A new bill making its way through the Texas legislature—SB 1663, sponsored by Senator Carol Alvarado—is on the cusp of granting cities unilateral authority to drastically lower speed limits on highways. As concerned citizens, it is crucial to understand the implications of this bill and why there is a growing movement to oppose it.

The Problem with SB 1663

SB 1663 allows cities to decrease speed limits on highways (that are not part of the state highway system) to as low as 20 MPH, if they deem the current speeds ‘unreasonable or unsafe.’ The language of this bill is exceptionally broad, and more worryingly, it empowers cities to change speed limits without requiring a traffic or engineering investigation for justification.

This unfettered authority could potentially turn highways into 20 MPH zones, akin to school zones, significantly affecting the flow of traffic.

The Hidden Agenda: Vision Zero Traffic Calming Measures

The push for SB 1663 can be seen as part of cities’ broader strategy to implement California-style Vision Zero traffic calming measures, which ironically seem to incite more frustration than calm. The ultimate aim of these measures is to intentionally slow down cars, making commutes so taxing that people resort to transit, walking, or biking for transportation.

This is not conjecture but a publicly stated goal of Vision Zero plans adopted by city officials across Texas. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, for instance, candidly stated, “When the buses and the trains are going faster than the cars and the trucks, people will exit the cars and the trucks and use the buses and the trains.”

Vision Zero: A Global Push for Sustainable Development

Vision Zero concepts are not just being promoted in select states in the U.S., but they’ve also been adopted by international organizations like the United Nations (UN). Under the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, member nations are urged to boost the use of public transportation, promote pedestrian walkways and bicycle lanes, establish ‘safe speed limits,’ and implement ‘speed restricting mechanisms.’

Moreover, the ideology aligns with local initiatives such as Austin’s Climate Action Plan, which endorses community events that are car-free and the expansion of “Slow Streets” programs.

Despite the noble goal of reducing traffic fatalities and promoting sustainability, the question remains: are we ready to pay the price of severe traffic slowdowns?  Are we ready to turn our highways, the arteries of our cities, into sluggish thoroughfares? To frustrate drivers to the point of abandoning their cars? Is this the right way to push for sustainable transportation alternatives?

Given these concerns, it is crucial for every Texan to voice their opinion on SB 1663. Reach out to your State Representatives, call the Capitol switchboard at (512) 463-4630, or email every House Member, and and make your voice heard.

Road safety and sustainable transportation are essential goals. However, imposing such drastic measures may not be the most effective, or fair, way to achieve them. We can keep our streets safe and strive for sustainability without resorting to such extreme measures.