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Council narrowly passes speed limit ordinance

By Staff | Aug 20, 2019

The Cape Coral City Council members were divided over an ordinance regulating speed limits on local roads during their regular meeting Monday at City Hall.

Even through the ordinance was approved by a 4-3 vote, the issue is not entirely finished, with the real possibility of a change in the way speed limits are handled coming in the not-so-distant future.

Bill Corbett, traffic engineer, said the ordinance was really a change to an existing ordinance pertaining to the posting of speed limits, specifically to the posting of speed limits on Southeast 8th Place.

The idea was to put a cap of 30 mph on local roads, which are largely residential. Corbett said residents are sometimes penalized by bringing their concerns to city staff and requesting a speed study done.

Residents, who made their feelings known during citizen input, also spoke up during the public hearing.

Steve Crane said his main concern was that, according to the ordinance, the city manager was the sole arbiter in determining a speed limit, when state law says the municipality will do so.

“You are the municipality. This ordinance says one guy gets to change the speed limits,” Crane said. “This eliminates responsibility and public comment, your input, authority and supervision of the process.”

Councilmember Jessica Cosden said the city manager has always had that ability and that who makes that decision was not being voted on.

Councilmember Rick Williams said that decision should be determined like everything else is, through public comment and a council vote.

City Manager John Szerlag said despite the ordinance, he does not recall ever changing a speed limit in his seven years as city manager.

“If City Council wants to take this over, that’s fine with me, but I would like to have a cap in place,” Szerlag said. “We should approve the ordinance then come back and have all speed limits be approved by City Council.”

City Attorney Dolores Menendez suggested that be done through a second ordinance, which can be brought to council in a matter of weeks.

Crane also said that South Chiquita Boulevard has seen its speed limit dropped from 45 mph to 30 mph due to a speed study done by the police department, not by people specifically trained to conduct such studies.

Szerlag brought up recent history, saying that four years ago there was a proposal to drop speed limits on local roads to 25 mph, which he thought was a good idea, since many northern cities had them. The motion failed and speed limits stayed the same.

“They did a study and said the speed limit should change, but not to 25 mph, but to 35 mph,” Szerlag said. “I saw that as a penalty to those residents.”

Williams said he was against capping speeds, since people are creatures of habit and if someone is used to going 35 mph, they will continue to do so. Also, Police Chief David Newlan said few crashes occur on local roadways.

Councilmember John Gunter agreed with the cap, but wanted the ordinance rewritten to give council authority, and also voted it down.

Mayor Joe Coviello, along with Councilmember John Carioscia, also voted against it. Coviello said council wants to make the final decision and simply wanted to have it in the ordinance along with the cap.

“I thought we should look at the entire ordinance together. I think we will get there, but we just capped the speed limits,” Coviello said. “I think the city manager has the intent of bringing back the ordinance to remove his approval.”