Focus on New Laws: Cities Authorized to Set Certain Speed Limits

July 22, 2019

Effective Aug. 1, two new laws allow cities to set speed limits on certain city streets without a Minnesota Department of Transportation traffic study.

During the 2019 special session, the Legislature authorized Minnesota cities to set speed limits on certain city streets after adopting their own procedures to set the new speed limits. These changes were not initiated by the League and were opposed by the City Engineers Association of Minnesota.

In addition, the Legislature changed the definition of a “residential roadway” which has the effect of allowing cities to adopt a speed limit of 25 miles per hour (mph) on certain city streets without any engineering review. The new laws were part of the transportation bill (First Special Session Chapter 3, article 3, sections 32 and 35).

Prior to the adoption of these new laws, the ability of a city to change speed limits was limited, and required a city to request the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to conduct an engineering and traffic study on the city street. After the report was completed, MnDOT would then set the speed limit on the city street.

The new law, which will go into effect Aug. 1, allows a city to adopt speed limits on its streets without MnDOT involvement. Cities, however, must follow certain procedures to set their own speed limits.

‘Residential roadway’ definition expanded

A “residential roadway” is now defined to include all city streets in an area zoned exclusively for housing and are not collector or arterial streets. The change in definition of a residential roadway expands the ability of cities to designate such streets at 25 mph, pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, section 169.14, subdivision 2 (7).

Changing the speed limit on such a street no longer requires a traffic study by MnDOT, nor does it require an engineering analysis by the city. Cities may simply adopt the 25 mph speed limit by council action provided the roadway meets the new definition.

Procedure to set speed limits

The other change in the law allows a city to set its own speed limits for streets under the city’s jurisdiction. This authority does not apply to township roads, county highways, or trunk highways in a city.

In order to set new speed limits on city streets, a city must establish procedures based on a city’s safety, engineering, and traffic analysis. This analysis must consider national urban speed limit guidance and studies, local traffic crashes, and methods to effectively communicate the change to the public. Speed limit changes must be made in a consistent and understandable manner and must be posted on the affected street.

Cities will need to work with their city engineer to develop standards to apply to speed limit changes. The League of Minnesota Cities and the City Engineers Association of Minnesota are collaborating to develop guidance for cities that plan to consider changing speed limits.