Bill Gives Cities Authority to Set Speed Limits on Their Own Streets

The Senate omnibus transportation bill would give all cities permission to establish speed limits on city streets, while a similar measure in the House limits the authority to cities of the first class.
(Published Apr 15, 2019)

Bills moving in the House and Senate would provide new authority to cities to set speed limits on city streets.

A provision in the Senate’s omnibus transportation bill, SF 1093, authored by Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson), would give all city councils permission to establish speed limits on city streets. The authority is limited to city streets and does not apply to town roads, county highways, or trunk highways in the city. The omnibus bill is awaiting action on the Senate floor.

A similar measure in the House provides authority only to cities of the first class to set speed limits. HF 1778, authored by Rep. Steve Elkins (DFL-Bloomington), has passed through the committee process as a standalone (not omnibus) bill and is awaiting action on the House floor.

Speed limit language in House omnibus bill

Additionally, the House’s omnibus transportation bill, HF 1555, authored by Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis), contains language that broadens local government authority to lower the speed limit on some roads. It expands the definition of “residential roadway” in the chapter on traffic regulations to include a city street or town road that is not a collector or arterial street in an area zoned exclusively for housing.

This has the effect of allowing cities and towns to adopt a speed limit of 25 miles per hour on residential roadways without a traffic engineering study or approval by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). The permitted reduction is from the statutory defaults (including 30 miles per hour in urban districts).

League takes neutral position

The League of Minnesota Cities has monitored speed limit legislation but has not testified on the bills because participants in the League’s policy-development process recommended a position of neutrality. This position reflects divisions within the City Engineers Association of Minnesota (CEAM) over how speed limits should be determined. Many engineers believe having uniform speed limits is more conducive to safety than having non-uniform speed limits.

In a letter to the Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee regarding the language granting authority to all cities to set speed limits, the Executive Committee of CEAM wrote: “We are strongly opposed to this proposal, and feel that many cities would have a very difficult time managing all of the requests for lower speed limits and the political pressures to change these speed limits without a sound engineering basis. It would also compound the issue of inconsistency and non-uniformity across the state.”

—Read the CEAM letter (pdf)

Both the House and Senate measures have bipartisan support. MnDOT, which has previously opposed allowing local governments to set speed limits, has taken a position of neutrality this session. The League will continue to monitor these bills.

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