This Sunday's Washington Post reported that Montgomery County will be posting speed limit signs along the 5 1/2 mile section of the Capital Crescent Trail between Bethesda and the DC line. 15 mph.
I was a regular commuter along that section of trail for more than a year, and I don't think imposing speed limits is the solution to what may or may not be a problem. (I'm not the only one: DCist agrees)
Evidently there have been some anecdotal reports of conflicts with fast-moving cyclists and other users. The article only mentioned a single reported collision this year, however, and that's with 23,000 weekly users. It also cited "informal" reports of increased collisions, but I don't know what that means. Also, do we know if speed is a factor in these collisions or if there is another problem? I find it difficult to believe that Montgomery County would lower the speed limit on any street before gathering actual statistics of some kind, but seemingly they are determining that speed limits are appropriate here without any research. Better would be to put up signs with a phone number to report accidents, injuries and emergencies. That way they could start to track and determine whether or not there is actually a problem.
If there is a problem with crowding and speeding, it is limited to nice weather weekends and evenings only. My experience is that the trail serves bike commuters and experienced runners and walkers (who rarely if ever have conflicts with the bikes, because they know how to maintain their space on the trail) for the morning hours, and there is no need for limiting speeds. Likewise for all the colder months. In February, riding home at 7:30 in the evening, I might encounter one or two other human beings along that entire 5-mile stretch--sometimes none at all. So if speed limits are the solution, limit them to those times when the trail is heavily used, which is probably less than 10% of the time. Even when there are a lot of users, I never came close to any conflicts with others, even though I ride fast. It has a lot more to do with paying attention and anticipating what will happen up ahead than with speed.
Also, how was the 15 mph determined? In school zones you can drive a 3000 pound car 20 mph, which most drivers consider so slow they can't even get down to that speed, and it is considered the safe speed for traveling around children near a school. Why would 20 not be a reasonable speed for a 30 pound bike and its rider?
So what's the big deal, slowing down a little on the trail, one might ask? For a commuter like me, the difference would be about 7 minutes additional each way (if the limit were observed): more than an hour a week. Time that adds up. My commute from Arlington to Silver Spring was already almost an hour long, and that section was the quickest part.
So I'm opposed to creating speed limits and fines before any real research or statistics have been gathered and before any information about the magnitude of the problem is determined, if there even is a problem. And there is definitely no need for a speed limit during morning commuting hours and in the colder months.
Steve Offutt lives in Arlington and uses his bike a lot to get around.