Residents riled over speed-limit increase
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – Some residents are concerned a recent 5 mph speed-limit increase along two sections of Pioneer Trail will add to the number of accidents on a stretch of asphalt they already feel is too dangerous.
The county recently increased the speed limit on Pioneer Trail from 45 mph to 50 mph from north of Oflying Drive to Golden Bear Trail. The speed limit went from 35 mph to 40 mph from Golden Bear Trail to the city limit line just southwest of Al Tahoe Boulevard. The county also decreased the speed limit on Pioneer Trail from 45 mph to 40 mph from the road’s intersection with Highway 50 in Meyers to just north of Oflying Drive.
Cold Creek Trail resident Russ Thaw said speeding is a consistent problem on Pioneer Trail and the new, higher speed limits will cause motorists to push it even faster then before.
“They raised it up to 50, they’re going to go 60 now,” Thaw said, recalling several fatal accidents that have occurred on Pioneer Trail over the years.
Pine Avenue resident Abi Terry said she was “shocked” when she noticed the increased speed limit along the two sections of Pioneer Trail.
“We have plenty of accidents on Pioneer Tail,” Terry said. “We don’t need to be increasing speeds.”
The speed limit changes were approved by the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors after the Tahoe Traffic Advisory Committee – which includes members of the El Dorado County Department of Transportation, the Department of Risk management, the Sheriff’s Office and the California Highway Patrol – recommended them in February, said Tom Celio, deputy director of maintenance for the El Dorado County Department of Transportation.
While the recommendations also included changes to speed limits on Sawmill Road, Elks Club Drive and Lake Tahoe Boulevard, the increase to the speed limit along parts of Pioneer Trial seems to have caused the most concern.
The committee recommended the changes after a traffic survey found portions of the road were below a major target engineers use to determine speed limits – known as the 85th percentile, Celio said.
The 85th percentile refers to the speed for a certain section of road where 85 percent of motorists will drive slower than that speed and 15 percent of motorists will drive faster than that speed, Celio said.
Because the previous speed limits on parts of Pioneer Trail were below the 85th percentile, they likely would have led to the road being labeled a “speed trap” and caused citations issued on the road to be thrown out, Celio said.
Both Thaw and Terry said they were especially concerned about the higher speed limits decreasing safety along the road during snowy conditions as well as for students at Sierra House Elementary School.
Safety considerations were part of the guidelines engineers followed in making the decision to change the speed limits, and the 5 mph increase will have a “negligible” impact on the safety of the school zone, Celio said.
“You still have to go 25 mph when school children are present,” Celio said, adding that it’s ultimately up to motorists to keep the road safe.
“If they would ignore a 45 mph sign, they would probably ignore a 35 mph sign,” Celio said.
Most of the accidents reported on Pioneer Trail are from drivers losing control in icy conditions, Celio said, adding that driving the appropriate speed for weather conditions is the responsibility of the driver and speed limits are not going to change that.
“There’s no way you could put up a sign that says it is this icy so drive this fast, that’s the responsibility of the driver to make that decision,” Celio said.
Still, Thaw said he opposes the changes and said he’ll still drive 45 mph, even though the speed limit is now 50 mph in some places.
“I think it’s a bad idea,” Thaw said. “People are going too fast anyway.”
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