Mom: No need for this speed

A higher limit on Belcher Road will allow traffic to zip past Sutherland Elementary.

By EILEEN SCHULTE, Times Staff Writer
Published August 28, 2007

PALM HARBOR - Most of us have done it.

If the speed limit is 45 mph, we'll sometimes push it to 55.

Karen Cupstid has seen it happen for most of her 46 years, and that's why she was shocked when the speed limit on Belcher Road was bumped to 45 mph from 30 after the completion of a project to extend the road from Alderman to Klosterman roads.


That new road, which opens this afternoon, passes in front of Sutherland Elementary School, where Cupstid's 9-year-old son, Anthony, is in the fourth grade.

Gone is the school safety zone with its flashing yellow warning lights and 15 mph speed limit enforced when students arrived and left the school.

Instead, up went a traffic signal that stops traffic on Belcher's four lanes with a push of a button by a crossing guard or pedestrian.

This, Cupstid wondered, is supposed to keep Anthony safe while he walks to school? So she fired off a letter to Pinellas County transportation officials.

"This needs to be corrected immediately!" she wrote. "It's downright dangerous. Will it take a tragedy to lower it?"

For now, county and school officials said Monday, they intend to monitor that stretch of Belcher before deciding whether to adjust the speed limit near the school.

Engineers consider a variety of factors before determining the ideal speed limit for a road, county spokeswoman Meg Korakis said Monday. For example, she said, "this is a four-lane road. It can support a speed of 45."

As for the stoplight, Ken Jacobs, signal operations manager for Pinellas County Public Works, said, "the way we look at it, the full traffic signal is the most positive traffic control device that we can put in for pedestrians."

That signal, Jacobs said, can work better than a 15 mph school safety zone because it means crossing guards do not have to walk out into moving traffic to get drivers to stop.

Michael James, 61, was incredulous when he saw the changes to Belcher Road when he dropped his granddaughter Summer, 8, off on the first day of school. He said there is a rise south of the school, and as drivers head downhill toward the campus, they encounter a curve.

"At 45 mph, it's dangerous," he said.

The speed limit is 40 mph in front of both Belcher Elementary School near Largo and Oak Grove Middle School in Clearwater.

Belcher Elementary has crossing guards and a traffic signal at the school's entrance, but there is no flashing light or lowered speed limit. Parents initially wanted both, principal Lisa Roth said, but in the past five years, no one has been hurt trying to cross the road.

"We've been lucky," she said.

Jim Miller, director of the School Board's real property office, said he is mindful of the concerns of parents at Sutherland Elementary.

He said he "will review the changes" and doesn't rule out reinstalling flashing lights and other traffic-slowing measures if need be.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at 727 445-4153 or schulte@sptimes.com.