Cloverdale set to increase speed limit on its main street

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Cloverdale may have acted a little too quickly when it lowered the speed limit from 35 to 25 mph earlier this year on a stretch of its main street, following a pedestrian fatality and other injuries in a nearby crosswalk.

Now city officials are recommending a 30-mph limit to reflect the typical speed of vehicles on the stretch of South Cloverdale Boulevard and allow for radar enforcement without setting up a “speed trap.”

In the summer of 2013, a 68-year-old woman was struck and killed in a nighttime accident while using the crosswalk just south of the Citrus Fairgrounds, at the intersection of South Cloverdale and Healdsburg Avenue.

A few months later, on Halloween night, two teenage cousins were hit by a vehicle in the same crosswalk, breaking the legs of one of the boys and causing him to spend weeks in the hospital.

Police said there had been five accidents at the spot in a year involving pedestrians or bicyclists struck by motorists.

After a public outcry, the City Council installed a hard-to-miss $60,000 LightGuard system with road-embedded, flashing amber lights on each side of the crosswalk, automatically activated by the presence of a pedestrian. As an extra precaution, the speed limit was lowered to 25 mph.

But a traffic and engineering study found the lower limit was not justified, because 85 percent of motorists drive faster than that.

“You can’t force people to drive slower by posting a speed limit. The speed trap law says that’s not fair,” City Engineer Craig Scott said Friday.

Speed limits are meant to reflect the speed at which the vast majority drive.

“The typical driver, or most of the drivers, are driving a speed they think is safe. You want to present that,” Scott said.

After the new crosswalk was installed, the study found 85 percent of drivers travel at 35 mph in the vicinity. But because Washington School is nearby, and many students use the crossing, officials are allowed to deduct 5 mph from the limit.

Mayor Carol Russell said the new posted limit — which is proposed for nearly a mile between Citrus Fair Drive and Brookside Drive — will allow for more effective police enforcement.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the new speed limit at its Dec. 10 meeting.

“It sounds contrary to what we all think,” she said. Increasing the limit from 25 to 30 mph is expected to increase safety, because it’s the limit justified by the speed survey and would enable radar enforcement and traffic citations that hold up in court.

City Engineer Scott said there are still more safety improvements on tap in the vicinity of the crosswalk, to slim down the broad 70-foot width of the street and make it less daunting to cross. The proposed changes include re-striping, extending the curb and adding parking and a bike lane.

City Manager Paul Cayler said the new eye-catching, flashing crosswalk and warning signs have done their job since they were installed in January.

They “have really made a difference, and I’m out there regularly when kids go to school. It does work,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @clarkmas.

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