Ignorance is bliss — at least when it comes to setting the city’s speed limits.
Unsafe driving has been the root of complaints from two neighborhood associations that represent the Beresford-Hillsdale area and the downtown area. Each association has campaigned for more enforcement in their neighborhoods, complaining that drivers regularly drive at high speeds through those areas.
But in a recent meeting, the San Mateo City Council decided not to authorize a citywide survey of traffic speeds, the first step in an inquiry into whether speed limits are set correctly throughout the city.
The city’s police and public works departments each conducted studies examining whether speeding was indeed a problem in those areas, and whether a combination of enforcement and education — through radar feedback signs — might slow traffic, San Mateo police Capt. Mike Callagy said.
The studies were conducted on West Hillsdale Boulevard between Caxton Court and Alameda de las Pulgas, and West Third Avenue between Crystal Springs and Dartmouth roads. Both roads have a 25 mph speed limit.
And the studies on both roads came back with an undesired result: they found that at least 85 percent of drivers travel at nearly 35 mph on those roads, Public Works Director Larry Patterson said.
That was a key statistic, because state law requires that speed limits be set within 5 mph of the speed at which 85 percent of drivers feel safe driving on the street.
The law states that if 85 percent of cars drive at 35 mph on a street with a 25 mph speed limit, the speed limit should change, not the drivers.
Public Works and police suggested that a consultant be hired to conduct a study on the prevailing speeds on at least 50 streets in the city, to make sure they are set appropriately. The suggestion was roundly rejected by City Council members and other neighborhood associations.
Mayor Carole Groom said that doing the study — and being forced to increase speed limits — would lead to what Callagy described as “speed creep,” in which drivers notice that speed limits have been raised and therefore feel entitled to drive even faster.
Councilmember Brandt Grotte agreed, saying that conducting the study “sounds too dangerous.”