The Andover Select Board appears poised to adopt a town-wide, 25 MPH speed limit for most roads in town.
Earlier this year, town meeting approved opting in to a state law allowing the town to reduce the speed limit to 25 MPH from 30 MPH on most roads in town. The select board, however, was charged with deciding whether to apply that change immediately to more than 600 streets in Andover which currently have 30 MPH speed limits or incrementally on a street-by-street basis.
The board discussed both options on Monday, but cannot take action until a future meeting because only the street-by-street option was included on Monday’s meeting agenda. The map above shows existing speed limits in Andover. Streets that are not highlighted have the town’s “default,” 30 MPH speed limit and would be lowered to 25 MPH under the town-wide option.
Town Manager Andrew Flanagan said the town-wide option was the “most efficient” and offered drivers consistency across town.
Under the town-wide option, Flanagan said, the town would need to petition the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to make changes in the future. Under the street-by-street option, residents can begin petitioning to have a 25 MPH speed limit applied to an Andover street. The applicant needs to provide a reason for the 25 MPH speed limit and submit 10 signatures for certification to the Town Clerk’s office.
Board Initially Split On Options
Select Board Chair Alex Vispoli suggested approving the street-by-street option Monday and submitting the town-wide option as a warrant article for review by Town Meeting in the spring. He said while the original town meeting warrant article gave Andover the ability to apply the town-wide option, it had been presented in a way that may have led voters to believe the town would only opt-in on a street-by-street basis.
“If we pass this tonight, people who want their streets to be 25 can easily apply,” Vispoli said. “That would give us the best of both worlds.”
Select Board Clerk Annie Gilbert and member Christian Huntress both said the emails they had received from residents were “100 percent” in support of the town-wide option. Gilbert noted a consultant the town had hired recommended Andover adopt the town-wide option because of the number of streets that are eligible for the 25 MPH speed limit.
“I don’t like the idea of throwing it back to the community to gather signatures and taking another month or more,” Gilbert said. “How many times are we going to do that before we make progress on bringing down driving speeds in a town that has grown tremendously in the past 20 years?”
That view was echoed by several residents who spoke on the issue. All of the speakers spoke in favor of the town-wide option.
Huntress said he had been swayed to town-wide after seeing it was MassDOT’s recommendation and hearing from residents who said petitioning for each street would be burdensome. Select board member Melissa Danisch initially said she opposed the town-wide option, but signaled she had been swayed after hearing at Monday’s meeting that enforcement would not begin immediately.
“If we were to change the speed limit on more than 600 streets, that’s a lot,” Danisch said. “That’s my reluctance, because I think it’s just a huge change for the entire town.”
Most Towns Adopted Town-Wide Option
Andover Police Chief Patrick Keefe said enforcement of lower speed limits may take up to a year to begin, with police spending the first several months after the new speed limits were adopted working to educate drivers. Keefe said he did not have a preference on which option was adopted. “I think it’s our job to enforce whatever you decide,” Keefe said.
Last month, Keefe outlined the pros and cons of adopting the lower speed limit or applying it on a street-by-street basis for the select board.
In the town-wide option, the town wide speed limit would be 25 MPH unless otherwise posted, and signs reflecting the limit would be posted on roads at Andover’s borders. Under the street-by-street option, residents could request the lower speed limit and the police department would conduct a study and make a recommendation to approve or deny the request to the select board, which would have final approval.
So far, 62 Massachusetts towns have opted into the law, including 54 that adopted the town-wide version. The eight that have done it on a street by street basis include Danvers and Billerica. Keefe said the advantages of street-by-street is the speed limit is more effective because the signs remind drivers to slow down.
Correction, 10/7/2022: An earlier version of this article misspelled Melissa Danisch’s name. Andover News regrets the error.