May 23, 2023 - News

House could vote Tuesday on Texas speed limits bill

Illustration of a road sign with a snail icon on it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Tuesday is do-or-die day for a Texas Senate bill with bipartisan support allowing cities to lower speed limits.

Catch up quick: Senate Bill 1663 — filed by Sen. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) — would allow municipalities to unilaterally lower speed limits to 20 mph on residential streets without the burden of costly and time-consuming traffic studies.

Driving the news: S.B. 1663 is one of several Senate bills on the House calendar to be considered today, the deadline for the House to pass Senate bills.

Between the lines: S.B. 1663 is toward the bottom of the list, meaning it's possible it won't even get a vote. Other bills that would come up first include:

  • S.B. 2424, which would create a state criminal offense when someone illegally crosses the border.
  • S.B. 1318, which would ban judges and magistrates from granting personal recognizance bonds for people charged with felon in possession of a weapon.

Why it matters: For pedestrians, the lower the speed, the more likely they are to survive a collision.

  • The risk of pedestrian death is 10% at 23 mph, according to AAA. It jumps to 25% at 32 mph and increases as the speed gets higher.
  • The risk of death is higher for children and older people, even at slower speeds.

What they're saying: "The principal mistake of the Texas transportation system is trying to speed up mobility and trying to get people places fast," Jay Blazek Crossley, who oversees Texas-based nonprofit Farm&City, tells Axios. "If we get this done, it could be a real start on a paradigm shift toward actually having a functioning transportation system."

The other side: Rachel Hale, who represented conservative group Texas Eagle Forum during a hearing on the Senate bill earlier this session, said the legislation is "harmful to families" because it's too broad.

  • "Free people want the freedom to move around the way they see fit," Hale said.

Plus: Houston's chief transportation planner, David Fields, wrote testimony in support of the bill.

  • "Speed is the most direct factor in determining whether a person who is hit dies, is injured, or walks away unharmed in a pedestrian-vehicle crash," Fields said. "The data is clear."
  • 116 pedestrians were killed on Houston streets in 2022, according to Texas Department of Transportation records. At least 30 pedestrians have been killed on Houston streets so far in 2023.

What we're watching: Legislating in real time. Expect a long day at the Capitol.


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