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© St. Petersburg Times, published December 15, 2000
A situation in Dunedin last week provided the perfect illustration of why elected officials need the freedom to use their own best judgment about what is good for their community rather than voting in response to demands from a particular interest group.
Dunedin city commissioners heard from some residents of Weathersfield -- an upscale, quiet neighborhood off of Virginia Street just south of Main Street -- that too many motorists were speeding on Virginia. Residents told the city they wanted stop signs or speed bumps installed on Virginia to slow down the traffic.
The city staff went to check out the situation and made some interesting observations. First, they found that the average speed of motorists clocked on the street was 33 mph, only three miles above the speed limit. Furthermore, the street isn't exactly buzzing with traffic. Virginia Street is able to accommodate 14,910 vehicles a day, but gets only a little more than 8,500.
That end of Virginia Street is a nice road -- smooth, gently curved with intermittent landscaped medians -- and it carries motorists relatively quickly between Main Street and Keene Road, past several neighborhood entrances. In doing so, it is fulfilling its designated function as a city collector road.
The request by some Weathersfield residents for traffic calming devices along the road would have disrupted that function. All motorists, speeders or not, would have been forced to stop at regular intervals for stop signs or slow to a crawl to glide over speed bumps. The city no doubt would have received complaints from those who used the street regularly and might even have received demands for payment when cars were damaged going over speed bumps.
Ultimately, fewer motorists would have chosen to use Virginia, and this street intended to function as a collector no longer would have fulfilled its public purpose.
It is important to note that Virginia Street goes around Weathersfield, not through it. Traffic calming techniques can be useful in reducing documented traffic problems on streets that go through neighborhoods; and those techniques probably have become necessary in some parts of over-built, traffic-congested Pinellas County.
But with regard to Weathersfield, the city staff recommended that commissioners do nothing about the request, and city commissioners decided they weren't interested in putting any traffic calming devices there. But they agreed to ask the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office to keep an eye on speeds on the road.
Some Weathersfield residents aren't happy about that decision, but elected officials can't always make everyone happy. Commissioners listened to the residents' request, as they should as residents' elected representatives. Then they studied the numbers and called on their own experience driving Virginia Street to conclude that the problem was not substantial enough to warrant modifying the road's function and harming the larger community's interests. It was the right decision.