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Cincinnati may have more control over speed limits than previously thought


A new interpretation of Ohio state law will allow the city of Cincinnati to lower some speed limits, according to city officials.

The state designates many major streets like Reading Road, Montgomery Road and Warsaw Avenue as "through highways" with a mandatory 35 mile per hour speed limit - except for school zones and business districts.

Cincinnati City Council Member Mark Jeffreys said the previous understanding was that the city had no control over those speed limits — until now.

"Essentially what we're doing is changing the nature of the street to enable us to change speeds," Jeffreys told WVXU. "Every mile, there has to be either a stop sign or a yield sign, which essentially interrupts traffic."

In other words, if the street has a stop sign or yield sign at an intersection at least every mile, it no longer meets the definition of a through highway, allowing the city to lower the speed limit to 25 miles per hour without getting permission from the state.

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Jeffreys said it's not a simple solution, but it's one possible traffic calming measure the city can now consider.

"It does need to be done in a holistic way," he said. "We don't want speeds going back and forth, because it could cause some issues with safety and be counter to our objective."

The evaluation will be part of the Complete Streets process for road repaving, on a case-by-case basis. And community councils can submit a request for an evaluation through the same traffic calming request process for things like speed cushions and crosswalks.

"The fact that we call streets in cities 'through highways' just says a lot about the mindset," Jeffreys said. "The problem is that we historically have built all this infrastructure — through highways, through expressways — just to bypass the neighborhood and go through it as quickly as possible. And, you know, be damned to the people who live there; who cares?"

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The relevant section of state law is Ohio Revised Code Section 4511.65: Designation of through highways.

Here's an excerpt [bold emphasis added]:

"[S]treets or highways, or portions thereof, are hereby designated through highways if they are within a municipal corporation, if they have a continuous length of more than one mile between the limits of said street or highway or portion thereof, and if they have "stop" or "yield" signs or traffic control signals at the entrances of the majority of intersecting streets or highways. For purposes of this section, the limits of said street or highway or portion thereof shall be a municipal corporation line, the physical terminus of the street or highway, or any point on said street or highway at which vehicular traffic thereon is required by regulatory signs to stop or yield to traffic on the intersecting street..."

A "through highway" can be an entire road or sections of road in between the "limits" — which can be any of the things listed above — as long as that road or portion of road is at least one mile long.

City officials said they can establish new "limits" by installing a regulatory sign that forces vehicles to stop, splitting a "through highway" into sections that are less than a mile long.

Jeffreys said the "regulatory sign" has to be installed at an intersection, so a crosswalk in the middle of a block wouldn't count; a traffic light also doesn't count.

Some "through highways" are also state routes, and those could not be changed through this process; for example: Hamilton Avenue in College Hill. The minimum speed limit in Ohio outside a school zone is 25 miles per hour.

Becca Costello