City speed limit changed to 25 mph

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Bike Walk Knoxville President Caroline Cooley explains why she supports the ordinance to reduce city speed limits during public forum. Photos by Moira Charnot.

Slow down, Knoxville.

Although motorists have a few months before it goes into effect, City Council on Tuesday passed on first reading an ordinance that drops the unposted speed limit on City streets from 30 miles per hour (mph) to 25 mph. 

Council members cited an increased need for pedestrian safety. They also passed an ordinance eliminating minimum speed limits, which had been 15 mph in parks and 25 mph on other roadways. 

“Speed is perhaps the most important factor in whether a collision results in a serious injury or fatality, so for this reason we are supremely supportive of this ordinance,” said Dr. Caroline Cooley, the current president of Bike Walk Knoxville, who signed up to speak in favor of the ordinance at public forum.

“According to research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a person is about 70 percent more likely to be killed if they’re struck by a vehicle traveling at 30 mph versus 25 mph,” Cooley continued.

Council member Lauren Rider was the first of several board members to state her concerns with how the public would be educated about the change. While she supported the measure, she noted the new ordinance applies to areas with no posted speed limit.

“Just like with litter, when we educate people not to litter, we also need to educate them to slow the heck down [while] driving,” Rider said.

Council member Lynne Fugate also gave her two cents on the issue, saying she was concerned with the “bad spot” that Knoxville Police Department officers could find themselves in due to having to pull over more people for driving over the speed limit.

“One of the most dangerous and confrontational acts they do is pulling people over, because you don’t know what you’re getting,” Fugate said. “A lot of anger tends to happen when people are pulled over, especially if they don’t know why.”

She continued: “My concern is that if there is not a runway to inform people that this is coming, we’re putting our police department in a bad situation, and we’re putting citizens in a bad situation.”

Fugate then suggested a period of time where only warnings would be given to citizens pulled over for speeding in order to give the citizens time to adjust to the new limits.

Rider, however, was reluctant to delay when the ordinance takes effect, arguing that all a postponement does is delay safer roads by several more months.

“People get hit by cars, people’s pets get hit by cars, people’s children get hit by cars—that’s where I hesitate with not going ahead, saying that we can delay speed limit (changes), because the data is real. For every mile an hour or five miles an hour that someone’s speeding, it lends to permanent damage and fatalities,” Rider said.

Council member Amelia Parker pointed out how significant the change would be. It’s been over thirty years since the last time the speed limit was changed, she said. 

Parker made a motion to amend the ordinance to not be made effective until July 1, 2022, in order to give more time for the public to be educated about the change. Council voted unanimously in favor of Parker’s amendment, giving motorists a few months to acclimate to slowing down in areas without a posted speed limit. 

Moira Charnot can be reached at news@hardknoxwire.com.

Published on December 2, 2021.