Monday, January 7, 2019

Should the City of Dunwoody lower the School Zone speed limit from 25 to 15 mph? Is there enough enforcement of current driving standards? Are Speed Cameras the answer?

State law may allow a Speed Limit change but preclude radar enforcement below 25?
Is radar speed cameras enforcing at 25 mph a better solution?

A couple of weeks ago I received an email / social media post from a concerned Dunwoody school mom regarding school zone traffic, crosswalk enforcement issues that threatened the safety of her and her child while walking to school.  The DeKalb School System was copied on the crossing guard issue being raised as they handle that function, therefore I hope that specific issue is rectified as requested.

The resident had two more requests for the City, one was an increased police presence in school zones ensuring that all traffic rules are followed and I reached out to Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan who stated that the officers would give some additional attention to the problem identified.

Based on the heavy workload of our small dedicated police force, I am guessing that this task was given to our Crime Reduction Team of three officers and a Sargent who were formed to handle many different targeted problem areas, including this specific one.

Our FY 2012 Dunwoody Budget included a proposal to add a Crime Response Team comprised of one sergeant and three patrol officers but because of budgetary constraints, these additional resources were not added until the next year.
"Proposed FY 2012 Dunwoody Budget - The Crime Response Team will utilize both traditional and non-traditional patrol techniques to deter criminal activity, reduce accidents and injuries from accidents, and improve the quality of life for our community. In particular, the Crime Response Team will implement the Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS) program which integrates location-based crime and traffic data to establish effective and efficient methods for deploying the team. The Crime Response Team will be a key asset in addressing traffic and safety concerns around our schools; targeting hot spots and locations with high incidents of crime; conducting DUI enforcement and highway interdiction, and handling special investigations as needed. For example, one common complaint our Police Department receives regards traffic safety. Currently, complaints are funneled to the shift and assigned to officers who are working in the particular area of the complaint. In most cases, our officers are not able to address traffic complaints in a timely manner or as adequately as is necessary because their primary responsibility is to answer calls for service and a secondary responsibility is to improve visibility through active directed patrol."
In 2013, the CRT was finally budgeted but the justification language crept away from traffic/speed enforcement in order to focus more on hard crime.  With the level of turnover and vacancies in all police agencies including the City of Dunwoody, speed and traffic enforcement was probably put to the back burner from time to time in order to cover the general beat responsibilities.  The Dunwoody Police Department and the Crime Reduction Team has always been responsive to the needs of the community regarding traffic control and I am very appreciative for all they do.  As the Department gets back to full strength, my hope is that traffic/speed enforcement becomes more of a priority because I have heard of issues all over town (Peeler, Tilly Mill, Dunwoody Club, Happy Hollow, Kingsley, various subdivision cut through streets) and guessing there are issues in your neighborhood too.

The second request by the resident to the city was a reduction of the School Zone Speed Limit from 25 MPH to 15 MPH and based on my research of Georgia Law, the City of Dunwoody can do this if we wanted to but I was informed by staff that the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) would need to allow/certify speed enforcement at the new lower speed and that would not happen without a change in Georgia law.   The City of Doraville recently lowered a few speed limits but now can't enforce the issue and are appealing the process.

I believe the proposal of lowering the school zone speed limit would raise several items into play, namely limited traffic flow on main arterial roads during rush hour and then the question comes down to how to effectively enforce the lower speeds.  Traffic congestion is something we all live with and I am guessing that we all take this into our scheduling and decisions on when and where to drive every day.  To me, ensuring a safe environment for our children to walk our neighborhoods by instituting a common-sense set of rules, would take a higher priority over traffic throughput for most people and it certainly does for me.

With many believing that they can't get a speeding ticket until they exceed the posted limit by 10 mph, it makes the 25 posted limit a defacto 35 mph zone.  Unfortunately, this is false, based on Georgia code the City of Dunwoody could be handing out speeding tickets in school zones at 1 mph over the posted limit.  The question then comes down to, do we need stricter enforcement of the current law or a lower limit?   Seeing the findings below of the pedestrian fatality rate jump from 5 percent to 40 percent for a speed increase from 20 to 30 mph.  It makes me question allowing a defacto speed higher than the posted 25 in school zones and therefore we need either a lower speed or better compliance of what we have.

 A 1999 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study found that 5 percent of pedestrians are fatally injured when struck by a vehicle traveling at 20 mph or less. This compares with fatality rates of 40, 80, and nearly 100 percent when the pedestrian is struck at 30, 40, and 50 mph or more, respectively.  It also shows the school zone speed limits in various states as shown below.

The issue of speed enforcement in school zones vs the many other priorities of our police department also needs to be discussed because there is no way that there will always be able to have all of our school zones monitored by a police officer at all times.  Last year the Georgia General Assembly and Governor Deal approved HB 978 to provide for automated traffic enforcement safety devices in school zones.  Yep "zero tolerance" speed cameras are now allowed to enforce in school zones,  so if desired the City could contract with American Traffic Solutions to install either fixed, mobile or transferable speed cameras.   Is strict enforcement of the current 25 mph school speed limit the answer or if a lower speed is desired we could put up the signs but it appears that we would need to change to state law.  These proposed speed changes still won't stop those who want to ignore all other driving regulations and common courtesies but it could slow the traffic in school zones that are not already bottlenecked to a crawl.

