law may be overkill to solve a problem in Thousand Oaks."

City Councilman Dennis Gillette, who worked with Mayor Andy Fox to push for changes to the state code, believes AB 872 is written specifically enough to avoid the stiff opposition that has diluted or derailed other attempts to amend the state code.

"I think this bill addresses the concerns of driver-advocate groups, because it does not set up a mechanism where unrealistically low speed limits can be posted. But it still gives cities the ability to set lower limits on certain streets," he said.

Last fall, Thousand Oaks persuaded the California League of Cities to include the issue in its legislative agenda for this year.

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