San Luis Obispo County supervisors want increased control over the speed limits of rural county roads.
“We are trying to allow local government to change their own speed limits. We think that there ought to be some judgment or discretion allowed,” 3rd District Supervisor Jerry Lenthall said.
Last week, supervisors approved a 40 mph speed limit for South Oakglen Avenue in Nipomo and signs were posted along the road to notify drivers of the new limit.
South Oakglen Avenue is a roughly paved road without sidewalks and has private residences spread out on either side.
However, supervisors said the speed limit should be lowered further, and wanted to post a 25 mph speed limit on the street.
The road is home to a Christmas tree farm and the pavement turns to dirt at the Dana Adobe.
Supervisors said that the street has heavy traffic during the holiday season and when the Dana Adobe holds events.
Dave Flynn, county traffic engineer, said that the state vehicle code allows the county to set speed limits between 25 and 55 mph. Posted speed limits can only be reduced by 5 mph following a thorough engineering and traffic survey.
Speed limits in rural areas can only be reduced once an area is defined as a business or residential district.
In a business or residential district, the speed limit is set at 25 mph but South Oakglen Avenue qualified as neither because the homes and businesses on the road are too spread out.
Flynn said that the speed limit for South Oakglen Avenue was originally set at 55 mph, and a Caltrans study said the prevailing speed of drivers on the road is 45 mph.
“We established a speed limit at 40 mph based on the criteria that could be applied,” Flynn said. “I think the board would say that 30 to 35 mph would be a more desirable speed limit for a residential area, but that’s hard to enforce and there must be a basis to set the limit on a country road that low.”
Flynn said that if supervisors gain more control over speed limits, they may establish artificially low speed limits. Unrealistically low speed limits can set up a “speed trap,” he said.
“California Highway Patrol can’t enforce a speed limit set at 25 or 30 mph if most people are driving 40 mph,” Flynn said. “We need to look at the traffic data and govern speed limits off of the prevailing speeds of drivers.”
Flynn said that the most compelling reason for setting and enforcing a lower speed limit is the density of homes on the road.
In the case of South Oakglen Avenue, neighborhoods are not dense enough to warrant a lower speed limit, he said.
The supervisors took their case for more local control over speed limits to the state assembly.
Lenthall said they contacted Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, and asked him to seek amendments to the vehicle code.
The issue is at a standstill because the state assembly is currently in recess, Lenthall said.