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Lebanon police chief wants to reduce unposted speed limit to 25 mph

  • Melanie Viegener and her daughter Valencia, 5, left, stop to meet Katie Bradford and her puppy Jojo as Kathy Cross, waits with her dog Cali at right on Powers Street in their West Lebanon neighborhood Monday, Feb. 17, 2020. Lebanon Police Chief Richard Mello is proposing a citywide speed limit of 25 mph on all unposted roads, a change from the state imposed 30 mph. Viegener said that she notices drivers rolling through stop signs and traveling faster on side streets connecting to Seminary Hill nearby. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lebanon's Dulac street is lined with an abundance of signs warning drivers of traffic calming chicanes and speed tables. Dulac Street is posted at 25 mph and Lebanon Police Chief Richard Mello is proposing a citywide speed limit of 25 mph on all unposted roads down from the 30 mph set by state law. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/17/2020 9:52:27 PM
Modified: 2/17/2020 9:52:23 PM

LEBANON — Police Chief Richard Mello is asking the City Council to reduce the speed limit on Lebanon’s unposted roads to 25 mph, saying it will promote safety within residential neighborhoods.

State law sets the speed limit of unposted roads — or those without signs — to 30 mph in urban areas, unless a municipality decides otherwise. But, Mello said, people often drive at higher speeds, resulting in complaints and crashes.

“With great consistency, people contact the police department and contact me about vehicles that are traveling too fast,” he said via phone Monday. “This happens with a lot of frequency.”

Mello’s plan, which will be introduced during Wednesday’s City Council meeting, targets side streets that are often used by commuters as cut-throughs.

However, he said, some heavily used roads also would see reduced speeds, such as the portion of Taylor Street that runs from the Witherell Recreation Center to Hanover Street alongside parking spaces behind City Hall.

“What I found is that 30 mph on a lot of these side streets that aren’t posted is just too fast,” Mello said. “The majority of traffic should be moving at a slower rate.”

Half of all crashes in Lebanon occur on city-maintained roads, according to an analysis of Lebanon traffic data from the last two years.

“Improper operation,” which includes unsafe speed, was a contributing factor in 35% of those crashes, the analysis found.

White River Junction-based Resource Systems Group Inc. also was commissioned to study the city’s speed limits, and found a 25 mph speed limit “most suitable” for unposted roads.

That’s not due to high-speed traffic but rather because many people are already driving under 30 mph, the firm wrote in its study.

RSG looked at five side streets — Maple Street, Whitcomb Avenue, Colburn Street, Eldridge Street and Green Street — between Nov. 29 and Dec. 1. Engineers found that 85% of traffic is driving at an average pace of 26 mph.

“Most vehicles are traveling between 17 and 27 mph on the study roadways,” engineers wrote.

Still, Mello said, he hears from residents “probably daily” about speeding. Lowering speed limits will allow police to better enforce safe driving, he said.

“It gives us another tool,” he said, adding officers would more readily stop a driver going 32 mph with speed limits lowered.

Eldridge Street resident Sarah Riley said her neighborhood is sometimes used as a shortcut for drivers attempting to bypass downtown construction.

“We definitely notice people driving faster than we think is safe,” she said Monday. “We think that the lower (the speed limit), the better, to some degree.”

Riley said she doesn’t drive any faster than 20 mph on the street, and thinks the speed limit should be that low in some residential neighborhoods.

“I think that a neighborhood should be pedestrian centric and not considered a highway or thoroughfare,” she said.

City Councilor Erling Heistad agreed, saying Lebanon’s Pedestrian & Bicyclist Advisory Committee has long advocated for a reduction in speed limits.

“There’s been many discussions about the speed vehicles are going across crosswalks and how we make it safer,” he said. “Speed has a lot to do with relative safety or lack thereof.”

The RSG report indicates that a speed reduction would be best paired with enforcement and physical roadway adjustments.

This also isn’t the first time city officials have attempted to reduce speed limits to deter speeders.

Concerns about traffic in West Lebanon bleeding out onto Crafts Avenue resulted in the City Council approving a 25 mph speed limit for the street in 2016. The move was a compromise, as residents had asked for speed tables instead.

“People still speed down the street,” said Crafts Avenue resident Tom Harkins, who also sits on the Lebanon School Board. “It hasn’t honestly helped all that much.”

But, Harkins said, he appreciated the police department’s efforts and would support a citywide speed reduction.

“I don’t see there’s any harm in it,” he said.

If the speed reduction is approved, the city would erect signs alerting motorists, Mello wrote to the City Council. And the police chief intends to start an “aggressive public awareness campaign” to alert commuters of the change.

The Lebanon City Council is scheduled to take up the speed limit reduction when it meets at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the temporary city hall at 20 W. Park St. A public hearing would then be scheduled on March 4 at the same location.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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