At next week’s meeting, the City Council will discuss a proposal to reduce the speed limit on Rhode Island Avenue in north College Park.
The City has received feedback and complaints from residents regarding speeds and vehicle/pedestrian interactions along this road segment. Given the high pedestrian and bicycle activity level, high speeds along this corridor create safety concerns. They can often result in vehicles failing to yield to pedestrians within marked crosswalks.
In response to this issue, the City has installed several Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon (RRFB) devices along the corridor to enhance visibility and yielding rates of vehicles to pedestrians utilizing the crosswalks. In addition, the City has recently remarked on Rhode Island Avenue to refresh lane lines, narrow travel lanes, and provide bike lanes and signage throughout the corridor.
The project was completed in 2022, and after the improvements were completed, the City conducted a weeklong traffic count and speed study in October 2022 utilizing a road-tube counter. According to the study, some vehicles travel well above 40 MPH. In the northbound direction, 13,924 vehicles out of 53,430 total vehicles (26.1%) were traveling above the posted speed limit. Of the 13,924 northbound vehicles traveling above the limit, 2,309 vehicles (16.6%) were traveling above 40 MPH. In the southbound direction, even more, vehicles were traveling above the posted limit, with 16,764 of 43,820 total vehicles (38.3%) traveling above 35 MPH. Of the 16,764 vehicles traveling southbound above the limit, 3,501 vehicles (20.8%) were traveling above 40 MPH. In both directions, a non-negligible number of vehicles traveling above 45 MPH. As demonstrated by the outliers in the speed study, there does appear to be a need to slow vehicles down to ensure the safety of other transportation modalities.
With pedestrian and bicycle safety being a priority for the City of College Park, the City has implemented bike lanes and pedestrian crossings along this corridor over the past decade. Bike lanes are provided on both sides of Rhode Island Avenue, and many marked crosswalks are along the corridor. Additionally, the City has installed RRFB devices at four intersections along Rhode Island Avenue: Muskogee Street, Hollywood Road, Geronimo Street, and Cherokee Street. As part of this study, City’s consultant LTC deployed traffic cameras at these intersections to observe pedestrian and vehicle interactions at the RRFB locations over two days. LTC observed whether vehicles stopped pedestrians once the beacon was activated, and the observations are summarized in Table below.
Studies have shown that lower speed limits lead to fewer crashes and injuries, particularly in areas with heavy pedestrian traffic. Reducing the posted speed, in conjunction with other traffic calming techniques, would likely have a positive benefit for more vulnerable road users and increase the yield rates at pedestrian crossings and the effectiveness of RRFB crossings.
The study recommends that a posted speed limit of 30 MPH be considered first if no other physical improvements are to be proposed. However, without other measures or enforcement, speed limit changes alone may not have the desired effect. If other traffic calming techniques are employed, such as installing raised crosswalks, chicanes, or speed humps, operating speeds would likely decrease enough to justify a 25 MPH speed limit. Regardless of what the City ultimately ends up adopting, the corridor should continue to be monitored after implementing any improvements to evaluate the impact the improvements may have had on operating speeds, pedestrian behavior, and its effects on safety for all modalities.