Perpetuating a speed trap

The purpose of the low speed limit through Rosendale, Wisconsin is to create a speed trap. This according to Wisconsin DOT which set the speed limit. WisDOT made that admission in response to a citizen complaint in 2007. The NMA obtained the letter recently.

Rosendale is a well known dot-on-the-map speed trap with 30 mph zones that should be 45. You can confirm with Google street view, but more importantly a DOT speed study found the speed limit should be 45 through most of the village, maybe 40 right at the crossroads.

Despite the study, the letter said “No modifications to this speed zone will be occurring.”

Brian Brock was the Public Relations engineer for Wisconsin DOT Northeast Region when he signed that letter. I call Mr. Brock a Public Relations engineer because that was his real job. Pay no attention to the “P.E.” behind the name.

A Professional Engineer putting a seal on a study calling for a 30 mph speed limit through Rosendale would be committing professional malpractice. Nobody did that. A signature from a licensed engineer is only required to change a speed limit. Nobody needs to own a decision to keep a speed limit. In this case, it was “our” collective decision to do nothing. There may be no written record of who really made the decision. The job of a PR engineer is to make excuses for policy.

Four reasons were given for ignoring the facts.

The two honest reasons were “current level of speed zone enforcement” and “concurrence of local government.” Meaning the village makes a big profit off of speeding tickets and Village Board members cried like babies when DOT engineers proposed taking their speed trap away.

The dishonest excuses were “urbanized roadway cross-section with curb & cutter and sidewalks” and “density of roadside development.” Neither of those is so unusual as to justify making an exception to the general rule for setting speed limits. In fact, Wisconsin DOT policy says curb and gutter design is not an allowable reason to reduce a speed limit. Roadside development is thin, as you’d expect in a flyspeck of a town that has no purpose except to write tickets. As for the rest, read the DOT policy on speed zoning.

The basic principle of speed zoning is that drivers can ordinarily see for themselves how much speed reduction is justified by roadside development. In this case they slow from 60 mph in the country to 40 through town.

As the DOT policy says

Unreasonably low speed limits, also called irrational speed limits, are not effective in changing driver behavior and have several negative effects. While irrational speed limits do not result in desired driver behavior, resulting negative effects include higher financial cost due to need for increased enforcement, higher potential for crashes due to larger variability in vehicle speeds, and encouragement of motorist disregard of other, rational posted speed limits.

Pay attention to page 5 of the DOT policy. Requests for exceptions to the 85th percentile rule need to be sent to the state Traffic Engineer so he can figure out what they’re smoking in the District Office. But that’s only for changes. Inaction doesn’t need approval.

It may be that the limit was never legal in the first place. The 30 mph limit was set in 1960 contrary to field data showing the limit back then should be 40. Speeds crept up over the following decades so the limit is now 15 mph too low instead of 10 mph too low.

Setting the speed limit 15 mph too low allows the village to excuse a speed trap by claiming to ticket only for 10 over. So you’re going 40 in what should be a 45 zone and you get a ticket.

Maybe some of the alleged engineers in WisDOT’s Northeast division care a little about professional ethics and public safety, but obviously not as much as they care about enabling highway robbery by local politicians.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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