Princeton residents call Commercial Street the main street through town; to CalTrans, Commercial Street is State Highway 45.
“A tragedy waiting to happen” is what many Princeton residents are saying about CalTrans proposal to increase the speed limit through its town from 35 MPH to 40 MPH.
As motorists travel into the small community of Princeton, they may notice a string of homes alongside State Highway 45, with several businesses, a post office, a library, a park and a high school. Halfway through town drivers make the bend around a blind curve, with crosswalks on both sides.
The road is most frequented by travelers heading to work in the Chico area.
At a current speed limit of 35 MPH, some may say that is too fast, but according to CalTrans the speed needs to be higher according to a recent study.
Earlier this year CalTrans completed an Engineering and Traffic Survey (E&TS), a requirement every seven to ten years when any stretch of highway has a speed limit set lower than the State Maximum of 55 MPH. The E&TS consists of engineering measurements of prevailing free flow speeds in a specified roadway segment; this study allows the court systems and the general public to accept and respect the posted speed limits and allowing them to be enforceable.
The E&TS from seven years ago is set to expire for the one mile stretch of highway through Princeton.
According to a recent E&TS completed by CalTrans earlier this year, it’s time to raise the speed limit.
At a public meeting held at the Princeton High School Cafeteria on Thursday, August 28, 2014, CalTrans met with a group of concerned citizens discussing the reasoning behind the proposed speed increase.
“The basic speed law says that no person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and at a rate that won’t endanger themselves or others,” said Don Rushton, Caltrans Chief of District 3 Traffic Operations,
“The E&TS was measured using traffic free flowing through town, and our we generally set speed limits to the 85th Percentile, rounding it to the nearest 5 MPH.”
According to the survey completed by CalTrans, the 85th Percentile of drivers drive at speeds of 39 MPH as they come into town, and 35 MPH through the curve, and increase their speeds back to 38 MPH.
Outraged with the data presented, many residents claimed to have witnessed vehicles traveling at much greater speeds than currently posted; blaming the lack of speed enforcement.
“Since cars are speeding down the road anyways, you think you should raise the speed limit,” said a resident of Princeton.
Rushton commented that raising the speed limit to match the 85th percentile will be safer, reducing tailgating, road rage and many vehicle accidents.
According the California Highway Patrol there had been only one accident during the 20092012 period.
California Highway Patrol Lieutenant Commander E.L. Walker commented that his agency has been understaffed.
“We try to have an officer in the Princeton area a few times a week,” said Walker.
After hearing concerns of the citizens, Walker commented that he was going to increase enforcement in the area.
Along the one mile stretch of State Highway 45 in Princeton is the town High School.
“What about the Children walking across the street and the school zone?” asked a resident of Princeton.
Rushton commented that the School Zone speed limit of 25 MPH would remain in effect as California Vehicle Code states in Section 22353, establishing a school zone when children are going to or leaving the school, during school hours or during the noon recess period.
“That’s a recipe for disaster,” said a resident of Princeton, “to have driver’s slowdown from 40mph to 25mph, somebody is going to get killed.”
Princeton residents also commented that it was difficult for school children and pedestrian traffic to cross the state highway to get to local businesses or their homes.
“People who travel that road don’t want to stop for pedestrians,” said a resident of Princeton.
“I almost got hit the other day crossing the road, a car came around the blind corner and nearly ran over me!” commented another resident.
With three crosswalks along the State Highway, residents asked if it was advisable to raise the speed limit out of safety.
According to the 2014 California Manual for Setting Speed limits published by CalTrans, Section 1.3.6 states that the frequency of pedestrians is likewise an important factor, particularly at intersections with limited sight distance and in areas with crosswalks with no intersection traffic controls.
Residential and Business District
A business owner and resident of Princeton commented that the speed was already too fast as it is difficult for many residents to back out of their driveways, turn onto side streets, or pull out of business parking areas.
“We have young kids crossing the road, businesses and a residential area,” said a resident of Princeton, “We are a community, not a freeway.”
D’Arcy McLeod, CalTrans Traffic Operations Engineer commented, “as more people drive through the speed zones; they usually become comfortable with the route and drive slightly faster; we are required to go back and review speed zones to make sure that they match that of the 85th percentile.”
According to the 2014 California Manual for Setting Speed limits published by CalTrans, Section 1.3.1 states that the design and physical characteristics of the roadway place limitations on the safe operating speeds of vehicles. These characteristics include roadway geometrics, sight distance, parking practices and pedestrian activity, driveway density, intersections, rural, residential or developed areas.
