Largo speed limits

Shown is a map of proposed streets that would be reduced from 30 to 25 mph.

LARGO — City leaders were divided May 7 about whether to reduce residential speed limits by 5 mph, but one commissioner’s absence means they’ll have plenty more time to talk about it.

Commissioners voted 3-3 on the ordinance that would reduce the limits from 30 to 25 mph on as many as 696 streets, but Commissioner Samantha Fenger was absent, so the charter states they will vote again May 21 during the next regular meeting.

In order to reduce the limit, state statutes require the city to first conduct a speed study of at least three roadways to determine if the measure was reasonable.

A combination of a study by the Cardno engineering firm on Ninth Street Northwest, 19th Place Southwest and Britton Street, and 76 previous studies conducted by the Largo Police Department over the past three years showed the city was within its rights to make the move.

Since 30 mph roadways don’t require signage, the measure would require the city to install more than 1,000 new signs at a cost of about $36,000, city engineers said, and the ordinance would take effect in September.

The cost, however, was not the reason for the disagreement. The biggest question was whether the 5 mph decrease would actually make a difference.

“I don’t really see a direct connection between a reduction in the speed limit by 5 mph to anything to do with traffic accident causation,” said Vice Mayor John Carroll, a former Largo police chief. “And in my informal discussions with law enforcement and some other city staff, I don’t think there’s necessarily a lot of support for this idea. The comments I’ve had from the community have mostly been negative about doing this.”

He added that enforcement would also be “next to impossible.”

Police Chief Jeff Undestad agreed, and he provided some data to illustrate why.

In 2018, for instance, there were a total of 130 crashes on all Largo roadways. Only five, however, were on residential streets, and none of them led to major injuries.

He added that, since 2015, police have conducted stealth speed studies on local roadways 146 times. In 39 cases, the average speed was over the limit, but only by 2.8 mph and officers can’t issue citations until drivers are 6 mph over the limit.

Safety first

Mayor Woody Brown said one of the most frequent complaints he’s heard from residents over the past decade has been about speeding, so he thinks the city needs to change its current approach, which includes conducting speed studies and possibly targeted patrols.

“The chief doesn’t think that changing the speed limit will affect behavior,” he said. “I don’t think what we’re doing now affects behavior either — not for the long term. So, we need to do something different.”

Brown said the best long-term solution is to identify problem roads and spend money to design them differently, but he thinks residents with children on those roads deserve some peace of mind now.

“This is a look at something different than what we’ve been doing for a long time,” he said. “Maybe it’s not the right answer, but the people that live in neighborhoods deserve an answer.”

Commissioners Donna Holck and Michael Smith agreed that the move was worthwhile.

“If it protects one child, it’s worth it to me,” Smith said. “It (an accident) may have not happened yet, but it’s going to.”

Holck added that new signs would at least make motorists, who are likely driving 5 mph over the limit to begin with, aware of their speed and slow down.

“The 25 mph speed limit signs are pertaining to the neighborhoods, which we’re trying to keep safe and that’s where our children are,” she said.

As a parent, Commissioner Jamie Robinson said he shares those concerns but doesn’t think new signs will make a difference. So, he would prefer to put the money toward speed tables or redesigning certain roads.

“I think that would be a much better investment for the city,” he said. “And I think because we can’t just go out there and shake a stick and make everybody slow down, I think we are going to have to do it in some physical manner.”

Instead of a citywide ordinance, several commissioners added they would be open to a new policy allowing neighborhoods to petition for a lower speed limit, but City Attorney Alan Zimmet said state law still requires a speed study first.

Staff said they would return with information on case-by-case basis May 21 when the commission takes a second shot at the ordinance’s first reading.

In other news

The commission voted 6-0 to give Zimmet a raise. The longtime city attorney’s monthly retainer will increase by 3% for both his services (from $11,441 to $11,785) and Assistant City Attorney Nikki Day’s services (from $9,785 to $10,078).

Hourly rates for services not included in the retainer will increase by $5 (from $235 to $240). According to the city, his fees for work billed on an hourly basis during FY 2018 totaled $409,169.