Letter to the Editor

Does government moving faster mean better?

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Are you often frustrated with how slowly government operates? A recent situation demonstrates when government wants to move fast they can, but that doesn't always lead to good decision making.

Consider what happened when Dickinson County wanted to reduce the speed limit on the straight-away portion of Stakeout Road. The Tuesday Board of Supervisors agenda for Aug. 23 was published the preceding Friday afternoon. The 17 item BOS agenda contained – down in the County Engineer section, after 10:30 a.m. – item 15 b: "Approve speed limit reduction request from the City of Okoboji on Stakeout Rd."

It isn’t very often that a board of supervisors agenda is given accelerated consideration. The issue was a speed reduction for the straight-away portion of Stakeout Road from 35 to 25 mph. With one business day for public review, this speed reduction was discussed and voted approval before 10:30 a.m. It would be one thing if the Okoboji City Council and the Okoboji Police had requested the Stakeout Road speed reduction. A review of the facts shows that an Okoboji policeman had only requested that the location of a speed limit sign be improved to better inform drivers. If there had been accidents on Stakeout Road it might be understandable, according to the Okoboji Police Chief there have been none.

Last fall, after three Okoboji City Council meetings, the speed on the curved portion of Stakeout Road near Highway 71 — including the bike trail entrance and McDonalds — was properly reduced to 25 mph. But since there are no houses on the straight-away portion of Stakeout Road it is hard to understand how a residential speed limit of 25 mph is warranted. Moreover, increasingly the lightly traveled Sunner Avenue to Stakeout Road path has been used as an effective alternative to the traffic congestion on Highway 71. Slowing the speed on the straight-away portion of Stakeout Road makes this traffic alternative less desirable. Will this speed reduction be logical after the tourists leave?

County Engineer Dan Eckert has pointed out the more serious vehicular safety issue on Stakeout Road is the vegetation blocking driver visibility on the west side of the road. The county has already removed vegetation on the east side of Stakeout near 175th Street. County Road Department efforts have also improved driver visibility at the intersection of Stakeout Road and 175th Street.

Some people believe that reducing the speed limit will reduce accidents. The authority for the benefits of lowering speed limits in Iowa is the Iowa Department of Transportation. The IDOT brochure titled Speed Limit Questions? has the answers:

A. Will lowering the speed limit reduce speeds? Unlikely. Studies show that there is little change in the speed pattern after the posting of a speed limit. The driver is much more influenced by the roadway environment.

B. Will lowering the speed limit reduce crash frequency? Again, unlikely. Although lowering the speed limit is often seen as a solution to preventing crashes, this is not the case. Crashes are most often the result of driver inattention and driver error. However, if a posted speed limit is unrealistically low, it creates a greater speed variance (i.e. some drivers follow the speed limit, while most drive at a higher speed that seems reasonable to them). This speed variance can lead to tailgating, unsafe passing, and ultimately to more crashes.

Generally, we would like to have government accomplish more in less time, but for this issue a rush to judgement did not serve our community well.

Phil Petersen