Speed limits graphic

LARGO — Largo leaders hit the brakes May 21 on a proposal to lower residential speed limits by 5 mph throughout the city, but they also gave the green light to a new process that would allow the city to tackle neighborhood concerns on a case-by-case basis.

Commissioners agreed that speeding on some residential streets is a problem that needs to be addressed, but said reducing the speed limits citywide from 30 to 25 mph probably wasn’t the best solution.

Therefore, commissioners voted 7-0 to disapprove the ordinance and directed staff to create a new protocol for citizens to request lower speed limits or traffic-calming measures, such as speed tables or traffic circles.

On May 7, commissioners were divided on the issue, which led to a 3-3 vote and another round of discussion that produced the compromise.

“If I thought for one second that reducing the speed limit citywide to 25 mph would make a difference on driver behavior, I would be the first one to vote for it,” said Vice Mayor John Carroll, a former Largo police chief. “I do not feel that way. I feel like there are other better options.”

One of those options engineers proposed was expanding the city’s traffic-calming policy to include a reduction in speed limits as a solution.

According to engineer Ann Rocke, the city’s current traffic-calming policy includes a process that can result in the installation of measures, such as speed tables, traffic circles and lane narrowing, if 60 percent of the property owners in the neighborhood agree.

Rocke said a new process could be added that would address a complaint by lowering the speed limit to 25 mph. Per state law, however, the commission would have to sign off on the reduction for each street.

Police Chief Jeff Undestad advised the commission to seek alternatives to a citywide ordinance, because the past three years of data didn’t show a significant issue with speed, noting that the average speeder was only 2.84 mph over the limit.

“The speed limit sign itself is not going to be, in my opinion, the appropriate way of slowing traffic,” he said. “… If your ultimate goal is to slow people down, you need to create something that’s going to have them slow down.”

Undestad added that the new speed limits would be extremely difficult to enforce.

Since 30 mph roadways don’t require signage, the measure would’ve required the city to install more than 1,000 new signs at a cost of about $36,000, which doesn’t include labor.

Commissioners Curtis Holmes and Samantha Fenger said the data proves spending money on signs would just be wasted.

“We could put signage everywhere that says 30 mph down to 25 mph, but people are going to do what they are going to do unless we have the enforcement to do so,” Fenger said.

A young voice

Among those who spoke in support of the ordinance was 11-year-old Matilda Hoffman, who lives on 145th Street and said she has a dozen friends who ride their bikes, scooters, hoverboards and skateboards in the streets because they don’t have sidewalks.

“We have two lovely nature parks that we love to have adventures in — McGough Park and Bonner Park — but the journey is quite terrifying because our neighborhood is used as a cut through,” she said. “So, people think they can just fly down the road like no one lives there. And I feel that a reduction in the speed of neighborhoods will do nothing but help the kids feel less scared about playing in the neighborhood.”

Mayor Woody Brown said he gets frequent complaints from parents of girls like Matilda, so the city’s current tactic of conducting speed studies and targeted patrols isn’t cutting it.

“We need to solve this, and doing the same thing we’ve been doing for the last 20 years isn’t going to solve it, because it hasn’t yet,” he said.

Brown, who pushed for the ordinance more than a year ago, said he was still wary of reducing the speed limit throughout the entire city, so he was happy they could find another answer.

“I’m really pleased at the fact that we can kind of isolate problems and just target those, rather than spending the money to do it citywide,” he said. “I think that that’s a great solution.”

City Manager Henry Schubert said staff would develop the process and bring it back to the commission for discussion at a future work session.

For the sake of children like Hoffman, however, Commissioner Michael Smith said he wants the city to move quickly.

“I don’t want people to have the perception that this commission doesn’t support public safety and we’re not listening to you. We do. We are,” he said.