Salem, MA Speed Limits at Stake: NMA E-Newsletter #508

Ivan Sever, Life Member and former NMA Massachusetts State Coordinator, has never been one to sit back and just take it. About a year ago, the Salem City Council voted to lower the speed limit on Swampscott Road, a busy route driven frequently by Sever, from 40 to 25 mph. No speed study, no discussion, not even any checking to see if the lower limit on the two-lane road met state DOT requirements and was enforceable.

Ivan pointed out the safety concerns in a local news report this past June, noting that many drivers are still going 40 mph while others abide the 25 mph posting. “It makes people impatient. They may try to pass and it’s a no-passing zone.”

Salem police traffic commander Lt. Robert Preczewski responded that, “I don’t think it’s clear cut,” when questioned about the legality of the speed limit change. Sever had his own response: 

  1. If the city didn’t get the state’s approval, the 25 mph speed limit is not enforceable. That’s not confusing.
  2. The purpose of petitioning the state is not to get an approval of a speed randomly picked out of a hat. The purpose is to notify the state of [an] intended speed study so that Mass DOT can ensure the study is conducted according to the guidelines.

In correspondence with the NMA, Ivan added, “The real issue is in 2016 Mass legislation enacted a law giving local bureaucrats more power over local speed limits but no accountability. Although MassDOT created very specific guidelines, the state legislation provided no mechanism to ensure the guidelines are actually followed.” The mechanism in this case is called Ivan Sever who triggered the local report.

The Swampscott saga doesn’t end there. Weeks after the linked story was published, Salem had taken no action to correct the illegal speed limit despite active campaigning by Sever to rectify the situation. Ivan contacted Fred Zotos, a local attorney who took on the case pro bono. He filed a complaint against the City of Salem in US District Court. One month later, Salem restored the legal 40 mph postings.

The case is still open. Salem never admitted to any wrongdoing and has filed a motion to dismiss the Sever complaint. Zotos is currently working on his opposition motion.

The last words (for now) belong to Ivan, motorist advocate extraordinaire:

“It really bugs me that such a simple engineering decision (the results of a speed study) is now so political. Not just on Swampscott Road but practically everywhere. Of course one big reason is that as long as people keep complaining about “the speeders,” cities and towns will look for ways to placate their constituents.  And make money in the process.

For a number of reasons it’s crucial that the City of Salem agrees they replaced the signs on Swampscott Road illegally. One of the reasons is that it would keep them from putting up speed limit signs whenever they feel like it and then accuse motorists of not following the law.

Fighting for motorists rights is time consuming and expensive, but I think we all agree there is no doubt in any of our minds how important this is.”

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