Dear Street Smarts,
Q: We have been living on North Branciforte Avenue for about a year. Being familiar with the area for some time, we kept in mind that, while residential, it is a busy street. Our concern since living here, though, is the speed that we witness people driving. Whether by car, commercial, motorcycle or motorized bikes, it seems that drivers have no concerns over a speed limit or that there is a possibility of a pedestrian at the crosswalk at Keystone Avenue. As far as we can tell, there is only one speed limit sign of 25 mph posted at the beginning of North Branciforte near Water Street.
Can you please let us know what the actual limit is all the way down and perhaps suggest that they are posted in clear sight? Adults and children regularly use the sidewalks and streets as pedestrians and bicyclists. And most residents need to be able to pull out of their driveways safely.
Thank you for any insight!
Selina W., via email
A: Street Smarts forwarded your question to Capt. Steve Clark of the Santa Cruz Police Department and Chris Schneiter of the city’s public works department. Below are their answers.
Clark: The answer is a bit complicated. In order to work radar speed enforcement on a street with the characteristics of North Branciforte, there needs to be a traffic engineering study to determine the ‘safe speed’ for the roadway. Such a study has been done on North Branciforte between Water Street and Fairmount Avenue. The latest study has determined the ‘safe speed’ to be 35 mph, in spite of the posted 25 mph. Since the ‘safe speed’ is 35 mph, the roadway needs to be posted at a speed limit that is reasonably close to the ‘safe speed’. If not, you have essentially created a speed trap.
With a ‘safe speed’ of 35 mph and a ‘posted’ speed of 25 mph, the street is not enforceable with radar. The court will reject citations written with radar because the variance between the ‘safe speed’ and ‘posted’ speed is too great.
This issue was brought to the attention of the previous City Council, who certified the last speed survey. The council’s decision at the time – about 3-4 years ago — was to not raise the posted speed on many streets out of fear that people would drive even faster on these streets. The problem is, that decision made certain streets unenforceable with radar.
This leaves the option of speed enforcement via ‘pacing’ a car. For a street like N. Branciforte, this is a not a practical or safe way to accomplish speed enforcement.
Schneiter: We are required by law to redo the speed survey every 5 years and have just started that process. We anticipate that data collection — speed survey, collision review and enforcement data — and analysis will take 2-4 months.
A radar gun is used to sample speeds on many street segments. With the speed data, collision, enforcement and geometric road condition data, we propose speed limits within the constraints of the California Vehicle Code and Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. The posted speed limits have to be legally defensible or they are not radar enforceable as Steve noted.
The last time we did this, and for the first time in my experience, the council raised the speed limit to 30 mph on a few arterial streets. Depending on how the data and analysis pan out for these 30 mph street segments, it may encourage additional posted speed limit increases, or it may not. The question that will be asked and hopefully we can answer affirmatively, is that raising the speed limit so that it is radar enforceable, actually lower the overall speeds and get drivers to act more responsibly.
The time for public input or requests is when the speed survey goes to the Transportation and Public Works Commission, then the city council for certification. Toward the end of the calendar year is what is anticipated.