February 12, 2002
I can't drive 55

The Harris County attorney is asking the TNRCC to reconsider implementing the 55 MPH speed limit, saying that a new study claims it will not achieve its touted air quality improvements. While I'm not surprised to see that an array of interests has sued the State Implementation Plan (SIP), I was surprised to see this statement:

Ramon Alvarez, a scientist for Environmental Defense in Austin, said the group has not promoted the 55-mph speed limit.

"We do not believe the strategy is as effective as the plan claims it to be. We think it will be difficult to enforce and involves the risk of creating public resentment of environmental programs," he said.

A better strategy, Alvarez said, would be to use financial incentives to reduce driving, such as basing auto insurance premiums on miles traveled instead of time, and allowing employees to pay transit fares out of pre-tax dollars.

First, the enforcement issue is one I'd wondered about. Houstonians (myself included) are notorious leadfoots. One reason why is that we can get away with it. I can't tell you how many times I've been doing 70 in a 60- or 65-MPH zone and been passed by an HPD car. I've been in Houston over 13 years and the only speeding ticket I've ever gotten was not in town. I believe most people will ignore a 55 MPH limit unless enforcement is heavily stepped up, and even then people will take their chances more often than not.

On the flip side is the fact that you can't go 55, let alone 70, on most of the freeways here much of the time. There's too many cars out there. As I've said before, all the stop-and-go driving on the roads here has got to be worse for the air than going 70 MPH, but beyond the current MetroRail plans (which is more aimed at reducing non-highway inner city traffic) there are no hard plans on the horizon to bring rail out to where the heavy stuff is. Until there's a real alternative to driving to work, we're not going to make much progress on reducing auto emissions.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 12, 2002 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack