A new bill from state Representative and Brunswick Town Councilor Dan Ankeles could grant Maine towns more power to set slower speed limits to encourage biking and walking.

On Thursday, lawmakers in Augusta will hold a public hearing on L.D. 527, which would allow towns to reduce posted speed limits of 35 mph or less to 25 mph on roads that see fewer than 6,000 vehicles per day. Currently, the Department of Transportation sets most speed limits, sometimes at levels that frustrate residents, according to Ankeles.

“So many times on the Town Council I’ve heard people complain that everyone is just going too fast,” he told The Times Record earlier this month. “We need to take every sort of opportunity we can to enable traffic calming at the local level.”

Co-sponsored by eight other members of the Legislature, including several Midcoast representatives, the bill has gained support from residents frustrated by the DOT’s “cumbersome and unpredictable” process of evaluating and setting speed limits, Ankeles said. Under L.D. 527, towns could skip DOT speed studies and work directly with local law enforcement to developing bicycle-pedestrian zones on qualifying roads.

Driving at lower speeds saves lives,” Brunswick Economic Development Project Manager and Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee staff liaison Chrissy Adamowicz wrote in a statement. “According to the Institute of Transportation Engineers, 90% of people hit by a car going 20 mph will survive, whereas only 20% will survive if hit by a car going 40 mph. As more people choose to walk and bike to save money, protect the environment, and boost their health, it is critical that we drive around Brunswick at safe speeds.”

Many people assume slower is safer, but that isn’t always the case, according to a spokesperson for MDOT, which will testify in opposition to L.D. 527 on Thursday.


Setting speed limits too low can increase the risk of accidents by creating dangerous speed differentials between drivers who respect the posted limit and those who ignore limits they see as artificially low, said Meghan Russo, MDOT’s manager of legislative and constituent services. Department speed studies, currently a required part of the process of adjusting speed maximums, allow MDOT traffic engineers to evaluate a number of factors, including a road’s visibility, curvature and average rate of traffic, in determining the appropriate limits.

Residents sometimes get frustrated when these engineering principles don’t spit out the result they want for their neighborhood, said Brunswick Police Chief Scott Stewart, who remembers an occasion when an MDOT speed study actually resulted in raised speed limits in Lisbon, the opposite of what the town had petitioned the department for. While he sometimes shares that frustration, he expressed doubts about his department’s ability to take over the state’s role setting safe limits.

“I think we have to rely on the experts,” he said. “We’re in the enforcement business, not so much the deciding-what-it-should-be business.”

There may be a middle ground to be found. While MDOT feels L.D. 527 as currently written is too broad, as it could be applied to several types of roadways and doesn’t require any engineer review, Russo said her team plans on working with Ankeles after Thursday’s meeting to find a compromise that works toward the goal both MDOT and lawmakers are after: making roadways safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

Thursday’s public hearing will take place at the tail of the Transportation Committee’s 1 p.m. session at the Statehouse, which can be viewed online at the Legislature’s website. Interested residents can submit testimony in support or in opposition to the bill online.

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