Tag Archives: Austin Drive

Jackson Park school zone illustrates enforcement problems

The in basket: Perhaps nothing perplexes the driving public like school zones and their speed limits. I often get e-mails decrying the wide variety of zones, which can be in effect during certain hours, “when children are present,” when lights mounted on the sign are flashing, or, rarely, 24/7, as in front of Bremerton High. 

Sometimes, it all befuddles even the police officers who enforce the zones, if two Road Warrior readers recall their experience correctly. 

Both got ticketed in the same school zone, the one in front of Jackson Park Elementary School on Austin Drive.

It is a “when children are present” zone. Present, for this purpose, means on the shoulder, sidewalk, in the street or crosswalk, or somewhere with quick access to those points, says Lt. Pete Fisher of Bremerton police’s traffic division. In the schoolyard or inside the building doesn’t constitute being present under the law.

Corliss Johnson wrote in November 2007 that he was ticketed there, even though there was not a child in sight. 

“I would never think of putting a child in harm’s way,” he said, but the officer told him, “There are always children present.”

Then in May 2009, Bob Cole had the same misfortune. That officer told him school zone speed limits are in effect from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., period, Bob tells me.

That school zone is a problem for openers because it lacks the required signage where the school zone ends, theoretically making all of Austin Drive after one passes the school zone sign a 20 mph zone.

But if Corliss and Bob recall their conversations with the two police officers correctly, the citations were based on a faulty understanding of the law.

The out basket: I asked Lt. Fisher about the two assertions supposedly made by his troops.

He told me, “Enforcement for the school zone speed must be congruent with the method used to mark the school zone.

Children have to be present at any school zone posted ‘When Children Are Present’ for officers to write a speeding-in-school-zone citation.  If no children are present, then the officer should just write a speeding citation.”

Bob had the badge number of the officer who ticketed him. I asked Pete to find out if that officer  is of the belief that school zone speeds are in effect from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. regardless of what the signs say, or was of that belief in May 2009. Pete said he has had that talk, but it’s a personnel matter he can’t discuss further with me. “But I do appreciate you coming forward with the information,” he added.

I recall getting a complaint even before I began writing Road Warrior in 1996 about a school zone stop in front of South Kitsap High School, by a state trooper. I can’t recall the specifics, but I concluded at the time the citation wasn’t based on the law. 

I also recall sitting in on Bremerton Municipal Court after BPD ticketed dozens of drivers for doing more than 20 in what then was a school zone on Sheridan Road just uphill from Wheaton Way. It, too, was a “when children are present” zone, and many of the cited drivers said they didn’t see any children.

Judge Jim Docter admitted that to find in the driver’s favor was tantamount to calling the citing officer a liar, which he declined to do. He upheld most of the tickets. 

School zone tickets cannot be excused, or the fine reduced.

I can see why officers feel no obligation to point out the children that made the 20 mph limit effective. By the time they radio in the stop and the license number and await any crucial information, the children can be out of sight. They might even have gotten legal advice saying not to be that specific, I suppose. 

But it’s very likely to make a driver feel like he’s been had when he leaves convinced the ticket was unfairly issued. 

That’s why I love the “when flashing” school zones signs. 

They eliminate most of the uncertainty about when the speed limit drops to 20.

Pete said he will work with city public works to get the requisite “end of school zone” signs posted on Austin Drive, but in the meantime, the location of the school zone sign for those heading in the opposite direction would signify the end of the zone.

Another Austin Drive user finds merging difficult

 

The in basket: Brenda Brunson has sounded a common complaint, that getting onto Highway 3 southbound at Austin Drive is scary and dangerous, due to the short, curving on-ramp and underbrush between it and the main traffic lanes.

She suggested a couple of fixes that don’t seem too practical, including moving the 50-mph speed zone even farther back, to before southbound traffic reaches that on-ramp, and removing the Yield sign on the on-ramp.

“It’s nerve-wracking trying to accelerate on the downhill acceleration lane from Erland’s Point/NAD Park,” Brenda said, “while watching for oncoming traffic with which I’m trying to merge (through the high weeds on the hill to my left), while wondering if the car ahead of me, out of view, and around the curve at the end of the acceleration lane is stopped, yielding!

“So far, I haven’t seen anyone stopped but that doesn’t mean it’s never happened,” she wrote. “Or that it won’t.”

The out basket: I drove this on-ramp twice more before writing this, as it’s not somewhere I often go. There was a steady stream of traffic in the outside lane both times, but by accelerating at the proper time, I was able to glide into the mainline traffic without trouble. 

But since so many people share Brenda’s concern, I asked the state how many accidents actually happen there, and for comparable stats for the on-ramp going the other way from Austin Drive and the two on-ramps one interchange north, at Chico Way. 

Steve Bennett, the Olympic Region traffic operations engineer, says there were no merge-related accidents reported at the southbound Austin Way ramp in the five years just past, just one on the corresponding northbound on-ramp, and two at Chico Way, both on the southbound ramp.

I get complaints that the 50-mph zone starts too early, that it shouldn’t encompass Kitsap Way’s interchange. Brenda is the first to suggest it be enlarged.

As for the Yield sign, it was put there because of the complexity of that on-ramp. Most on-ramps don’t have them. I’d hate to think there are drivers who would construe it to mean they should stop if they don’t see a gap in traffic they can use. Escaping onto the wide shoulder there and waiting for another opportunity would be a lot smarter.

I’ve forwarded a copy of this column to the state maintenance office for consideration of getting the weeds mowed at Austin Drive. They do make for a partially obstructed look at southbound traffic on the mainline for merging traffic.