By Scott Tibbs, June 29, 2009
I attended the Bloomington Traffic Commission meeting last Wednesday because of an item on the agenda that interested me: the proposal to increase the speed limit on Tapp Road from the current 30 mph to 40 mph.
Immediately before that, the commission voted to approve increasing the time allowed for a parking space on South Gentry street from 15 minutes to two hours. The commissioners supported the change and forwarded a positive recommendation to the City Council, but I was disappointed by the comments of one of the commissioners disparaging the reasoning of the petitioner, Olympus Properties. There was no reason to ridicule the reasoning behind requesting the change, especially since that individual supported the change. It indicates an arrogance that is unwelcome in public servants.
The Tapp Road speed limit drew the most interest. The city's engineering department reported that studies of the area show that most people are driving between 36 and 40 mph already, that there is more than enough stopping distance on the hill for people traveling 40 mph, and that there is more than enough distance for people to see when pulling onto Tapp. (See a Google map of the area.)
I spoke in favor of the change. The speed limit was 40 mph before the city annexed the land a few years ago, so there is no reason it cannot return to the higher limit. It has been my observation that people tend to drive at the speed the road can handle, whether the speed limit is lower or not. For example, I try to go the speed limit on South Walnut and people are whipping by me. Going the speed limit there can actually be a traffic hazard.
One of the commissioners brought up that there is an elementary school in the area, and wondered if increasing the speed limit would be safe for area children. In reality, no children are going to be walking to school along Tapp, since all of the neighborhoods where children would be walking from are north of Tapp, and the school is well north of Tapp.
The proposal passed 4-2 and was forwarded to the City Council for approval. The two who voted "no" expressed concern for pedestrians and bicyclists in the area, and were also "sad" that the justification for changing the speed limit was the comfort and convenience of drivers. While Bloomington is a very pedestrian-friendly city, we do need to be vigilant in keeping the city as walkable as possible. The city plans to install an underpass where walkers will pass under Tapp when it is increased to 4 lanes, and the roundabout is a natural "traffic calming" device at the bottom of the hill. It would be nice to see sidewalks extended, especially to the trail a bit west of the Southern Pines neighborhood.
This is a good proposal, returning the speed limit to what it was before and well within the margin of safety. It is also consistent with the plans to increase capacity on Tapp in the next year. The City Council should approve it when it comes before them in a couple months.