The Keene City Council is slated to take up a request this week to have city staff conduct a comprehensive review of speed limits in the city. The suggestion came from Councilor Kate Bosley, prompted by the council’s recent vote to lower the speed limit in the neighborhood behind the Keene Family YMCA by 5 mph.
That early September vote came after school Superintendent Robert Malay, who lives in the area, presented a petition signed by 28 residents, calling for a lower limit. City staff studied the neighborhood during the summer, finding the average speed there to be about 15 mph — well below the 30 mph limit that’s a default for all city streets not otherwise marked. But the council, by a strong 12-2 vote, opted to make the change, with Councilor Randy Filiault, who lives in the neighborhood, saying of the staff’s findings: “I don’t buy any of it.”
We’re not sure the comprehensive review of residential areas requested by Bosley and Councilor Dave Richards was meant to reassure city residents that the council is looking out for safety on all of Keene’s streets — not just those on which key officials live — though that could be a side effect. Bosley wrote that “concerns have been brought to me” about street safety and that “It’s important to me that we look at this as a holistic approach to protect all of the children of our community and not just neighborhoods on a complaint driven basis.”
If the issue was easy to resolve, that would make complete sense. However it isn’t an easy task; it’s a very costly and time-consuming one. At least, that’s what senior city staff told members of the council’s municipal services, facilities and infrastructure committee last week. Again, though, the councilors chose to ignore the advice, voting 3-2 to recommend the citywide review.
There’s something to be said for a holistic approach to public safety. It would certainly combat the impression that to get the council to act, you simply need to make a fuss and/or have the right neighbor. It would be fair and maybe keep residents from writing every time someone speeds down their street.
Then again, it might not, and it would definitely tie up resources. There are many residential neighborhoods in Keene where speeding is not a problem. Spending limited staff time and taxpayer funds to study an issue in places it doesn’t exist makes little sense. As Councilor Robert Sutherland noted during the discussion last week, a comprehensive study might amount to trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.
In any case, if the councilors are going to ignore the advice of the city’s engineer, public works director, police chief and manager — as they have so far on the matter — why would a comprehensive review by those same staffers convince them where to raise or lower speed limits?
It seems this is one issue where a “squeaky wheel” approach might be the most cost-effective in targeting those neighborhoods where there really is a safety concern.