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(SUN POST STAFF PHOTO BY KEVIN MILLER)

The speed limit on West River Road, shown here at the intersection with 88th Ave. N., is 30 mph. West River Road is among the small number of roads that could potentially see a change in their speed limits under a new Brooklyn Park policy.

The Brooklyn Park City Council approved a new speed limit policy Dec. 14, shifting the process for modifying speed limits away from the Minnesota Department of Transportation and moving it in-house.

While the vast majority of the city’s roads are expected to maintain their existing speed limits under the new policy, it could bring changes to approximately 5% of city-owned roads, according to Jesse Struve, city engineer.

“I do support the policy,” said Mayor Jeff Lunde. “I like the idea of letting policy drive it because a lot of people like to have special (speed limits).”

The new policy comes on the heels of a state legislative change passed during the 2019 special session allowing cities to control speed limits on their locally owned streets.

Any modified speed limits approved under the policy are expected to go into effect June 1.

Most roads don’t change

The city classifies its roadways based on size and traffic flow, among other factors. Roads subject to the policy are classified as local roads, class two collector roads, class one collector roads, and minor arterial roads.

Class one collector roads and minor arterial roads tend to be larger, regional roads with heavier traffic.

Currently, local roads and class two collector roads have 30 mph speed limits. These speed limits are not expected to change under the policy.

Limits for class one collector roads range from 30 to 40 mph, and for minor arterial roads range from 30 to 50 mph.

These busier roads could be subject to modified speed limits. Speed studies determining 50th percentile of average driver speeds and safety, among other factors, would be used to inform updated speed limits.

“When some of these roadways are set below kind of what the speed should be, there’s a lot more police interaction with people,” Struve said. “You want to set the right speed limit for safety.”

Roads could potentially see a reduction or increase in speed limits of 5-10 miles per hour, Struve said.

West River Road, Brookdale Drive, and Noble Avenue south of 85th Avenue could see 5 mph increases, according to Struve, although each example would require additional consideration before a new speed limit is implemented.

Changes could also come to some of the city’s minor arterial roads. Speed limits on parts of 63rd Avenue could be increased from 30 to 35 mph.

State law requires that cities enact a uniform and consistent policy for speed limits, with procedures based on safety, engineering and traffic analysis, Struve said. Any changes to speed limits must be made in a consistent and understandable manner.

The city engineer, rather than the city council, is designated as the authority to set speed limits on city roadways in the new policy.

Residents will be able to petition the council to review speed limit decisions. The council can vote to set a new limit if five of seven council members agree on a modification.

While the policy was presented with a four-fifths vote requirement, meaning six of the seven council members would need to support a change to see it approved, the council reduced the requirement to a two-thirds majority vote.

If a resident petition fails, the council cannot consider a second petition on the same road for another two years, barring a change in the road’s characteristics. This provision was included to prevent constant attempts to change a speed limit by groups of residents, Struve said.

Some reservations

While some council members questioned the wisdom of increasing speed limits on roads, those reservations were not enough to keep any council member from opposing the proposal.

Councilmembers Lisa Jacobson and Terry Parks said they were concerned about increasing speed limits on West River Road. Xerxes Avenue also generates a lot speed complaints, Parks said.

“It doesn’t come at no cost at a time when we’re watching every expenditure that we make,” Jacobson said. “There are a lot more concerns for me than not.”

While Councilmember Mark Mata requested that the policy grandfather-in the majority of the city’s roads at their existing speed limits to minimize changes, Struve questioned if such a move would be consistent with state law.

Lunde was more enthusiastic about the policy. A more uniform policy will reduce the likelihood of small groups of residents asking for special speed limits or enforcement on their roads, but not on others, he said.

Traffic has been greatly reduced on West River Road in recent years, and drivers that obey the 30 mph limit tend to have a line of cars waiting behind them, Lunde said.

Councilmember Susan Pha said she would support the policy because it proposes only modest changes in speed limits, and the council can modify the policy over time.

“It allows us to make a change in some of the roads in our city that have urgent safety issues and can’t wait,” she said.

Councilmember Tonja West-Hafner said she appreciated the overall thoughtfulness of the proposal, as many people have strong feelings about speed limits.

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