Princeton Fire Station traffic also frequents the highway tending to calls.
“A 40 MPH speed limit is not going to work when we have our 40,000 gallon water tanker coming out of the station, and pulling onto the highway to attend and emergency call,” said a Princeton Firefighter.
Upon research, the mile long stretch of State Highway within the speed zone includes three crosswalks, a library, children’s center, a post office, community park, school zone, nine businesses and 30 residential dwellings in which their driveways enter/exit onto the highway.
In the 2014 California Manual for Setting Speed limits published by CalTrans, states that a business district is a portion of a highway and the property contiguous thereto whereupon one side of a highway, for a distance of 600 feet, 50 percent or more of the contiguous property fronting thereon is occupied by buildings in use for businesses or upon both sides in of which highway, collectively, for a distance of 300 feet, 50 percent or more of the contiguous property fronting thereon is so occupied. The section also states that all churches, apartments, hotels, multiple dwelling homes, clubs, public buildings (other than schools), shall be deemed business structures.
Additionally, the same manual state that according to California Vehicle Code, Section 515, a residential district is that portion of a highway and the property contiguous thereto, other than a business district, upon one side of the highway within a distance of a quarter of a mile, the contiguous property fronting thereon is occupied by 12 or more separate dwelling houses or business structures, or upon both sides of the highway collectively, within a distance of a quarter mile, the contiguous property fronting thereon is occupied by 16 or more separate dwellings. A residence district may be longer than one quarter of a mile if the above ratio of separate dwelling houses or business structures to the length of the highway exists.
Setting the New Speed Limit or Keeping the Old
While many community members questioned whether their attendance was necessary, as many believed that CalTrans had its mind already set on the new speed limit.
“What can we do as a community to not get this changed,” asked a resident of Princeton.
Rushton commented that the purpose of the community form was to gain public insight for consideration on setting a new limit; however stated that setting the speed limit at the 85th percentile was most likely evident.
According to the 2014 California Manual for Setting Speed limits published by CalTrans, Section 3.4.4 allows CalTrans to apply a 5 mile per hour reduction, stating that when a speed limit is to be posted it shall be established at the nearest 5 MPH increment to the 85th percentile speed of free flowing traffic, rounding as standard mathematics direct. Under some circumstances, the posted speed may be reduced by 5 MPH from the nearest 5 MPH increment of the 85th percentile speed. If a 5 MPH reduction is justified, the E&TS shall document in writing the conditions and justification for the lower speed limit and be approved by a registered Civil or Traffic Engineer.
This article also states that California Vehicle Code allows for setting the speed limit at the 5 MPH increment below the 85th percentile as stated in CVC 21400: The Department of Transportation shall revise the California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, as it read on January 1, 2012, to require the Department of Transportation or a local authority to round speed limits to the nearest five miles per hour of the 85th percentile of the free flowing traffic.
However, in cases in which the speed limit needs to be rounded up to the nearest five miles per hour increment of the 85thpercentile speed, the Department of Transportation or a local authority may decide to instead round down the speed limit to the lower five miles per hour increment, but then the Department of Transportation or a local authority shall not reduce the speed limit any further for any reason.
With the information found in the 2014 California Manual for Setting Speed limits, it appears that CalTrans would be able to keep the 35 MPH speed limit, and still be within the stated law.
The Next Step
Colusa County District 5, Board Supervisor, Denise Carter was in attendance and stated that she was going to submit a letter from the Board of Supervisors with a list of concerns to pursue the CalTrans District to consider keeping the posted speed limit as is.
The concerns Princeton residents had with the speed limit increase included: no turn pockets onto side streets, three crosswalks in the highway, no sidewalks for pedestrians, a children’s park adjacent to the highway, fire department traffic, business clustering and traffic, perpendicular parking, town post office adjacent to the highway, a high school with an open campus for lunch, and pedestrian traffic at all times during the day, extreme weather and fog conditions, and high traffic from farm equipment and tractor trailers.
Rushton commented that a letter from the County Board of Supervisors will help with the decision making of the speed zone along State Highway 45 in Princeton.
If the speed limit is set to increase, Princeton residents can expect that change at the beginning of next year.
Correction Notice: In the printed edition of this article, we incorrectly identified the individuals in the photo as Maxwell residents, the individuals are Princeton residents. We apologize for this error.