Palm Coast Will Study Raising Town Center’s Crawl-Paced Speed Limits On Some Streets
FlaglerLive | November 10, 2015
Palm Coast’s Town Center first opened to traffic in December 2007—eight years ago. When it did, a city news release warned drivers to obey the speed limits. It was an odd thing to say in release inaugurating what was to be the city’s crowning development. And for eight years, drivers through Town Center have groaned and fumed and complained about the crawl-paced limits: 15 mph on several streets in the heart of Town Center, and 25 mph elsewhere. That’s lower than the 30 mph speed limits on most of Palm Coast’s residential streets, which are far more built up.
It’s taken barely eight days of the Palm Coast City Council moving into its new home on Lake Avenue in Town Center, and of city council members driving those streets frequently, to compel the city administration to have another look at those speed limits and perhaps raise them.
That was part of a bi-polar discussion at this morning’s council workshop—the first held at City Hall, after last week’s inaugural business meeting—which featured council members at once bemoaning the reckless ness of Palm Coast drivers and asking for more rational—meaning higher—speed limits in Town Center.
Council member Bill McGuire straddled both poles.
“Everybody wants the law enforced to everybody but them,” he said in his only soliloquy of the day, cautioning his colleagues that the subject matter usually gets him emotional. “I should be able to use my judgment, but you, you’d better toe the line, and I continue to see this. I don’t know if it’s indigenous to this area or what, but drivers that I encounter by and large if they’re not texting or using their cell phones, they’re just plain rude. They think nothing of cutting in front of you without using a signal. I mean, the driving by and large in our city is not good. And while I applaud the things that you guys are saying and stand up for them, what I have found in my mind that if people are breaking the law, any law, and they’re doing it willfully, unless you make it painful for them, they’re going to keep on doing it. That’s why we have jails and prisons.”
But it was also McGuire who prompted the discussion on raising speed limits in Town Center. McGuire is among the council members the most frequent, or second most frequent, visitor at city hall. Speed limits for him were not an issue when he was driving from his B-Section house to City Marketplace, the city’s old haunt. But now he must navigate the 25 and 15 mph zones of Town Center.
“When I come into this building I drive the speed limit, people pass me like I’m standing still,” McGuire said. He suggested to City Manager Jim Landon that Sean Castello, the city’s traffic engineer, have a look at the speed limits again. “I’m not recommending that we do anything other than have a study.”
But the city has been getting complaints, too.
The streets in Town Center are under Palm Coast’s authority: the city may set the speed limits at whatever level it chooses. It does so by studying traffic patterns. In Town Center, speed limits were set based on projected growth and future traffic, not on actual traffic. Those projections were made in the middle of the last decade, when the city was in the midst of its housing-bubble euphoria and Town Center appeared to be headed toward its intended build-out, “and it was going to be pedestrian friendly, vehicle unfriendly, and all the shops right up to the sidewalk,” Mayor Jon Netts said. “That hasn’t happened.”
So a second look at the speed limits, he said, “ might be something worth looking at.”
Castello said roads are designed for certain speeds. “But they are actually designed at a higher speeds than they’re set for,” so for example if a speed limit is set at 25, there’s room for give or take in the number. “So those roadways can generally handle not s significantly higher speed, but they can handle a higher speed,” Castello said.
The city will study the speed zones over the next few weeks and months. “It just takes some coordination to get the data collected,” Castello said. “Once we get the data it would take a little bit of time just to go through the process of breaking down that data and then looking at the area and making sure that if we lower or raise the speed limit it wouldn’t create an issue.”
Some areas can bear a higher speed. Some are not likely to, such as the area along the Epic movie theater. “Driving 15 miles an hour, 20 miles an hour in that area where there’s almost always cars by the movie theater makes a whole lot of sense,” Landon said. But then from there to Town Center where you have zero cars, and it seems like now it doesn’t make sense.” And not just there: “It’s the 25 mph speed zones and even the four-lane divided areas where there’s no driveways, that’s one where those of us in the business do not understand why that’s less than even our residential areas where you have driveways. So we’ll take a look at it.”
“I could literally get a ticket on that road on my bicycle,” council member Steven Nobile said, referring to a stretch of 15 mph road. But it was also Nobile who pressed for more enforcement of speedsters elsewhere. “We also have an issue of a lot of speeding and reckless driving in our community,” he said, asking for “some kind of method for people who have reckless drivers in their community to call in.” That system, Mark Carman, the de-facto police chief in Palm Coast (he commands the sheriff’s Palm Coast Precinct) said.
“If you have a 15 miles an hour speed limit and you permit people to ignore it, that’s bad public education,” Netts said. “On the other hand, if you have something, go and enforce it. If you’re not going to enforce it, then you need to change the rules to make it more rational.”
That’s what appears to be in the works for Town Center.