BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    ”

                                                                  AB 529
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          Date of Hearing:   May 11, 2011

                                Felipe Fuentes, Chair

                      AB 529 (Gatto) - As Amended:  May 3, 2011 

          Policy Committee:                              
                        Local Government                        9-0

          Urgency:     No                   State Mandated Local Program: 
          No     Reimbursable:               


          This bill requires Caltrans to revise the California Manual on 
          Uniform Traffic Control Devices (CMUTCD), as it read on January 
          1, 2012, to require Caltrans or a local authority to round speed 
          limits to the nearest five miles per hour (mph) of the 85th 
          percentile of the free-flowing traffic; however, in cases where 
          the speed limit needs to be rounded up to the nearest 5-mph 
          increment of the 85th percentile speed, the Caltrans or a local 
          authority may instead round the speed limit down to the lower 
          5-mph increment, but may not reduce the speed limit any further.

          (Currently, an entity must round to the nearest 5 mph, and if 
          this results in rounding up, the entity can instead round down 
          by formally demonstrating safety-related considerations. In 
          cases where the speed limit needs to be rounded down, the entity 
          can establish a speed limit with an additional 5 mph reduction 
          by demonstrating safety-related considerations. This bill allows 
          an entity, in cases where it is required to round up, to instead 
          round down without providing documentation.  However, in these 
          cases the entity would not be able to formally seek a further 
          5-mph reduction in the speed limit.)

           FISCAL EFFECT  

          Negligible fiscal impact to Caltrans and administrative savings 
          to local agencies in establishing speed limits.


           1)Background  . A speed limit is generally set at or near the 85th 


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            percentile of the prevailing speed (i.e., the speed which is 
            exceeded by 15% of motorists) as measured by an engineering 
            and traffic survey (ETS).  In cases where the 85th percentile 
            speed is not an increment of 5 mph, a jurisdiction rounds the 
            speed limit to the closest 5 mph increment.  For example, if 
            the survey shows an 85th percentile speed of 34 mph, the speed 
            limit will be set at 35 mph.  The CMUTCD specifies that a 
            jurisdiction may lower that speed limit by 5 mph (i.e., to 30 
            mph in the example) if safety-related factors suggest that a 
            lower speed is warranted.  The jurisdiction cannot, however, 
            lower the speed limit by more than 5 mph, regardless of 
            additional safety factors.  According to Caltrans, California 
            is the only state in the nation that allows for a 5-mile 
            reduction in speed limit after rounding to the nearest 5 mph 
            increment closest to the 85th percentile.

            The process for setting speed limits is guided by federal 
            standards contained in the National MUTCD. Any change to the 
            process in California must be approved by the Federal Highway 
            Administration as being "in substantial compliance" with the 
            National MUTCD.  Caltrans is responsible for maintaining the 
            guidance and standards in the CMUTCD.

            In 1996, speed limits were set at the first 5 mph increment 
            below the 85th percentile, a process that put downward 
            pressure on posted speed limits. The speed limit could then be 
            lowered an additional 5 mph for safety-related reasons as 
            discussed above. In 2004, California revised its process to 
            conform more closely to federal standards by providing that 
            the speed limit should be set at the nearest 5 mph increment 
            of the 85th percentile.

            After the 2004 change, many speed limits were being raised 
            after applying the "nearest 5 mph increment" criteria.  In 
            response to raising speed limits, Caltrans found that many 
            jurisdictions would then apply the additional 5 mph reduction 
            without appropriate justification.  Without justification for 
            lowering speed limits, speeding tickets were often not upheld 
            in court if the presiding official found that the speed limit 
            was set below the 85th percentile.

            On May 15, 2009, Caltrans adopted two policy changes for 
            setting speed limits, as follows:  

             a)   Rather than guiding local jurisdictions to set the speed 


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               limits at the nearest 5 mph, the California MUTCD now 
               requires it.  
             b)   If the 5 mph reduction is applied, the ETS shall 
               document in writing the conditions and justification for 
               the reduced speed limit and be approved by a registered 
               Civil or Traffic Engineer.

           2)Purpose  . According to the author, these recent changes to the 
            CMUTCD will likely require speed limit increases on 44% of 
            local streets and roads in the City of Glendale, prompting the 
            need for the bill. 

            According to the League of California Cities, cities can 
            currently round down ›speed limits] only when there are safety 
            needs as identified by an engineering judgment, a policy that 
            does not allow a city to decide what is actually in the best 
            interest of its community.  The process changes in this bill 
            (described in the summary above) will return some 
            decision-making authority to cities to address their unique 
            local conditions.
           Analysis Prepared by  :    Chuck Nicol / APPR. / (916) 319-2081