Editor’s note: Today’s Street Smarts column is a second installment from Ken Black, who retired from the Santa Cruz Police Department after more than 25 years of service; 18 years of those were spent as a motorcycle patrol officer. Now a teacher in the Ukraine, Black still keeps up with Street Smarts. Consequently, he wrote to seeking to weigh in on the recent conversation about the challenges of enforcing the 25 mph speed limit on Mission Street. In Monday’s column, he addressed speed law and when law enforcement officers may use RADAR to enforce the law. Today, he explains the challenges of enforcing speed law using RADAR on Mission Street.
The question has repeatedly been raised about using RADAR on Mission St. In 2001, a Santa Cruz County commissioner correctly ruled that the RADAR survey on Mission, a state highway, was no longer valid. The State had added a lane to the highway between Walnut Avenue and King Street. I argued that he should only throw out the portion the survey affected by the added lane, but he said that the survey was part and parcel, so if one part was invalid, it was all invalid. Consequently, the 25 mph speed limit is only RADAR-enforceable near schools under specific circumstances; the scenario is the same on High Street near Westlake Elementary.
A retired friend of mine from Caltrans explained that the State would not engage in a fight over raising the speed limit on Mission as long as the city of Santa Cruz opposes it. The City has refused to support any change of the speed limit. Consequently, RADAR has not been used to enforce the 25 mph speed limit on Mission since that time. The exception has been the two school zones during appropriate hours.
The 25 mph speed limit at schools is only RADAR-enforceable under specific circumstances. If the school grounds are fenced, the school zone must be identified by signs not more than 500 feet away and the speed limit applies only during the times students are “coming and going to and from” school. That has generally been interpreted as being about a half-hour before and after the beginning and end of the normal school day.
Almost a decade ago, members of the Santa Cruz Police Department requested that the department of public works raise the posted speed limits on several streets in order to use RADAR to reduce speeds being driven. The city council offered a compromise: speed limits would be raised on two streets, data would be collected by department of public works, and evaluated.
Immediately after the speed limit on Bay Dr. was raised, we began to issue citations to drivers traveling in thee 50 mph to 60 mph range. Citations above 60 mph were not uncommon, with 68 mph being the top speed that I can recall. Speeds when I retired were in the 40s.
The police department receives many complaints every year from residents who want action taken about speeding in their neighborhoods. Unfortunately, many live on the same streets that were recommended for enforcement, but denied. I am glad to see that the city council has paid heed to the need to give the traffic unit the tool needed to respond to citizens’ complaints by raising the speed limit so RADAR enforcement can take place.
Now, Caltrans needs to be invited to conduct their survey on Mission so that a reasonable speed limit can be enforced. I know that the officers are up to the challenge of reducing speed on our busiest highway throughout its length, throughout the day, not just in specific locations during certain hours. The residents of Santa Cruz need to let the Council know they support this action.