County reconsidering how to set speed limits

Island County officials are using a cutting-edge analytic tool to set speed limits on roadways.

Island County officials are using a cutting-edge analytic tool to set speed limits on roadways and they want to know what residents think.

The Public Works Department is hosting a first open house to discuss the North Whidbey portion of the speed limit evaluation project. The meeting will be 4:30-5:30 p.m., on Wednesday, July 26 at the Taylor Road Fire Station at 3440 Taylor Road.

Staff members will be available to discuss the project, receive community input and answer questions.

County engineers have been working with a contractor for more than two years to create an Excel-based tool to set speed limits based on a variety of factors, including the average speed of cars, accident history, shoulder width, bicycle and pedestrian activity and such roadway context as the level of surrounding development.

Future meetings are planned for other areas of the county.

During a meeting in May, engineers explained to commissioners that the nationwide rule for the last 50 years was that speeds should be set at the 85th percentile of current speeds.

The rule has led to conflict on the island over the years with neighborhoods asking commissioners to lower speed limits while engineers urged them to stick to the 85th percentile rule. Traffic engineers, however, are now beginning to look at other ways at setting speeds, and Island County is leading the way.

“This is really the first time something like this has been done in a large scale, quite literally nationally,” Brian Chandler of DKS Associates told the commissioners. His firm has been working with county public works officials on the new tool.

“I’m having really interesting conversations with researchers and others about what’s happening in Island County,” he added.

Recommendations from the speed-setting tool, however, are not set in stone. During a workshop meeting, Chandler highlighted the recommended speed limits for two parallel and similar roads — West Beach Road and Zylstra Road.

The analytic tool recommends that the existing speed limit of 50 mph remains on Zylstra Road.

West Beach Road, on the other hand, currently goes from 40 mph to 50 mph limits in different sections. The tool suggests lowering the speed limit by 10 mph in one section and maintaining it in another, but the engineers ultimately recommend setting the speed limit at 45 mph for the length of the road to maintain consistency.

Under the recommendations, other sections of several North Whidbey roads that currently have 50 mph limits may also be reduced to 45 mph. They include Jones, Troxell, Monkey Hill, Arnold and Fakkema roads.

In addition, the study recommends that the sections of Heller and Oak Harbor roads in the county would be increased from 45 to 50 mph.