Dec 13, 2021 - News

Denver poised to lower speed limits to 20 mph on thousands of streets

This GIF shows a speed limit sign slowly ticking up until a skull and crossbones appear
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Denver leaders are hitting the throttle on a plan to slow speed limits on thousands of city streets — and more traffic changes aren't far behind.

Driving the news: Monday night, the Denver City Council will hold the first of two votes on a proposed ordinance that would reduce speed limits on every residential street from 25 mph to 20 mph in the name of public safety.

  • The proposal — which has the support of the Hancock administration and is expected to pass on Dec. 20 — will also reduce the maximum speed limit at city parks from 20 mph to 15 mph.

Why it matters: Traffic deaths in Denver hit a new high this year with 77 fatalities as of Sunday, surpassing the city's record of 71 people in 2019. About 7% of those deaths occurred on neighborhood streets.

  • Advocates of the new speed cap, including the Denver Streets Partnership, say lowering the speed limit 5 mph significantly increases a pedestrian's survival chances after being hit by a car.

What they're saying: Denver officials receive frequent complaints about drivers speeding near people's homes, but police say they’ve found "the vast majority" are at or close to the speed limit.

  • "That tells me the existing speed limit is more than makes people comfortable," Councilperson Paul Kashmann, who is leading the proposal, tells Axios.

How it works: If the proposal passes, the city's transportation department will begin the process of replacing between 2,700 and 3,500 speed limit signs as soon as next year, agency spokesperson Nancy Kuhn tells Axios.

  • The cost, estimated between $1.2 million and $1.5 million, will be covered partly by next year's parking meter rate increase and the city's capital improvement program.

Context: Kashmann's proposal stems from two-plus years of lobbying from local advocacy groups and a plan by the city to end traffic deaths.

  • Dubbed Vision Zero, the city's initiative aims to completely eradicate traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2030 — a goal the city is now farther from achieving than ever before.

By the numbers: Roadway fatalities have jumped 8.5% so far this year compared to 2019, which was Denver's deadliest year on record prior to 2021, city data shows. At least 19 people were killed on foot.

  • Another 354 people have been seriously injured this year, 73 of whom were pedestrians.
Data: City of Denver; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

What's next: Kashmann calls changing the speed limit a first step toward implementing a "comprehensive package of solutions" to improve traffic safety.

  • Denver's Department of Transportation and Infrastructure is looking at some other safety and engineering methods that would force drivers to slow down, including traffic circles and more four-way stops.
  • City transportation officials are also looking to analyze speeds on higher-trafficked streets, where the most fatal and serious injury crashes happen, Kuhn says.

The big picture: Motor vehicle crash fatalities are spiking nationwide, Axios' Bryan Walsh reports.

  • More than 20,100 people died in car crashes through the first half of 2021 — the most in the first six months of the year since 2006 — according to data released last month by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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