Montgomery County To Pilot 20 MPH Speed Limits On Five Streets Montgomery County is the first place in Maryland to implement the "20 is Plenty" program, but D.C. recently lowered speed limits to 20 mph on residential and local streets.
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Montgomery County To Pilot 20 MPH Speed Limits On Five Streets

DDOT workers put up a 20 mph speed limit sign. D.C. was the first to lower residential speed limits to 20 mph, now Montgomery County is trying the idea. Jordan Pascale/WAMU/DCist hide caption

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Jordan Pascale/WAMU/DCist

Montgomery County announced Thursday that it will drop the speed limit to 20 mph on five streets as part of its Vision Zero efforts to make roadways safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists.

The pilot program will run on certain streets through September in Germantown, North Bethesda, and Long Branch. In all, it totals only 1.5 miles; Montgomery County manages some 5,200 miles of roads.

Higher vehicle speeds often have dire consequences for pedestrians. At 40 mph, nearly three-fourths of pedestrians will be killed or have severe injuries. At 20 mph, it goes down to 13%. In 2019, Montgomery County had 1,200 speed-induced crashes resulting in 32 traffic fatalities.

"Vision Zero is a big goal," County Executive Marc Elrich said at a press conference Thursday. "And we're not going to reach it with any one program or effort. There's no one thing that fixes this, it's going to require a combination of efforts."

"It's been a collective of safety features, road designs, enforcement, infrastructure, engineering ... So we have a whole menu of items that we can bring to bear to help reduce speeds and make our roadways safe," he added.

MoCo is the first locality in the state to test the "20 is Plenty" program, but it has been popular in Europe and in cities on the West Coast.

"Our hope is that these streets create an environment and cues to drivers that they need to behave in a cautious and careful way," said Chris Conklin, head of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. "The intention is to provide guidance to drivers and to get this message shared across the community, and hopefully have a broader impact than the limited streets on which we're deploying this technique."

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Conklin highlighted other measures that are being implemented to slow drivers down, including speed bumps, the narrowing of roads, and sidewalk "bump-outs" that force drivers to slow down, especially when turning.

Last year, the District lowered the speed limit from 25 to 20 mph on local and residential roads. While the signs have mostly changed throughout the District, some drivers don't obey them and enforcement is spotty. (During the pandemic, a Slow Streets pilot program dropped the speed limit even further, to 15 mph. That program was recently discontinued.)

The county got authorization from the Maryland General Assembly this year to decrease the maximum speed limit to as low as 15 mph on local roadways, but only after performing engineering and traffic investigations.

County officials say they'll use what they learn from the 20 mph pilot to determine where and how much the program should be expanded.

"Constituents have been asking for this reform for years all across the county, not just in these three areas," County Council President Tom Hucker said. "Every life is priceless. Every pedestrian fatality is an avoidable and permanent loss to our community."

This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.

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