The Maple Valley City Council approved an ordinance on Feb. 25 that will reduce the speed limit on Highway 169 going through parts of Maple Valley.
The city partnered with the Washington State Department of Transportation to reduce the speed on the stretch of highway that starts at the commercial area of Maple Valley and then goes north, past Rock Creek Elementary School, according to Bill Bullock, Maple Valley city engineer in a phone interview.
According to the council agenda packet, the posted speed south of Maple Valley is 50 mph and that will change to 45 mph. And then, there will be a reduction from 40 mph to 35 mph going through Four Corners. That 35 mph speed limit will continue on a little ways past Rock Creek Elementary School where the speed limit is currently 45.
Bullock said this speed decrease will not affect the school zone in front of Rock Creek Elementary because that school zone is already set at 35 mph.
The idea was to make the speed match what the city has become, which is more urbanized.
Bullock explained as he researched this issue, he found the speed limit on 169 since Maple Valley became a city has changed “with a few different iterations throughout the years and that’s not atypical for a highway like this that as things grow, develop and mature. That the speed limits periodically have to be changed in order to match the nature of community if you will.”
He continued to say it is important to change the speed limit to match the city as it develops because it can increase drivers’ awareness as far as speeding goes, and it can add an increase in traffic gaps so those who live on the outer streets of the highway have an easier time getting into the flow of traffic.
To accurately determine the new speeds that would work best in these areas, WSDOT and the city had to perform a series of engineering studies.
“In particular, speed analysis at various locations is one of them. Another is one I call a ‘gap analysis,’ which is an analysis of literally the gaps between traveling vehicles that allow a vehicle from a side street time to pull out and join the mainstream traffic,” Bullock said.
He said the gap analysis measures the number of opportunities per house that a car on a side street would have in order to pull into traffic.
Another piece to the study was to measure what congestion in those areas is like and what the speed should be in conjunction with that.
Because this is a state highway, Maple Valley had to work closely with WSDOT to ensure the city got what it thought would work best for the portions of highway it wanted to change.
During the council meeting, Maple Valley community member Tallie Lawrence shared her concerns about the speed and other aspects of Highway 169 in light of the recent death that occurred on the highway at Southeast 253rd Place on Feb. 22. The victim was struck and killed by a car as they were trying to cross the busy road.
She said that the speed in that section should be reduced and there should be more lighting because cars cannot see when people are trying to cross. She also mentioned including a lit crosswalk or a pedestrian bridge.
“I’ve lived here for eight years and I addressed this as a safety issue,” Lawrence said. “This is probably my fourth or fifth time. I was more emotional than usual in light of the accident on Friday. But I’ve emailed, I’ve called, I’ve asked about a pedestrian bridge so many times. I’ve asked about a stop light at the 253rd intersection because there’s been so many accidents and near accidents at the place where this accident occurred.”
Even though all of her concerns aren’t going to be addressed with the speed reduction, Lawrence did say she thinks this will absolutely help increase the safety on that stretch of highway.
Within the next month, Bullock said WSDOT will put on the signage that will state what the new speeds will be.
To ensure community members know about this speed reduction, Maple Valley Police Chief DJ Nesel said the department will be doing an information campaign.
“We will post a notice about the speed limit change on the city’s website, utilize all our social media outlets, email out notices to our HOA’s (homeowner associations) and businesses and post the electronic reader message boards at each end of Highway 169 where it enters into our city,” Nesel explained.
Nesel also said the police department will monitor response to the new speed limit and will make contact with motorists who need an “extra nudge.”
For the two weeks following the posting of the new signage, Nesel said he anticipates traffic stops to educate drivers on adjusting to the new speed limit, however speed violators who grossly violate the speed limit — above and beyond the recent differential — will most likely get a ticket.
“The feedback I receive most from our Maple Valley residents always has to do with traffic congestion and excessive speeds. This planned speed reduction along Hwy 169, especially where it travels through the commercial corridor of Four Corners is a step in the right direction. We will continue to work with WSDOT on reassessing the traffic loads and speeds on Highway 169 as it passes through our growing community,” Nesel said.
Bullock said at this time, the city and WSDOT have made changes to the most appropriate areas and in the future, the city will see where it’s at and change as needed.