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OUR OPINION: GF street speeds need and deserve tune-up

In terms of column inches, there's no contest: The smoking ban was the most important recent story to come out of Grand Forks City Hall. The culmination of years of political action, the ban was chronicled by dozens of news stories.

In terms of column inches, there's no contest: The smoking ban was the most important recent story to come out of Grand Forks City Hall. The culmination of years of political action, the ban was chronicled by dozens of news stories.

But in terms of touching Grand Forks residents' everyday lives, another development gets the prize. That would be the Grand Forks traffic engineer's recommendation that the city raise the speed limit on 11 key stretches of street.

Most Grand Forks residents likely drive, ride or walk on at least one of these streets every day. The traffic engineer deserves credit for recognizing how heavily used the arteries are, then proactively figuring out how to make that use more efficient.

If the recommendations go through, then the daily life of every Grand Forks resident will be just a bit different in the years and decades to come.

For motorists, that difference will be on the plus side, as drivers stop finding themselves chafing under speed limits that had been set too low. The question facing the City Council will be whether easing drivers' frustration is worth increasing some homeowners', who may not want cars rolling past their houses at increased speeds.

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Case in point: Belmont Road. Among the traffic engineer's suggestions is that the speed limit go up on two long stretches of Belmont. From 13th Avenue South to 47th Avenue South, the limit would go from 25 mph to 30 mph; and from 47th Avenue South to 62nd Avenue South, it would go from 30 mph to 35 mph.

Twenty-five mph along the Belmont stretch that fronts Lincoln Park does indeed feel tortoise-slow. But that's partly by design -- previous Grand Forks City Council design, that is:

"Belmont Road travelers, beware: Speed limits on the street will drop from 30 to 25 mph," the Herald reported Nov. 3, 1992.

"The Grand Forks City Council approved the action Monday night as Mayor Michael Polovitz, who favored reducing the speed limit, broke a 6-6 tie. ... After two months of attending meetings to tell of speeders on Belmont Road, neighbors finally won their battle to reduce the limits."

This part of the 1992 story has relevance for today:

"The council was divided," the story reported.

"On one side were those who believed changing the limits wasn't too much to ask if it saved lives. On the other were those who thought changing limits wouldn't reform speeders."

It's relevant because Grand Forks Traffic Engineer Jane Williams used some of that same reasoning this week.

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"Historically, she (Williams) said, posted speed limits do not have significant impact on driving speed," the Herald reported Tuesday.

"The majority of drivers base their speed on the driving environment itself, such as road conditions. That is, most drive at speeds they feel are safe."

In other words, the critics who said in 1992 that a lower speed limit wouldn't dramatically slow Belmont Road traffic probably were right. Now, Williams' job and that of other city staff members will be to present their evidence of this in a way that will persuade Belmont Road residents. (Belmont Road motorists already are convinced.)

Traffic is a hugely important piece of any community's quality of life. Williams and her team deserve credit for studying and then recommending ways to fine tune traffic conditions. They're giving the subject the attention it deserves.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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