New speed limit study could yield same result

WATERVLIET — Another speed limit study can be done on Forest Beach Road, but the result may not change. 

That was the warning given to Watervliet Township residents and trustees Tuesday morning during an unofficial special meeting about the change in speed limit on the road. 

“You get what the drivers tell us,” said Sgt. Jim Campbell of the Michigan State Police. “When they drive that road, they tell us what they feel comfortable with.”

Campbell and Michael Juengling, Berrien County Road Department traffic safety supervisor, spoke to the group about why the speed limit on Forest Beach Road was changed to 40 mph, from 25 mph, earlier this year. 

The speed studies were requested by township trustees because, without a traffic study, the default limit would become 55 mph.

The roads that had been posted at 25 mph were not valid because of a 2006 state law that removed “residential” from the considerations for setting restrictions. Signs that listed a lower limit were in effect illegal and unenforceable.

The meeting was called after residents raised concerns at October’s Township Board meeting that 40 mph is too high. Trustees agreed the higher speed limit is not good for the road, which is frequented by pedestrians.

Campbell said the speed study was done during a 24-hour period April 19 and 428 vehicles drove by. Speeds were collected on two areas of the road and the 85th percentile was calculated and rounded to the nearest 5-mile per hour increment, which in this case was 40 mph. 

He said the 428 drivers that went by the day of the speed study took into consideration factors like pedestrians, school zones, churches and hills in the road. 

“We all try to drive a safe speed because we don’t want to injure anyone,” he said. “We know there are people going to be driving fast, but zero percent of the drivers went 50 mph or above. And only 4.7 percent of the people drove 25 mph. ... I can’t get 85 percent of people to do anything but follow a speed limit. That’s the safest statistical data there is.”

Campbell said accidents on the roads are taken into consideration when setting speeds, but Forest Beach Road has only had 10 accidents in 10 years and most of them were weather related.

The residents in attendance disagreed with the choice of doing the study in April because the area is frequented by pedestrians in the summer and people will drive slower. 

Campbell said speed limits can’t be changed with the time of year, so a spring day with normal weather was chosen for the study. He warned the residents that if another speed study is done in the summer, and if people still drive around 40 mph, then it would be stay at 40 mph. 

Juengling said he could do an informal speed study next summer to see what people are traveling at that time of year.

He said if people are driving around 40 mph, 85 percent of the time, it would have to stay at that, but if people are driving slower, then another official speed study could be conducted.