Cougar Valley’s flashing school zone sign raises questions

The in basket: Barbara Burns of Olympic View Road in Central Kitsap wonders about the effective hours of the school zone at Cougar Valley Elementary School, which she must pass going to and from her home.

“The signs on either end of the school zone have flashing yellow lights with the directive: ‘School Speed Limit 20mph When Flashing.’  Trouble is,” she said, “I’ve never seen the lights flashing except when buses are obviously loading and unloading children at regular times during the weekday. Other times of the day and night the lights are dark.

“Question 1,” she said. “In the evening, throughout the night, and on weekends when school is clearly not in session, are people still expected to do 20 mph or is 35 okay?” Thirty-five is the speed limit on the rest of the road.

“Question 2,” she continued. “The school parking lot is occasionally full to overflowing in the late afternoon/early evening for soccer practice, parent/teacher night and special events, forcing parents to park up and down both sides of the road.  The school is on a bend, which complicates matters, yet the flashing lights are rarely activated. Why?

“No conscientious driver would go through there doing 35 when vehicles and people are abundant, but according to the sign, 35 is acceptable because the lights aren’t flashing. Is it?”

And, finally, “if the lights aren’t being activated during times that obviously could benefit from it, I can only guess that the programming is complex, or the school relies on someone manually turning them on and off, which frankly doesn’t happen. Why have signs with lights at all?”

The out basket: Among the variety of school zone speed limit triggers (when children are present, during certain hours and, around Bremerton High School, 24/7), I think the flashing lights are far and away the best choice, except they cost a lot, require electricity and, Barbara is right – they are complex.

Some are controlled remotely by the county’s electronics shop, either by radio or hard wired. The one on Sedgwick Road was installed by the state (it’s a state highway) and may be operated by the school. A cursory survey of other schools tells me the ones on Pinecrest Elementary in Bremerton and Pearson Elementary in North Kitsap are run by the county after the school tells it what it wants, often for the entire school year in advance.

But the flashing lights eliminate the uncertainty that plagues the other zone formats to one degree or another, and what I have come to suspect is something less than a strict insistence on a child being present before a ticket is written in one of the zones specifying that, especially during emphasis patrols.

But to address Barbara’s specific questions, Jeff Shea, Kitsap County’s traffic engineer says, “The 20 mph school zone speed limit is only in force at the times the flashers are activated.

“At other times the maximum speed limit is 35 mph. Motorists should always drive at a safe speed for the conditions, which can be below the posted speed limit.

“The signs cannot be activated other than by reprogramming them with a computer and connecting cord,” Jeff said. “That makes them very difficult to use for special events. During most events though, there is normally adult supervision which minimizes children alone along or crossing the road.  Even then, most prudent drivers are slowing down when the road gets congested like that.”

“The flashers are primarily for the school areas and crossings where young school age children are prevalent and don’t always have adult supervision.” Jeff concluded.

2 thoughts on “Cougar Valley’s flashing school zone sign raises questions

  1. A much better situation than exists at Silverdale elementary, where the lights flash from before schools starts until about an hour after it ends (so it seems, haven’t actually timed it). While kids are in class there’s no foot or bus traffic, but there’s still a 600 foot school zone that requires drivers to drop to 20mph, and serves as a speed trap for the county to use to fill its coffers.

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