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There have been less fatal crashes in downtown Columbus after speed limit was lowered to 25 mph

Two cars involved in a fatal crash sit in front of a Giant Eagle Store on North High Street in Columbus.
George Shillcock
Two cars involved in a fatal crash on Thursday, May 30, 2024 sit on the road in front of a Giant Eagle on North High Street in Columbus, Ohio.

Fatal and serious injury crashes dropped by more than half in the year after Columbus lowered the speed limit to 25 miles per hour on many streets downtown.

Before March 2023, there were 11 downtown streets with speed limits over 25 miles per hour on a portion of the road. Now, those downtown streets have that lower speed limit.

The number of fatal and serious injury crashes dropped from 19 before the change to 9 after the change. In that same time span, the total number of reported crashes downtown dropped from 479 to 407, a nearly 15% reduction.

Katherine Swidarski with the Columbus Department of Public Service said the city is working to lower speeds, improve pedestrian safety and make infrastructure improvements throughout the city. This is part of the city's Vision Zero plan to reduce these types of crashes.

"So if we reduce speed, even the option in our design of roadways for people to be speeding and then, of course, reduce the behavior of speeding, we reduce the possibility of crashes and we increase the survivability of crashes," Swidarski said.

The rest of Columbus has experienced many serious crashes in recent months.

Police responded late Thursday night to a fatal car accident on the corner of North High and Olentangy streets in Clintonville. Police said one car was turning south from Olentangy Street onto North High Street, near a Giant Eagle, when the driver hit a man crossing in the marked crosswalk. The driver did not remain at the scene, according to officials.

Another driver reportedly didn't see the man laying in the road and also hit him. That driver did stay at the scene. Benjamin Weiss, 23, was transported to the hospital in critical condition and later died of his injuries.

On May 13, a car driving on the one-way North 4th Street in the University District crashed and struck several parked cars near the intersection of 19th Avenue. The driver of that car was transported to the hospital and survived his injuries.

These incidents are some of many that illustrate why fatal car accidents and pedestrian safety is an issue beyond the downtown area.

Cars were also reported to have veered off the road and hit businesses throughout the city, including the American Red Cross in downtown Columbus and Fox in the Snow Cafe in Italian Village.

Swidarski said speed is the most critical factor for whether a crash occurs and how severe a crash is. The city is making other improvements as well. Swidarski mentioned work on Cleveland Avenue and East Hudson Street in Linden as one example.

On Cleveland Avenue, the city is installing seven different enhanced crossings that will provide marked crosswalks and push buttons for the flashing beacons at the location. She said things like this and adding pushout sidewalks along Summit Street in Italian Village will help keep pedestrian safe and change driver behavior.

"So we want drivers to be very clear about what the expected behavior is for a marked crosswalk, a large crosswalk and enhanced crossing,"Swidarski said.

Swidarski said other changes, like switching one-way streets to two-way streets are "tools in the toolbox" that the city can use to effect change on the streets.

Columbus was able to make speed limit changes to downtown streets last year because the downtown area is considered a business district. Because of this, the city didn't have to go through extra measures like getting the Ohio Department of Transportation's approval to change the speed limits downtown.

Swidarski said other city initiatives like the LinkUs bus rapid transit project and the city's Bike Plus plan could also lead to more road and pedestrian improvements.

The LinkUs project with the Central Ohio Transit Authority is largely dependent on a ballot issue passing this fall that would raise sales taxes in the metro Columbus area.

The city is also seeking feedback on the Bike Plus program, which could expand and improve bike infrastructure in the city.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.