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City Council moves forward on speed reduction proposal

By Staff | May 19, 2015

Contradictory to the findings presented by the traffic consultant firm of David Douglas Associates, City Council voted 5-3 Monday night to move forward on a plan to reduce speed limits on residential roads to 25 mph.

The vote will generate a proposed city ordinance lowering the limit from the current 30 mph that will be brought before a future council session for final approval. Changing street signs to the new limit is estimated to cost city taxpayers $100,000 with no provision for additional police enforcement.

The speed limit change was first raised by Councilmember Jim Burch with the intention of making residential roads safer for bicycle riders, pedestrians and children. The vast majority of those roads have no sidewalks and not likely to get them in the future.

“Your reaction time at 25 is very different than it is at 30,” said Burch. “The object of changing signs is to change behavior. The same was said about seat belts and bicycle helmets, but it will take time. Our sister city across the river recently lowered their limit to 25, so consistency with them is not a bad thing. I think 25 is the smart thing to do.”

The consultant’s presentation came with a recommendation to leave the speed limit alone while creating traffic calming measures like traffic humps, additional signage, traffic circles and educating the public.

“This is just a feel-good ordinance,” said Councilmember Richard Leon, who cast one of the dissenting votes along with Rick Williams and Mayor Marni Sawicki. “It won’t do anything for us. I would rather put the $100,000 into enforcement of the current limit.”

Police Chief Bart Connelly agreed with the consultant’s finding that just changing signs will have no affect.

“We want to do this the right way,” Connelly said. “Studies over the years show signs will not change behavior. When we do something it should be done with a purpose. It’s data driven.

“Less than 1 percent of crashes occur on residential streets. My officers are needed on the main roads where people are dying. Let me do my job to keep the main roads safe.”

Eleven roads representing all four quadrants of Cape Coral were surveyed and found that higher speeds in neighborhoods are not a serious threat.

“What’s hard for me is until we have a better way to enforce it, the lower speed limit does not make sense,” said Williams. “It’s an education issue and we need to look at calming methods. I want to do something, but I side with the study recommendations.”

The problem is, according to Public Works Director Steve Neff, traffic calming measures can cost the city a lot more than $100,000, but some communities have used a cost sharing plan with residents.

“We are at a crossroads,” said Councilmember Derrick Donnell. “We all know you can’t legislate behavior. Those who speed at 30 will speed at 25. We have no greater expectation from the police department if this goes forward.”

“Where I grew up 25 was the norm,” said Councilmember Rana Erbrick. “The bigger danger is if you can’t stop a car from running a red light how can we stop speeders? People don’t care what the limit is where you have sidewalks. This should be changed across the board, not for two streets over here and three streets over there.””

When it came time for Erbrick to vote the tally stood at 4-3 in favor. She paused and said, “Gee, this is interesting. I have the deciding vote. Which way?”

After another pause she voted in favor to make it 5-3.