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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Speed Limits in the Suburbs

Here, the Indianapolis Star criticizes the maintenance of the 70 mph speed limit in Interstate 69 through Fishers and Noblesville. And they use a recent major accident, a thirty-four-car pileup with two fatalities, to preface the argument.

When Indiana State Police investigated the deadly 34-car pileup near mile marker 8 during a snowstorm Feb. 3, they said that, among several contributing issues, speed was a factor. The crash began along a stretch of I-69 that has kept its 70 mph speed limit despite state guidelines that require a lower speed.

And it quickly involved more cars than almost any Central Indiana crash on record because, as usual, traffic was heavy that morning.

The problem with this article is it is highly unlikely anyone was traveling 70 during a snowstorm that suddenly turned into whiteout conditions, and even if someone were acting stupidly, most people would be driving slower, as the conditions demand it. And a surprise white-out is dangerous, no matter what your speed.

The main focus of the article is that the higher speed limit persists, despite the higher traffic. Congestion is a serious problem (by Indianapolis standards) for the first ten miles of I-69, and for the freeway cloverleafs that feed this road.

Notice the problem with the argument? If a road is congested, it really doesn't matter what the speed limit is, because you'll never reach it! The question should be, given conditions when traffic is low, is 70 mph a safe speed for the road? I would say yes. And an honest civil engineer would probably tell you that a freeway can be safely traveled at speeds few people will ever choose to travel. I'm guessing 90 mph is still a safe speed if you're the only car on the road.

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