Speed Limit Reductions
Effective summer 2023, the City of Long Beach is lowering speed limits throughout its streets! Following a vote from City Council in December 2022, the City is moving forward with posting reduced speed limits on 111 street segments totaling 92 miles. These include streets in all types of neighborhoods in every council district. Notably, 50 segments totaling 37.7 miles will now have speed limits of 20 mph or less.
Additionally, 3.5 miles of roadway qualified for speed limit reductions due to their classification as Business Activity Districts (BID), where lower speed limits can help promote increased public safety where high levels of retail and dining are located.
These speed reductions will help Long Beach achieve its goals for safer streets as outlined in the 2020 Safe Streets Long Beach Vision Zero Action Plan. Around the world, lowering vehicle speeds has proven to be the single most effective tool for reducing roadway fatalities and injuries.
Long Beach residents can expect a phased rollout as City staff work to get signs posted. A full map of the changes and a list of frequently asked questions can be found below.
Around the world, lowering vehicle speeds has proven to be the single most effective tool for reducing roadway fatalities and injuries. Traveling too fast for conditions is the top traffic violation contributing to fatal and serious injuries in Long Beach. In the 2020 Vision Zero Action Plan, Safe Streets Long Beach, the City identified lowering vehicle speeds as one of the keystone actions for getting to zero roadway deaths. In particular, the plan highlighted the importance of designating streets with 15 mph and 20 mph speed limits.
Until 2021, state law limited cities’ authority to set speed limits based on safety principles and, in most cases, treated 25 mph as the lowest allowable speed limit. A new law, AB43, enabled cities starting in 2022 to use new practices to set speed limits (more on these techniques below) and allowed speed limits of 15 mph and 20 mph. The City of Long Beach immediately moved to implement these changes in its annual speed limit reviews, and at the end of 2022 City Council approved staff recommendations to lower speed limits on designated streets. The City conducts annual speed surveys on its roadway network on a rotating multiyear schedule, so more changes will occur regularly moving forward.
The slogan “20 Is Plenty” has emerged as part of an international campaign encouraging drivers to improve roadway safety by traveling at 20 mph. Research has shown that a pedestrian or bicyclist struck by a car traveling at 40 mph has a 73% chance of being killed or seriously injured, but that likelihood drops to 13% if the car is traveling at 20 mph. In other words, “20 Is Plenty” is more than a slogan; it’s a concept that saves lives.
How were these speed limits determined? Is this different from the way speed limits were determined in the past? Who chose these speeds?
In California, speed limits have long been determined using a process known as the 85th percentile rule. Traffic engineers measure vehicle speeds on a street segment and find the maximum speed at which 85 percent of drivers are traveling. Then, historically, they rounded to the nearest 5-mile-per-hour interval. So, in a sense, speed limits are direct democracy, in which drivers themselves choose the speed limit.
However, since many people drive slightly above the speed limit, this practice has caused speed limits to steadily increase over time even without engineering changes to the roadway, a process sometimes known as “speed creep.” The passage of AB43 gave traffic engineers more authority to set speed limits based on street safety considerations and actual roadway conditions.
These new speed limits were still determined using the 85th percentile rule—but with the important changes that traffic engineers could choose to round down, to consider previous speed survey data if no modifications had been made to the roadway, and to further reduce speed limits by 5 mph on streets with dynamic conditions such as significant street parking or pedestrian presence. One other component of the new law allows engineers to reduce speed limits in pedestrian-oriented business activity districts that meet certain walkability criteria.
Refer to the map above to see which streets received speed limit reductions and the new designated speed limits. Public Works staff have begun posting new signage and will continue to do so in a phased approach.
These changes were driven by safety concerns and the City’s commitment to Vision Zero. Nobody is trying to trick drivers; in fact, state law stipulates that police can only give warnings for drivers speeding at 10 mph or less above the new speed limit for the first 30 days after the limit is posted.
Public Works conducts regular speed surveys throughout the city following a designated schedule. However, you can request a speed survey on your street by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep in mind that speed surveys are time-intensive, and staff cannot respond to every request immediately. In the meantime, you can encourage slower speeds on your street by posting a Safe Streets or “20 Is Plenty” yard sign and talking to your neighbors. Request a sign here.
Take the Safe Streets Pledge and request a yard sign here.