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Speeds around schools lowered

The school year will see new and tougher enforcement of speeds around campuses.

Changes approved by the city council Wednesday bring uniformity to island school zones, restricting motorists to 20 mph throughout the weekday – whether children are “present” or not.

“I think it’s a lot easier to enforce,” said Rob Corn, Bainbridge Police traffic officer. “It makes it a lot easier to do our jobs. There’s no ‘gray area.’”

The move follows a year-long test program around Wilkes and Blakely schools. Signs there restricted travel to 20 mph from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Although defined by state law, the standard restriction “When Children Are Present” was thought by many to be too ambiguous, leaving too much room for driver discretion.

The council this week agreed to extend the new restrictions to areas around Woodward, Sakai and the high school campus.

New signs will set speeds in school zones at 20 mph from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. The earlier hour makes allowance for the varying times at which island schools convene.

Public testimony at a recent council committee meeting supported the change.

“Anecdotally, there’s no question people are driving more slowly,” said Althea Mallove, a Wilkes parent who lobbied last year for the new restrictions.

Corn agreed, saying, “It’s lowered (speed) so much, that even now when school’s out, people are still slowing down.”

Enforcement during the trial period was, though, apparently productive. A number of tickets were issued, Corn said – in several instances to parents who were taking their kids to school.

“They’re from the area – they should know better,” he said.

Among the more egregious infractions Corn noted was a motorist cited for going 49 mph in a 20 zone in front of Wilkes while school was in session.

Randy Witt, public works director for the city, said his department was unable to perform “before and after” speed studies in the Blakely and Wilkes zones, which would have given an objective measure of the program’s success.

But the department backed the changes nonetheless.

“We felt there was support for changing it, independent of what the study might show,” Witt said.

Some problems were identified. Citizens commented that the text on the new signs was too small to read from a passing vehicle.

Others were confused by the disparity between school zones, giving the council more cause to make the changes island-wide.

Revised signs are being crafted, and will show the restrictions in larger letters, Witt said.

The signs are expected to go up by the end of this month; orange flags will be displayed to alert motorists to the change.

Also as school gets under way, Corn said police will be using unmarked cars and an electronic “Your Speed Is...” display around schools.

School-zone violations earn motorists a $157 fine. Under state law, such infractions can be dismissed by a judge, but the fine amount itself cannot be lowered if the ticket stands.

“And that’s whether you’re going 5 over or 20 over,” Corn said.

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