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Study examines effectiveness of educating public, posting lower speed limits

The City Council of Columbia is collaborating with Carlos Sun, associate professor at the University of Missouri department of civil and environmental engineering, and his team of graduate students to make Columbia’s neighborhoods safer.

Sun was contacted early this summer by the City of Columbia and asked to conduct a study to determine whether lowering speed limits by five miles-per-hour in certain residential neighborhoods will decrease driving speed.

“I was getting so many calls from people who complained about speeding on their streets in the sixth ward. We need to do something,” said Ward 6 City Council Representative Barbara Hoppe, who has been pushing for a reduced speed limit program.

Hoppe believes the pilot study is a great way to determine the next step. The outcome may result in a citywide 25 mph speed limit, unless otherwise posted, or an application process in which neighborhoods can apply to be 25 mph.

“The city and many residents are very concerned about safety in certain areas. It is possible that some drivers use certain roads as short cuts and speed through,” Sun said.

Enthusiastic about improving safety through the project, Sun agreed to conduct the study and began the preparation process.

Ginger M. Rossy, Sun’s graduate assistant, said preparations have taken a couple of months.

“We did background research to see what other studies have been done in this area,” Rossy said.

They found that there is not much related research. Speed studies generally focus on decreasing highway speeds rather than in residential areas.

Working with the City Council, Sun and his team have chosen two neighborhoods, Rothwell Heights and Shepard Blvd., to perform the study. Researchers are donating some of their time and have a $10,000 budget, limiting the field study sites to only two areas.

According to Hoppe, the study consists of three steps. First, measuring speeds before making changes, then recording speeds with 25 mph speed limit postings, and finally, measuring speeds after a speed limit educational campaign.

Within the next few weeks, measurements will be taken using standard traffic speed detectors. When all of the data is in, the team will begin its analysis. They will determine distribution and make statistical comparisons to ultimately see if lowering the speed limits will actually have an impact.

“It is up to the city to determine whether or not to pursue actually lowering the speed limits in certain areas. We are going to do our best to present the information we collect,” Sun said.

For Sun and Rossy, the choice to volunteer time toward this study was an easy one.

“The main reason I wanted to help was because this project is related to safety. There are too many vehicle-related deaths and if I can do anything to help minimize those, I want to pursue that,” Rossy said.

Sun agreed.

“We appreciate and love this community very much. It is our duty to give back through service,” Sun said.

Sun said his team won’t have results until next year, but he is looking forward to seeing the outcome.

“While reducing speed limit signs at a minimum may not immediately correspond to a decrease in speed, it certainly won’t increase speeds, and I am quite confident the study will show over time, with an educational campaign, that speeds are reduced.” Hoppe said.