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WTSP: Inadequate warnings, aggressive ticketing and doubled fines plague St. Pete school zones

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Despite years of safety warnings from citizens and community leaders, St. Petersburg will finally begin to correct street signage to better caution drivers of approaching school crossings.

The tipping point came after questions from WTSP/10 Investigates, featured in a new report first broadcast Tuesday night.

Before the issue became public, however, St. Pete police may have issued thousands of incorrect tickets during the aggressive enforcement of reduced-speed zones. Reporter Noah Pransky discovered the rate of citations was like no other municipality in Tampa Bay.

Strict guidelines from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) dictate height, width, and location of street signs, as a way to maximize safety. Nevertheless, Pransky noted that dozens of “school zone 15 mph” signs were improperly located.

WTSP investigators found a range of problems; either signs were too close to an intersection, where there was not enough room for drivers to slow down safely. Others were obstructed by trees or not visible in heavy traffic.  Several reduced-speed zones were missing the required pavement markings to give a heads-up to drivers that they are approaching a reduced-speed school zone.

With 1,864 school zone tickets last year, the St. Pete Police Department (SPPD) issued more citations than any other local region — Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Polk counties — combined. Additionally, Pransky learned that police wrote no fewer than 1,710 school zone tickets each year from 2011 to 2013.

“Our biggest issue is to make sure these kids make it home safely every day,” St. Petersburg Police Chief Tony Holloway told WTSP.

Holloway took over the SPD in 2014, after serving a similar role in Clearwater.

Ticketed for going 25 miles per hour (mph) in a 40-mph zone, many drivers found the fines doubled for certain times of day when the limit was 15 mph. Those motorists were then outraged to receive tickets of $306 for speeding in what might have been a school zone without adequate warning.

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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