Speed limit changes – good news and bad news
There’s good news for people who have fought for changes in speed limits around Kenwood, Glen Ellen and Eldridge for years. Changes are coming soon. The bad news is that the existing limits may be heading in the opposite direction than expected, but it’s for a good reason – enforcement. Under California’s somewhat murky speed trap laws, speed limits on the streets we’re talking about – Warm Springs Road, Arnold Drive and Madrone Road – must be set by very specific methods before tickets can be issued based on radar or laser technology.
All three thoroughfares are designated “Major Collectors” by state and county standards and must be evaluated every five years to determine how fast 85 percent of the traffic is driving to allow radar/laser enforcement. Once those calculations are done, the new speed limits are accordingly rounded up or down slightly as conditions warrant.
The Sonoma County Department of Transportation and Public Works is in charge of all the county’s roads, save Highway 101 and state highways, and has come up with these new speed limits:
Warm Springs Road from Highway 12 to Mervin Avenue speed will go up to 35 mph from 25.
Arnold Drive from Warm Springs Road to Gibson Street will be 30 mph, up from 25.
Madrone Road from the Sonoma Creek Bridge to Arnold drive will go up to 30 mph from 25.
Once the new signage is in place – sometime in the next six weeks – the California Highway Patrol will be able to use their radar and laser guns to issue speeding tickets. The CHP has the primary coverage of these roads, though a county sheriff can issue tickets the old fashioned way, by clocking speed while following behind.
The estimated cost of labor and materials to implement the speed limit changes is approximately $80,000. Appropriations are available within the 2018 Road Maintenance Budget, and implementation will not have an impact on future projects.
The required Engineering and Traffic Surveys (E&TS) were taken during a weekday at various times from 2015 to 2017, according to the county documents, and evaluated for the Board of Supervisors’ approval last November. The Board adopted the new speed limits in December.
“My gut-level feeling is the speed should remain 25 mph,” former Warm Springs Road resident and current property owner Don MacNair said. In 2013, MacNair started a petition to urge the county to take measures to calm speeding on Warm Springs. “It is a residential and park area. If the speed survey supports the posted speed, the CHP and other law enforcement ought to be able to cite speed limit offenders. That’s a good thing. Will this happen on a regular basis? Who can say?”
MacNair and other neighbors have advocated for stop signs or speed bumps on Warm Springs Road between Highway 12 and the Kenwood Depot.
“Stop signs and consistent enforcement would provide a safer and slower traffic zone,” he said.
Speed studies were done for two segments of Arnold on either side of the Warm Springs Road intersection in Glen Ellen, though only the west portion speed limits are going up. The section through ‘downtown’ will remain 25 mph.
The Glen Ellen Forum Traffic and Safety subcommittee did their own traffic monitoring last year, according to Stacy Vilas.
“I think our committee work helped bring attention to the speed issues in Glen Ellen,” Vilas said. “Back in 2017 we met with CHP, Sonoma Sheriff Department, and the County Transportation and Public Works. The CHP couldn’t issue citations because the speed limits weren’t certified. We conducted our own speed study in specific areas and verified the complaints from residents were valid – there were way too many vehicles traveling in excess of the speed limits.”
Vilas is a retired police officer who worked in traffic safety for six years.
“We knew the speed limits could be raised, especially on Madrone Road where the limit is 25 and the majority of vehicles were traveling in excess of 30 mph. The same with Arnold Drive between Warm Springs Road and Highway 12.” The committee encouraged the county to conduct an official speed survey so enforcement could occur.
“Our philosophy is that the three E’s of speed limits – engineering, enforcement and education – can only work if the three work together,” Vilas said. “We believe the increase of speeds in the areas they were increased were reasonable and we look forward to the drivers in the area complying with them.”
Jerry Owens of Glen Ellen has been fighting to do something about speeders on Madrone Road. Two and a half years ago he collected 350 names on a petition to county officials persuading them to address speeders in the 25 mph zone between Arnold Dr. and the creek, where it then ramps up to 45 mph.
No traffic calming measures were forthcoming from the county’s Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTPW), and when Owens recently went to speak with county staff, they couldn’t find a record of the original petition and complaint.
In the meantime, Owens has taken it upon himself to create hand-made 25 mph signs and post them on either side of Madrone Road. He’s even been known to sit outside his Madrone Road home with a radar gun, as well as don a faux “Police – Glen Ellen P.D.” baseball hat to encourage motorists to slow down. It’s common during rush hours, said Owens, to clock cars going in excess of 45 mph in the 25 mph zone.
As far as the increase from 25 mph to 30 mph, he’s OK with the decision, but, “The speeding will continue anyway. Raising the speed limit will not slow down traffic – why would that happen?”
Owens said he is determined to get a stop sign and flashing light at the end of the 25 mph zone in order to slow people down in that residential stretch.
New smart radar trailers deployed
The DTPW has a new take on the lonely speed trailer that lets people know how fast they are driving during major traffic hours. They are seen regularly around schools and often on Fountaingrove Parkway, particularly on the hillier sections of that expensive street.
Now, not only does the new unit record how fast people are going, it lets the DTPW automatically know how many and how fast, providing information that may suggest prime areas for radar/laser enforcement.
“The information is valuable for traffic engineers and law enforcement officials to better understand the scope and timing of speeding issues in order to effectively allocate resources,” the department wrote in an announcement.
“Our officers will be working speed enforcement in conjunction with the radar trailer deployment as yet another way for us to reinforce the importance of being responsible and obeying the rules of the road,” California Highway Patrol Sergeant Allan Capurro said.
And law enforcement has a big job of traffic enforcement. At 1,768-square-miles Sonoma County is larger than the entire state of Rhode Island, and is served by 1,380 miles of roads and 328 bridges.