Council Pumps Brakes on Speed Limit Hike

City Council members spoke against raising the speed limit on a small portion of San Fernando Boulevard, a choice that would suspend police officers’ ability to enforce the limit there with laser technology for some time.

Citing safety concerns, the Burbank City Council agreed to slow down on potential increases to the speed limit on part of San Fernando Boulevard.

The city’s Public Works Department proposed Tuesday to increase the speed limit by 5 mph on both stretches of the road — which is divided by train tracks — between Winona Avenue and the northern city limit near Hollywood Way. The change would have shifted the speed limit on the northern side of the boulevard to 35 mph and on the other side to 40 mph.

The council removed those two street segments from a speed survey that it will vote on during its next meeting on Aug. 10. If the council approves the survey, local police officers won’t be able to enforce the speed limits on those roughly 0.8-mile-long stretches with laser technology. Police could clock vehicles’ speeds by tracking them for a quarter-mile or more, but city staff members noted the method requires too much of the department’s resources to be effective.

The proposal was part of the city’s engineering and traffic survey, which municipalities must periodically conduct to gauge how quickly drivers are moving on local streets. Burbank’s Public Works Department found the 85th percentile speed for the boulevard’s northern section was 40 mph, meaning 85% of drivers traveled on that part of the road at or below 40 mph. The same measure for San Fernando’s other section was 47 mph.

State regulations require agencies to refer to the 85th percentile when setting speed limits in most areas. Traffic engineering manager Edward Yu explained to council members that the proposed speed limits were about 5 mph below the 85th percentile measure. California’s vehicle code allows such a change when certain conditions — such as on-street parking or narrow roadways — are present.

But Councilwoman Sharon Springer, whose platform as a council candidate included providing safer streets for pedestrians and bikers, opposed any speed limit increases on the street sections. Noting that the two segments had an aggregate total of only eight accidents in the last three years — below the state average for similar roadways, according to Public Works — she suggested the lower speed limit prevented more mishaps from occurring.

“I feel like increasing the speed limit rewards speeders, and I know it’s hard for us to have the resources to put police patrols all over our city,” she said.

Springer suggested that the council postpone voting on the speed limit changes until California legislators decide the fate of Assembly Bill 43 after they reconvene in mid-August. Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, whose district includes Burbank, authored the bill, which would allow cities to further decrease speed limits in certain situations. It received overwhelming support in the Assembly and has so far elicited positive reaction in the Senate.

However, Sgt. Fletcher Stone of the Burbank Police Department warned that if the council didn’t approve the speed survey, officers wouldn’t legally be able to enforce the limits by laser. Yu also cautioned that AB 43’s passage might not affect the two street segments being discussed.

The council eventually voted, 4-0, to introduce an ordinance approving the survey other than the portion concerning the two street segments on San Fernando, effectively making the speed limits there unenforceable (Mayor Bob Frutos was absent from Tuesday’s meeting). The council will vote on the ordinance at its next meeting, and can make a decision regarding the two segments at a later date.

Councilman Konstantine Anthony appeared to question the immediate need for speed-limit enforcement at the area on San Fernando, noting the length of the segments and the relatively low number of accidents. He also pointed out that no physical components on the segments force drivers to slow down.

“Stone mentioned that the number one way for the Police Department to prevent speeding is to give out traffic citations,” Anthony said. “But that’s not the number one way for cities to prevent speeding. The number one way is to build the infrastructure where people drive slower.”

A bike lane is planned for the roadway, according to Public Works Director Ken Berkman, but the design isn’t expected to be completed until spring 2023. The area of those two segments is particularly concerning, Stone added, because of drivers entering it from Los Angeles, which has a higher speed limit.

Improvements to infrastructure are not “going to be here soon enough,” Stone said, “whereas we can conduct enforcement now.”