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Devices and deputies taking on speeders in Sun City Center

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Despite the widely-posted 30 MPH speed limit, residents here frequently charge that lead-footed drivers use their broad, smooth pavements like freeways.

By MELODY JAMESON

SUN CITY CENTER – Despite the widely-posted 30 MPH speed limit on internal streets, residents here frequently charge that lead-footed drivers use their broad, smooth pavements like freeways.

Some consider the situation so serious they will identify their residential locations during public meetings as the “racetrack” that is East Del Webb Boulevard or the “speedway,” aka West Del Webb.

Similarly, golf cart drivers, whose smaller, slower-moving modes of transport are equally legal users of the community’s roadways, complain often of feeling threatened by the impatient pilots of motor vehicles speeding around them.

They have taken their concerns to both the Hillsborough County administration and to Hillsborough’s Sheriff’s Office, pointing to the public safety issues they perceive, especially on north-south thoroughfares that constitute the primary community entrances and exits.

And both organizations have responded, using the tools at their disposal deemed most appropriate.

 Speed warning signs, called driver feedback devices by traffic engineers, have been installed at two points in the community by the county’s public works section. The flashing devices warn approaching drivers if their vehicle speeds are exceeding the posted limit and require slowing down, said Pete Brett, a traffic engineering manager. The devices do not record traffic information and may be moved from roadway to roadway over a period of months for the greatest effectiveness, he added.

Brett also noted that, based on the department’s collision accident data, Sun City Center “is not a high crash area” in terms of its internal street systems.

The Sheriff’s Office, on the other hand, has been engaged in gathering traffic data within the community. Using what is referred to as a “stealth box,” an inconspicuous, portable but secured container holding sensitive devices able to record traffic volumes as well as speeds in a reported timeframe, the agency has gathered recent information pertinent to SCC, said Cpl. Greg Wynn, in charge of District IV’s traffic law enforcement contingent.

The devices were used not long ago, for example, to assess drivers’ practices along South Pebble Beach Boulevard, a four-lane, median-divided artery providing access between the numerous southside SCC neighborhoods and S.R. 674. Of the 1,800 vehicles using the road with a posted speed limit of 30 MPH during a routine Friday, 85 percent of them were traveling at 34 miles per hour or less, he said, adding that 15 percent of them exceeded 34 mph, with the highest speed recorded at 46 mph.

That vehicle speeding at 46 mph – 16 miles over the posted limit – was recorded at 9:30 PM on that Friday, Wynn said. A vehicle traveling at 45 mph also was recorded at 5:30 PM that date.

In addition, the “stealth box” equipment noted traffic volumes during the same period of time on the same day, disclosing that the highest level of traffic along South Pebble Beach peaked at 1 PM, with the second-highest volume showing up at 5 PM. Much of that volume, Wynn suggested, may be attributed to ongoing business activity entering and then leaving the community, rather than simple resident movement. The same situation may exist on the northside with clusters of non-residents contributing to volume peaks and speed limit violations, he indicated.

 What, then, is the HCSO answer to the 15 percent or so that are exceeding the limit at unacceptable rates? Onsite enforcement of the applicable traffic laws, replied Deputy Frank Cheshire, whose patrol vehicle is a motorcycle complete with sophisticated radar detection and readout equipment, as well as siren plus flashing red and blue lights.

The HCSO District IV motorcycle mounted traffic patrol currently is working in Sun City Center at least one day a week, Cheshire added. During a recent two-month span, he noted, the patrol clocked 45 man hours in SCC and wrote 20 citations, most of them for speeding, he noted. And, while the citations demonstrate that speeding transpires, at a rate of about two per week they also may indicate that it is not excessive.

There is another aspect of the speeding issue which often is not considered by the general public, yet is a specific focus in law enforcement officer training, pointed out Deputy Chris Girard, the retirement center’s current community resource deputy. Accurate perception of a vehicle’s speed, whether oncoming or going away, requires concentrated practice, he said.

To evaluate the point, Wynn, Cheshire, Girard and this reporter each pitted individual abilities to perceive correctly the speed of an approaching vehicle on Pebble Beach Boulevard North against the patrol motorcycle radar. Repeatedly, the trained deputies could quickly, visually assess within a mile or two the speed of an oncoming car, assessments then verified by the radar equipment. Lacking their training, however, the best record this writer can report is one accurate estimate out of three.

The brief test suggests that the untrained eye well may be unable to perceive correctly a vehicle’s speed, more often producing a sense of movement faster than it actually is, Girard noted.

Deputies will continue to patrol across Sun City Center monitoring for speeders, Wynn said, warning drivers when their vehicle speeds exceed the limit but are not extreme and ticketing those lead footers failing to keep their vehicle speeds within reasonable limits.

Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson

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