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St. Pete City Council to take up school zone controversy, but may not have all the facts

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

On Thursday, St. Petersburg’s City Council is scheduled to take up the city’s poorly designed school zones, but they might not be getting all the facts from the department of public works.

After a WTSP/10 Investigates report had found the St. Petersburg Police Department wrote an astonishing number of school zone tickets at improperly signed school zones the city began, without fanfare, fixing problems at school crossings.

A majority of these zones, according to WTSP reporter Noah Pransky, lacked proper signage and pavement markings, resulting in some important safety issues.

Also, police stopped writing tickets in school zone tickets until the safety issues were addressed. However, when 10 Investigates reported on the problems, it was only then the city started correcting them, despite nine years of warnings.

Nonetheless, the city may still not be giving councilmembers the whole picture, Pransky says.

“The alleged defects that I’ve heard of are rather technical from my understanding of it,” Councilman Jim Kennedy told reporters after a talk with city staffers. “(For example), the sign for the flashing lights is 6’4″ high as opposed to 6’6″ high.”

One notable example is school crossings along Martin Luther King Jr. St. North and 16th St. North – several of them well short of the FDOT minimum of 7 feet; several nearly half the required height. Signs supposed to inform drivers to slow down 300 feet before school crossings are also less than half that distance.

Of the missing required pavement markings brought to the city’s attention by 10 Investigates, many just added recently.

But the city has not yet admitted any misconduct.

Signage not in compliance with FDOT regulations puts children in crosswalks at a completely avoidable risk. What is worse is when drivers are ticketed in these 15 mph school zone speed traps – without proper signage — receiving fines of hundreds of dollars.

St. Pete Council Member Bill Dudley, also spoke with city staff, has little sympathy for drivers ticketed, simply because “the signage is a few feet short of where it’s supposed to be.”

However, he admitted not being aware of the degree that the city’s school crossings were out of compliance.

Another group seemingly caught unaware was the FDOT, but WTSP obtained emails showing that Tampa’s District 7 office heard complaints about the zones for years.

On the other hand, an FDOT spokesperson acknowledged it was not its role to make sure cities comply with state mandates on signage at school crossings.

Florida municipalities are subject to “home rule,” which let cities police themselves.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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