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Speed-reading devices may curb hasty drivers

By JEAN HELLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 11, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Don't you just love technology?

It's one of Jessie's favorite things.

St. Petersburg is getting some new traffic toys Monday with the expectation that they will slow things down in some of the city's busier neighborhoods.

First thing in the morning, engineers will be putting up a post-mounted speed readout on Pinellas Point Drive at 17th Street. On the post, a permanent, black-on-white sign tells you what the speed limit is, and an electronic readout tells you how fast you are going.

"Maybe 13 months ago, we got together with a couple of companies and they built us a prototype that worked really well," says Angelo Rao, the city's transportation and parking guru. "I think a lot of times, drivers just don't know how fast they're going, and when you point it out to them, they slow down.

"While we had the prototype in operation, motorists dropped their speeds by about five miles an hour, and they maintained the lower speeds for maybe 10 days after the device was removed. So we put it out for bids, and sure enough, somebody came up with exactly what we wanted."

The St. Petersburg police have three similar devices mounted on trailers that they move around the city.

"But there are a lot of places with right-of-way issues, like sidewalks, and there isn't room for a trailer," Rao said. "The post-mounted system avoids space issues."

City officials liked the post-mounted gizmos so much, they bought three at about $5,000 per. Each one will stay in place for a few weeks then move on to a new neighborhood. Other neighborhoods that have been agitating for the signs are Shore Acres, Azalea and Greater Woodlawn.

Rao credits City Council member Larry Williams with coming up with the idea for the post-mounted signs.

"I wish I'd kept it, but he actually sketched it out on the back of an envelope," Rao said. "This should be wonderful. With our three post-mounted signs and the police department's three trailers, we can cover a lot of territory."

Rao says he doesn't know if the pole-mounted systems will be more effective than the trailers.

"They might be," he said. "People are used to looking up to find traffic regulation signs, and the pole-mounted devices will be exactly where drivers would expect to see them. That's probably something we ought to study."

Police spokesman Rick Stelljes says some enforcement will go along with the signs.

"One of the things the neighborhoods are always screaming about is speed and traffic, and this is something we can do that calls attention to the situation," Stelljes said. "Sometimes we will have enforcement in conjunction with the signs, and sometimes we won't, and you'll never know which is which until you're caught."

* * *

Paul Cooper e-mailed us with some serious gripes about a two-block stretch of Central Avenue. Jessie and I went out one morning last week and took a look, and we saw what he was talking about.

The particular stretch is between Sixth and Eighth Streets. The speed limit could be better marked, but just for the record, it is 15 mph, just as it is farther east on Central. We paced a couple of cars back and forth through there and found they were going between 30 and 40.

We watched for about half an hour and didn't see a single vehicle that was obeying the limit.

Angelo Rao promised to send someone out to make sure the signage is adequate.

The reader's other gripe was the difficulty of pulling onto Central from Seventh Street N because of sight obstruction caused by the angle parking. And it's true. Jessie and I were halfway into westbound traffic before we could see the pickup truck bearing down on us.

But this is true of all the downtown streets that have gone to angle parking. It wouldn't be nearly as dangerous if motorists would obey the lower speed limits.

Of course, that's not in the nature of most motorists, so continued caution is advised.

Motorists pulling from streets onto avenues with angle parking have to take it easy, and drivers on avenues with angle parking need to slow down and be aware that people will be trying to enter traffic from the north and south.

* * *

Some of you might recall the incredible sinking roadway, 43rd Street N a half block north of Central Avenue. It's a sewer line that's sinking and taking the pavement with it. That block of 43rd has been closed forever. Well, excavation to fix the problem will begin on Monday. The delay was caused by the need to get Florida Power out to brace a power pole near the edge of the street depression and by some minor vandalism.

Be patient, says Lane Longley, wastewater maintenance manager for the city. You'll have your street back soon.

* * *

And for those who live along Ninth Avenue N, you're going to be dodging Florida Power trucks until the end of July. But it will be worth it. At the request of the city, the power company will be installing 33 new streetlights between Fourth and Dr. M.L. King (Ninth) streets on the south side of Ninth Avenue. Jessie would applaud this effort, but she's a female, so she doesn't really care.

-- Dr. Delay can be reached by e-mail at docdelay@sptimes.com, by fax at (727) 893-8675 or by snail mail at 490 First Ave., S, St. Petersburg 33701.

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