BELLEAIR BEACH — Speeding on some residential streets in the city has become a significant problem, most city council members agree. The council on Aug. 5 looked at how to best address what some say has become a life-threatening issue.
Problem roadways, Council Member Marvin Behm said, are Belle Isle Avenue, First and Second streets, and especially 22nd Street, which is a divided road leading to the populous Bellevue Estates Island neighborhood.
Belleair Beach streets have no sidewalks, so people walking share the roads with drivers. That makes the streets especially hazardous for “the many kids walking to the beach, and elderly people out for exercise,” Behm said.
“It’s amazing how many speeders there are,” Behm said.
The main offenders, he said, are “commercial vehicles, delivery trucks, contractors, lawn people” plus “a few residents.”
Traffic calming methods cited by council members included erecting stop signs at intersections, speed humps or speed tables, lowering the speed limit from 25 mph to 20 and installing electronic radar signs that monitor speed travelled and flash when speed limits are exceeded.
Behm said lowering the speed limit to 20 mph on the problem streets is the easiest way to make them safer.
“Does anyone need to drive over 20 miles per hour?” he said.
Council Member Rita Swope said changing the speed limits on a few streets is a good idea.
But City Manager Lynn Rives said lowering the speed limit on only selected streets would create an enforcement problem for police, who will have different speeds to enforce depending on where they are in the city.
Council Member Glenn Gunn said an Austin, Texas, study done in 2000 showed most traffic calming devices had little effect on speeders, and could create additional problems. Speed bumps slow emergency vehicle response, for example, he said.
The Texas study showed electronic radar signs are “the most effective means of speed control,” Gunn said. They are also “the cheapest way to go,” he added.
Council member Robyn Ache, a Donato Drive resident, said the need to solve the speeding problem is urgent.
“We need to be proactive on this. Something needs to change before a pedestrian is hit and killed,” Ache said. “Our kids don’t play in the front yard because it’s too scary with the cars speeding by.”
Ache said the study cited by Gunn was outdated in saying speed bumps slow down emergency vehicles, because there are newer designs which prevent that from happening. She also said the study included materials written by a radar sign company, which would be biased in favor of that solution. However, she said she is willing to try the radar signs as a first step.
Council Member Jody Shirley said speeding is not a problem on Harrison Avenue, where she lives.
“We need to get a resident vote and their feedback on this” before changing the speed limit, she said.
A traffic study could be done, she said, “but do we want to spend the money on that?”
“To go across the board, and lower the speed limit on every street, is a mistake,” she said.
Mayor Joseph Manzo had another solution to control speeding. He said sewer trucks from the county “were flying by my house” during the recent rains.
He reported that to county officials, and the next time the trucks came back, “not one was going past the speed limit,” Manzo said.
Commercial trucks have been major offenders, he said.
When they are seen speeding, “pick up the phone, call the company, and give them hell. If that doesn’t work, the city can have the police do directed patrols and target problem areas.”
Residents also spoke out on the speeding issue.
Berc Sarafian said he and his children had nearly been hit by speeding motorists in a couple of incidents outside his home on 22nd Street. Sarafian asked why mobile home parks, which have elderly residents, post a speed limit of 15 mph, while Belleair Beach, with elderly people and children, is 25 mph.
“That doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Sarafian recommended lowering the speed limit to 20 mph.
“Five miles per hour would make a difference,” Sarafian said. “We need to make some type of adjustment to make it safer.”
Resident Fred Elliot said First and Second streets have speed tables and asked if they have been effective. If so, Elliot said he would like to see one placed near his home on 22nd Street near Donato.
Rives said the speed tables and a stop sign “were put in about a year ago (on First Street), and that has worked.”
Council Members Behm, Shirley and Gunn said increased police enforcement of the 25 mph speed limit, with more ticketing instead of warnings would help.
“Our deputies give a lot of warnings,” Shirley said. “Why don’t we have zero tolerance? Let’s enforce the law, along with a couple of electronic speed signs, strategically placed.”
Gunn said the police should stop people and not be so lenient.
Behm said lowering the speed limit also “makes the police more apt to ticket more frequently.”
A motion by Gunn to place three electronic speed signs on 22nd Street, and by Shirley to add two more on Belle Isle Avenue, was withdrawn after Manzo said that was premature.
After over an hour’s discussion of the speeding on city streets issue, Manzo said, “We’ve got lots of ideas, but we don’t have a consensus on how to proceed. We have to come back with some concrete proposals.”
The discussion will continue at the council workshop on Monday, Aug. 14, with input from the Sheriff’s Office and Rives on where the problem areas are and the costs/effectiveness of the various traffic calming options.