NMA Email Newsletter: Issue #99

Better Late Than Never

The sentiment expressed in the title describes the following story out of Buffalo, New York, although in the world of clichés, the summarizing phrase could just as easily be, “Too Little Too Late.”

The Kensington Expressway in Buffalo has had a 50 mph for as long as most local commuters can remember. When asked about the last time a traffic engineering study was performed on the Kensington, the NY Department of Transportation (NYDOT) admitted that there hadn’t been one since 1970.

Local commuters continually questioned the restrictive 50 mph limit, particularly when traffic on the Expressway routinely flows at speeds up to 70 mph. NYDOT reacted to the queries by performing a traffic study over this past summer. As a result, the agency agreed to raise the speed limit from 50 to 55 mph. In doing so, NYDOT spokeswoman Susan Surdej pointed to an expected decrease in accidents because of smoother traffic flow with less speed variance among vehicles on the Kensington Expressway.

Surdej noted, “The difference in [vehicle] speeds contributes to the severity of the accidents,” and pointed to several studies, including one that analyzed fatality rates on the New York State Thruway before and after the speed limit was bumped from 55 to 65 mph in 1995. That study, “Speed Kills? Not Always: The New York State Thruway Experience,” not only showed a decrease in the fatality rate, it also found that after the speed limit was increased, the percentage of vehicles traveling more than 10 mph over the posted limit decreased. That finding puts a big dent in the false argument we hear so often: “If you raise the speed limit, drivers are just going to go that much faster to compensate.”

We have one significant problem with the NYDOT’s increase of the Kensington Thruway speed limit. That they finally ordered a study after 40 years of not having any formal traffic analysis is welcomed, but they didn’t go far (or fast) enough. The Kensington traffic engineering study determined that the 85th percentile speed was between 60 and 65 mph. The new 55 mph speed limit is at least 5 mph too low for optimum traffic flow and safety.

Note: In response to NMA Email Newsletter #98, Storing That Vehicle, a reader provided a link to a website that lists ethanol-free gas stations in the United States and Canada. Some might find that information valuable. You can find the site at http://pure-gas.org/.

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