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Largo leaders split over speed limits

LARGO — City leaders were divided recently about whether to reduce residential speed limits by 5 mph, but one commissioner's absence means they'll have plenty more time to talk about it.

Commissioners voted 3-3 on an ordinance that would reduce the limits from 30 to 25 mph on as many as 696 streets, but Commissioner Samantha Fenger was absent, so the charter states they will vote again Tuesday during the next regular meeting.

In order to reduce the limit, state statutes require the city to first conduct a speed study of at least three roads to determine if the measure was reasonable.

A combination of a study by the Cardno engineering firm on Ninth Street NW, 19th Place SW and Britton Street — and 76 previous studies conducted by the Largo Police Department over the past three years — showed the city was within its rights to make the move.

Since 30 mph roadways don't require signage, the measure would require the city to install more than 1,000 new signs at a cost of about $36,000, city engineers said, and the ordinance would take effect in September.

The cost, however, was not the reason for the disagreement. The biggest question was whether the 5 mph decrease would actually make a difference.

"I don't really see a direct connection between a reduction in the speed limit by 5 mph to anything to do with traffic accident causation," said Vice Mayor John Carroll, a former Largo police chief. "And in my informal discussions with law enforcement and some other city staff, I don't think there's necessarily a lot of support for this idea. The comments I've had from the community have mostly been negative about doing this."

He added that enforcement would also be "next to impossible."

Police Chief Jeff Undestad agreed, and he provided some data to illustrate why.

In 2018, for instance, there were a total of 130 crashes on all Largo roadways. Only five, however, were on residential streets, and none of them led to major injuries.

He added that, since 2015, police have conducted stealth speed studies on local roads 146 times. In 39 cases, the average speed was over the limit, but only by 2.8 mph and officers can't issue citations until drivers are 6 mph over the limit.

Mayor Woody Brown said one of the most frequent complaints he's heard from residents over the past decade has been about speeding, so he thinks the city needs to change its current approach, which includes conducting speed studies and possibly targeted patrols.

"The chief doesn't think that changing the speed limit will affect behavior," he said. "I don't think what we're doing now affects behavior either — not for the long term. So, we need to do something different."

Brown said the best long-term solution is to identify problem roads and spend money to design them differently, but he thinks residents with children on those roads deserve some peace of mind now.

"This is a look at something different than what we've been doing for a long time," he said. "Maybe it's not the right answer, but the people that live in neighborhoods deserve an answer."

Commissioners Donna Holck and Michael Smith agreed that the move was worthwhile.

"If it protects one child, it's worth it to me," Smith said. "It (an accident) may have not happened yet, but it's going to."

Holck added that new signs would at least make motorists, who are likely driving 5 mph over the limit to begin with, aware of their speed and slow down.

"The 25 mph speed limit signs are pertaining to the neighborhoods, which we're trying to keep safe and that's where our children are," she said.

As a parent, Commissioner Jamie Robinson said he shares those concerns but doesn't think new signs will make a difference. So, he would prefer to put the money toward speed tables or redesigning certain roads.

"I think that would be a much better investment for the city," he said. "And I think because we can't just go out there and shake a stick and make everybody slow down, I think we are going to have to do it in some physical manner."

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