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One Ohio city has found a way to lower speed limits without state permission

 A photo of a 35 miles per hour speed limit sign taken from below. The sun peeks through some hazy clouds in the background above a tree-lined horizon.
George Huffman
A Cincinnati Council Member has found a new interpretation of state law that could give cities more control over speed limits.

Leaders in several Ohio cities have asked the state legislature to give local governments more control over speed limits, without much luck. But city officials in Cincinnati are trying a different approach. They argue a new interpretation of Ohio state law allows them to more easily lower some speed limits.

Right now, the state dictates speed limits. For through highways, that limit is set at 35 miles per hour (excepting school zones and business districts).

Cincinnati Council Member Mark Jeffreys proposed a workaround: if the city puts a stop sign or a yield sign every mile, the street is no longer a through highway, and its speed limit can be lower.

Local Government reporter Becca Costello reported the story for The Ohio Newsroom member station WVXU and joined Today from The Ohio Newsroom to explain how Jeffreys’s plan works.

On control of speed limits

“Speed limits are entirely controlled by state law, so cities have really almost no control over speed limits even in their own jurisdictions. State law has a definition for every kind of road or street and sets a minimum speed limit for each of those. Cities can request a speed limit change but they have to do a traffic study and then get permission from the Ohio Department of Transportation. It can take a long time to put together the information and get that permission.”

On Jeffreys’s plan

“It has to do with the definition of streets. A through highway is a street that’s at least a mile long or a mile-long street of a much longer road. And the minimum speed of these through highways is 35 miles per hour. [Jeffreys’s] staff actually looked into this and figured out that they can re-design a road and make it not a through highway anymore. One way to do that is to put a stop sign or a yield to pedestrian sign at least every mile. The city’s department of transportation and engineering did talk to ODOT and ODOT told them that the law has never been interpreted this way before, but it’s legitimate.”

On other cities speed lowering efforts

“There’s definitely a lot of interest in lowering speed limits across the state. Columbus [is trying to lower] downtown speed limits. Cleveland Heights did something similar but a little bit of a different route. Late last year they voted to reclassify some streets as non-through streets. So it’s another way to avoid getting state permission but you do have to have council action which can be a lot to organize.”

On why cities want to lower limits

“A lot of Ohio cities have committed to a Vision Zero plan which is a way to eliminate serious traffic injuries and fatalities. Cities with a Vision Zero plan so far are Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo. And traffic problems are still a pretty big concern. So far this year, 486 people have died in traffic crashes in Ohio.”

Becca Costello is a local government reporter for WVXU in Cincinnati.
Erin Gottsacker is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently reported for WXPR Public Radio in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.