Some Tahlequah residents are calling for an increase in speed limits in certain areas, while others would like to see safer accommodations for pedestrians.
Since the City Council is responsible for setting speed limits on roadways, street officials said they’ve been asked to post more signs in problem areas, rather than push a speed limit increase.
City Street Department Superintendent William “Buddy” Harris said there hasn’t been an increase of speed limits since he’s been employed, for nine years.
"The only part the street department is involved with is if we’re asked by the City Council to change speed limit signs. We get informed and then we change it," he said.
According to the City Ordinance, vehicles can only be driven 25 mph on any street or highway within the city limits, unless a different speed limit is designated and posted, or if a different limit is established. Emergency vehicles being lawfully driven are exempted from traveling 25 mph.
“The city board, by motion or resolution, may reduce or increase the speed limits provided in this code, and when it does so, appropriate signs shall be placed on such streets or parts of streets indicating the lower or higher speed limit,” the ordinance reads.
City residential neighborhoods and school zones are all marked at 25 mph, and everywhere else is posted with 35 mph zones.
Mayor Sue Catron said she receives complaints fairly often about speeding traffic on Bluff Avenue, which is the street where several people feel the limit should be raised.
“It is crossed by youngsters traveling between the neighborhoods around Greenwood [Elementary] and the Skatepark. If the speed limit is raised, we need to consider other ways to slow traffic and make a safe crossing,” said Catron. “My responses to those calls to date have been to request a greater enforcement presence from [Police Chief] Chief Nate King.”
During a March 20 Saturday Forum on Facebook, Tahlequah Daily Press readers were asked if they believed the speed limits are too high or too low, and if they’ve gotten a ticket for speeding.
Tavia Fuller Armstrong said Bluff Avenue is about 1.1 miles in length and it takes 2.6 minutes to travel that distance at 25 mph. It would take about 1.9 minutes to travel that road if the speed were increased to 35 mph, she added.
“Is it really worth the risk to children and other pedestrians to raise the speed limit by 10 mph to save drivers .7 minutes on their commute?” she wrote. “It’s not even worth the extra noise in the neighborhood, much less the risk of increased accidents. All to pacify speed demons who want to save less than one minute on their drive across town.”
However, Dillon Ray Robertson said Bluff Avenue should be increased to 35 mph, except for pedestrian traffic when school lets out, just like East Downing Street.
Cathy Cott challenged Robertson, and said crashes are bound to happen on two-lane roads where a vehicle is turning.
“I think rear-end crashes would increase dramatically. Think about South Muskogee Avenue running First Street south; most of it is four-lane with no turn lanes,” she said. “Even with the extra lanes, most of the wrecks are rear-end wrecks where someone is waiting to turn left.”
King said streets such as Choctaw Street and Fourth Street could handle 35 mph traffic, but intersections on Bluff Avenue would be dangerous at those speeds.
Catron said conditions on roadways such as Choctaw Street, Bluff Avenue, and Fourth Street are different than when the speed limits were first established.
“Speeding vehicles and an increase in pedestrian traffic have increased safety concerns for these roads,” she said. “I would be happy to request the review, analysis, and recommendation process begin within the street and police departments.”
Former Street Commission Wayne Ryals, who was in his role since 2015 before he retired in August 2020, said heavily traveled residential streets, such as Bluff Avenue and Choctaw Street, could have used an increase in speed limits. However, the number of homes close to the roadway won’t allow that.
“In either situation, whether to increase or decrease speeds, we would want to gather traffic count data and get input from our law enforcement department as to their recommendation," said Catron.
According to the schedule for the city, drivers who receive speeding tickets can face minimum fines of $160 for speeding 1-15 mph over the limit, $185 for speeding 16-25 over, or $235 for speeding 26 or more mph over.
What you said
The TDP asked readers on its website what they thought about speed limits for city streets. Thirty-eight percent agreed that a few speed limits are too low, whereas 14 percent said all speed limits are too low. Twenty-one percent indicated most speed limits are too low, and 12 percent said a few speed limits are too high.