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By JEAN HELLER
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 3, 2000
A note from a curious reader led Jessie and me back to the door of St. Petersburg's parking and traffic meister to try to find an answer to a riddle.
Now think about this for a sec. Do you remember tooling around the city's streets and seeing speed limit signs with an attached notice that says, "Strictly Enforced?"
Sure you have.
So what does this mean?
That elsewhere, the limits are not strictly enforced?
The above-mentioned traffic meister, Angelo Rao, laughed out loud when we posited this.
"That's a great question," Angelo said, which we already knew, of course. Angelo estimated that 80 percent of the "Strictly Enforced" signs accompany 25 mph limits in residential neighborhoods.
"It's a shortcut, really," he said. "Neighborhoods come to us with problems of people speeding. They don't think it's safe. They're afraid to let their children play outside, that sort of thing. And they don't really want to wait for the time it takes to put in traffic calming devices like speed bumps."
So with the agreement of the St. Petersburg police, Angelo's forces put the warnings up.
"We give the signs a few weeks to sink into people's heads, and then the police start to enforce the limits," he said. "Are they there every minute of every day? No, of course not. And, truthfully, I'm not sure how much good the signs do. But if they get anyone to slow down, they're worth the $15 they cost."
It's time for the EJW, or, for any newbies out there who just jetted in from Bangor, Maine, the Eyeball Jiggler of the Week. We heard about this one from a bunch of you.
It's the railroad crossing on 62nd Avenue N just west of 49th Street. Gracious, as my mother would say, but that's a teeth-rattling, bone-jarring, axle-bending mess out there. Strangely, the same set of tracks, right around the corner and a bit south on 49th Street N, and farther east where the tracks cross 54th Avenue N, are smooth as a becalmed Tampa Bay.
Now for the good news. Repairs have been scheduled for next year, we are told, though we couldn't nail down when.
While you're waiting, either avoid the area or plan on slowing down to 5 mph when you cross those tracks.
Let's be serious for a moment. I promise I won't take up too much of your time.
Not that we want to put a damper on your holiday celebrations, but this is a dangerous time of year. Traffic accidents go up, and so do fatalities. St. Petersburg police Lt. Tom Carey, commander of the traffic division, can even tell you where and when the worst accidents are likely to happen.
"We do have some areas and some days when fatalities are more frequent," Carey said. "The pattern holds for the entire year, but the frequency tends to go up in November and December. We went back as far as 1995 looking for information, and the time frame has been consistent through the years."
Most of the deaths happened on Thursdays and Fridays between 3 and 8 p.m. Most of the victims were adults. Fifteen of the 36 who died last year were not wearing seat belts. Sheesh.
The most dangerous stretches of road:
Fourth Street from Fifth Avenue S all the way north past Gandy Boulevard.
38th Avenue N from Fourth to 66th streets.
34th Street N from 22nd to 38th avenues.
Why these particular areas?
Other than the volume of traffic these streets carry, no one is certain.
"We don't know why Thursdays and Fridays are particularly bad, either," Carey said. "We think November and December get worse because the out-of-towners are just beginning to arrive and a lot of people are out shopping.
"If people know about this, maybe they'll be a little more cautious and maybe keep a crash or a fatality from happening."
One way to do that is to avoid making left turns across moving traffic where there is no traffic signal.
Perhaps the most dangerous place to attempt such a maneuver is through the busy shopping area on Tyrone Boulevard. There are a number of places to get into trouble: coming off the service road on the north side of Tyrone, or out of Tyrone Square Mall or Crossroads Center, where Montgomery Ward is located.
"If you need to shop, you're going to have to be in that area, but if you don't need to shop, you can find alternate routes that take you around," suggests Rick Stelljes, spokesman for the St. Petersburg police. "What we suggest is that you make a right turn and go with traffic down to where you can swing around to go back the way you want."
If you're coming off the service road, that is particularly easy. Just stay on the service road, driving northwest, and at 30th Avenue N you'll find a U-turn that takes you under Tyrone and puts you back on that street headed southeast. It couldn't be easier.
"If you make all right turns, it might take you a few blocks out of your way, but it's a whole lot safer," Stelljes said. "That's true for any place in the city any time of year, but it's particularly true in heavily congested places like Tyrone during the holidays."
- Dr. Delay can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, by fax at (727) 893-8675 or by snail mail at 490 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg 33701.