SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — Speed limit signs on Phoenix Street between Broadway Street and Blue Star Highway in South Haven could’ve seen different numbers. Instead, the city council decided to give the possibility a back seat by denying a resolution that would pursue a speed study.
That’s because of the 85th Percentile Rule, which sets suggested limits from the Michigan Department of Transportation and state police speed studies at the point 85% of drivers do not exceed.
Those usually never lead to a slower limit, which is why South Haven Public Works Director William Hunter told city council members at their Jan. 16 meeting that pursuing a speed study for Phoenix would’ve been a “coin flip.”
“The intent was to address the concerns (from) citizens of it going too fast,” Hunter said. “They were expecting — and I think people communicating to us — that the speed would be decreased, which I don’t fully believe it would.”
For example, Phoenix Street’s speed limit is primarily 35 mph. If a study was performed and 85% of drivers hypothetically drove 37.5 mph, the rule would force the average to round up to 40, which contradicts safety concerns of those wanting a lower limit.
The rule even has South Haven’s state representative taking notice. Rep. Joey Andrews, D-St. Joseph, said the process involving the 85th Percentile is “frustrating.”
“It’s especially complicated in our communities on the coast where traffic and population increase dramatically in the tourism season and decrease in the off season in winter,” Andrews said in a statement.
But a bill in Lansing could change that.
Rep. Bradley Slagh, R-Zeeland, drafted H.B. 4012, which would make some changes to the Michigan Vehicle Code if passed.
One of them is that the speed limit “may be set below the eighty-fifth percentile speed if an engineering and safety study demonstrates a situation with hazards to public safety that are not reflected by the eighty-fifth percentile speed.”
If passed, the bill would also remove the overall requirement of a safety and engineering study for a speed limit to change. In its place, the limit “must be determined in accordance with traffic engineering practices that provide an objective analysis of the characteristics of the highway.”
“We want it to be realistic. … If there is a church or school crossing, or if there is a dip in the road or a curve, it really could take all of those into effect and lower the speed limit potential,” Slagh explained. “We really think that it just makes sense to allow municipalities to decide whether it goes up or down.”
The bill has bipartisan support, including from Democrat Rep. Julie Rogers of Kalamazoo, where a speed study and slim county road commission vote controversially rose the limit on Nichols Road, along with 14th Street in nearby Cooper Township.
“Local context and what the situation is and what is located really does need to be taken into effect,” Rogers added. “I think right now, the (rule) is currently … a one-size-fits-none approach.”
Andrews has not explicitly stated if he will support H.B. 4012 but said “we are looking forward to working towards a solution that prioritizes safety in all our communities.”
When reached for comment, an MDOT spokesperson said, “State highways will continue to have safe design speeds and prudent posted speed limits.”
Two years ago, state representatives passed H.B. 4014, a bill co-sponsored by Rogers that would’ve changed the 85-percentile rule in a similar way. However, the bill never made it out of the Senate Transportation on Infrastructure Committee before the legislative session ended.
As of Monday, H.B. 4012 is sitting in the house’s committee on transportation, mobility and infrastructure.