As a father who had his son almost hit by a car while crossing to school with the help of a crossing guard, I take the pleas of a concerned Dunwoody school mom very seriously and am therefore placing this information out there for public discussion.

With every email I receive (and social media posts I read) regarding public safety, I always ask myself if we are we doing enough?  Are the laws and speed limits correct, are the sidewalks and crosswalks in the proper places and is our police department staffed appropriately so that they can ensure all of our safety?   Traffic calming and speed humps are not appropriate on arterial roads where some of our schools sit and then in residential areas these devices would need to be requested and approved by the residents of that street. The Dunwoody Police speed trailer is in constant use and is available to be requested for your neighborhood.  Our Crime Reduction Team can't focus on only traffic so we need a balanced approach whatever option we want to implement.

If you want changes, please speak up, be vocal as to your desires, email all seven members of the Dunwoody City Council as there will need to be a community discussion before these types of proposed changes are initiated.

Dunwoody wants to be a walkable and bikeable community but we are attempting to do so on streets that were designed for speed is problematic. Atlanta Magazine published an article this month that states that pedestrian and bicyclist deaths are increasing in the metro area and if we are not careful it is just a matter of time before a tragedy strikes our community.

To everyone else reading this, please slow down in school zones and residential streets, obey traffic signs and if you are driving children to school please obey the individual school drop off and carpool procedures.  If you are walking your children to school, thank your crossing guards and those watching out for the children.  Remember that everyone driving near the schools or dropping children off are stressed with the circumstances of their surroundings therefore extra care is always needed.

Finally, if you can reduce your own frustrations by avoiding the congestion near schools during the peak times by leaving a little earlier or modifying your route, please do so.   Thanks



StraightOuttaDunwoody said...

IF local law enforcement would enforce current speed limits, that'd be a welcome start. PLENTY of folks speeding along Womack at all hours of the day, including morning/school rush hour. I almost was hit by a GSU student going 50+ Eastbound on Womack just trying to get out of my driveway at 8AM the other week.

Also, what's the point of having bike lanes if they are rarely, if ever enforced?

rosegorham said...

I have to agree with the above comments. The current speed limits we have are rarely enforced. Speeding in school zones is just the norm in Dunwoody sadly. The police are occasionally on Womack Rd in the morning pulling over speeders but not very often. I hate to criticize the police because I know they are pulled in 100 different directions and probably don't have the manpower to stand in every school zone morning and afternoon to deter people.

In Australia where I am from, we have school zones and they are policed with cameras. You get a HEFTY ticket if you are caught on one of those. You wouldn't dare speed through one of them.

But then we also stop for people who are crossing at pedestrian crossings (its the law and people follow it). Different mindset

Mark said...

Hi John,

My experience of this matter is multi-fold: I've been a pedestrian student, parent; bicycling same, driving parent, and cross-walk guard. I don't think think lowering the speed limit will help. If folks are going to violate for whatever reason, they will continue to do so until a suitable incentive halts them or lessens the number of offenders. As a crossing guard for a couple of years at an elementary school, I daily encountered folks who were either in a hurry and didn't care, weren't paying attention, or were otherwise distracted. On several occasions, my fortunate reflexes and graceful movements prevented injury and death for myself as well as my charges. It became a regular show and I was eventually able to get the local police (Birmingham, AL), to place a patrol car and officer at my crossing. This was the only effective incentive for reducing the numbers of folks who offended.

This problem isn't solely the province of school zones. I can't count the number of times I've been on foot or my motorcycle and had to dodge folks who either weren't paying attention or had decided the speed limits, stops, and yields did not apply to them. Many times in the nearly 20 years I've been here, I've found myself leaping onto the hood of a car while crossing with the light in my favor to avoid ending up under the car. I can't recommend such stunts to most adults, let alone children.

I'm intrigued the idea of camera enforcement, but given the resistance and in many cases systemic abuse of the stop light cameras in this state in recent years, I don't know that it will go any better for enforcement of speed limits in school zones or anywhere else. I'm game to explore the idea. I recall that the stop light cameras did reduce the number of "t-bone" collisions which are the most fatal; but they precipitated an increase in rear endings. There were also many jurisdictions that got into trouble for tinkering with light settings in an effort to turn the systems into piggy banks which is a large part of what lead to their removal from most places.

There is no good answer for this that is viable given our continued reliance on private vehicles for transportation to & from schools, jobs, and homes. The best one I've observed is more vigorous and rigorous enforcement of the relevant laws by local authority.

I wish you and your colleagues at city hall, as well as the county, all the best in seeking remedy.

Arthur Goodelman said...

I live on Seaton Dr. at the Intersection of Seaton Way. That being said the speed limit is 25MPH. I would not be in favor of reducing the speed limit. But would like to see more and better reinforcement of existing laws. More officers, cameras, and
citations issued.
Young teenagers and adults abuse the laws. Slowing the limit I do not believe is the answer. Traffic is crazy already . So slower is not the answer. Mt Vernor construction and other projects are not helping in the way of speeders. We need a better way to move the vehicles in a timely manner.
Speeding tickets is a Great way to pay for more enforcement officers. Lets give it a try ? Trying to go down hill at a 10-15MPH is not practical answer to the problem.

John Heneghan said...

Thanks for the many comments on the subject and the universal requests for more enforcement of the current ordinances vs lowering the speed limit in school zones.