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Mayor Gloria wants to lower speed limits on San Diego streets

Cars drive past a 35 mph speed limit sign on El Cajon Boulevard, March 8, 2022.
Andrew Bowen
Cars drive past a 35 mph speed limit sign on El Cajon Boulevard in San Diego, Calif. March 8, 2022.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said Tuesday he supports using a new state law to lower speed limits on some San Diego streets, as a rise in traffic deaths pushes the city's goal of pedestrian and bike safety further out of reach.

Cities in California have been barred from using safety as a factor for determining how fast motorists can legally drive on local streets for decades. Instead, local governments were bound by the "85th percentile" rule, which states a speed limit must be based on the speed that 85% of motorists on a given street actually drive.

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That meant if enough drivers ignored a street's posted speed limit, the city would be unable to ticket them. The rule forced some cities to raise the posted speed limits on streets that were already prone to crashes.

But the legislature passed AB 43 last year, which gives cities the authority to lower speed limits by 5 mph when certain conditions are met.

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Gloria told KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday he took notice when the Los Angeles City Council last month used the law to lower speed limits on about 177 miles of streets, and that he's interested in doing something similar in San Diego.

"That's obviously a way that you can reduce the likelihood of an injury or a fatality," Gloria said. "When vehicles are moving at slower speeds, that definitely reduces the likelihood of that terrible thing happening."

Gloria did not offer a timeline on when he might present a speed limit proposal to the City Council.

Seventy-two people died in traffic collisions on San Diego streets last year — a 16% jump compared to 2020 and 41% jump compared to 2019. The death toll in 2021 was the highest since San Diego adopted its "Vision Zero" goal of ending all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2025.

Gloria pointed to actions he has already taken to improve street safety, such as funding in this year's budget to hire a 12-person team dedicated to swiftly restriping streets with new bike lanes and crosswalks. But as of last week the city had managed to fill only two of those positions, and with less than four months left in the fiscal year, the team has yet to complete a single project.

Gloria added the city is currently working to make 5th Avenue in the Gaslamp Quarter a pedestrian promenade and evaluating whether to make Diamond Street in Pacific Beach a permanent "slow street" that is closed to through traffic for cars but open to pedestrians and cyclists.

"These are things that just a few years ago were extremely controversial, had a significant amount of pushback, (but) today are well embraced by the community," Gloria said. "Now we're simply looking for the funding to do this."