Another Speed Limit Lowered despite Advice from Police

July 25, 2014

by Barbara O’Brien

For the past decade, the majority of Windham selectmen have been voting to lower the state-approved speed limit on certain roads, mostly those being newly accepted as town roadways, despite the advice of local police.  It happened again, during the July 14 selectmen’s meeting, when a couple living on Westchester Road appeared before the board and asked that the speed limit on their portion of the road be lowered from 30 mph to 25 mph.

The reason for requesting the diminished speed limit was safety related, with the couple explaining that young children live in the area and a significant number of pedestrians also use this stretch of roadway.  There are no sidewalks in this area.  This portion of Westchester Road was once a cul-de-sac, they explained, but is now a thruway for other housing developments.

The issue was brought to the attention of police and the highway safety committee prior to being brought to selectmen.  A traffic study was conducted by police, resulting in a denial to post the road with a 25 mph sign.  Reportedly, based on the traffic study, a reduction in the speed from 30 mph to 25 mph was not warranted.  It should be noted that another section of Westchester Road was already limited to 25 mph, based on selectmen’s actions in 2008.  Police did not approve of that decision, either.  Lewis explained that this road is engineered and built for higher than 25 mph.

“A 25-mph sign does not make it enforceable,” Chief Lewis said.  “It can actually do more harm than good.”  Lewis also commented that the traffic on Westchester Road is actually much slower than in many similar Windham neighborhoods.  “These roads are designed for 30 mph,” he emphasized.  “By in large, to post a 25-mph sign is just a feel-good measure,” Chairman Ross McLeod said.  “It doesn’t actually make the roads safer.”  McLeod, an attorney, also reminded his fellow town officials that a 25-mph limit is completely unenforceable based on the state ordinance.

Selectman Bruce Breton, who historically has supported reducing these speed limits to 25 mph, said, “I know what the studies say,” but made a motion to reduce the speed limit on the entirety of Westchester Road to 25 mph, anyway.  Selectman Roger Hohenberger sided with Breton, stating he believes most people pay attention to speed limit signs, especially those in residential neighborhoods, and “drive accordingly.”

Selectman Joel Desilets agreed with police that the data from the traffic study doesn’t support lowering the speed limit by five miles per hour, but he does believe that a 25-mph sign gives motorists a message “to watch out.”  In addition, Desilets said he feels it is ridiculous to have two speed limits on one road.

Selectmen, eventually, voted 3 to 1 to grant the request to lower the speed limit to 25 mph and post the area as such.  Voting in favor of the reduction were Breton, Hohenberger and Desilets.  Only Chairman McLeod voted against the reduction.  Vice-chairman Al Letizio, Jr. did not attend the meeting.

Town Administrator David Sullivan said this most recent situation is the 25th time the issue has come up since 2004.  The results?  “It depends who sits on the board,” Sullivan said.  Chief Lewis said he feels it’s time for Windham to get an opinion from the New Hampshire attorney general.