Tag Archives: school zone

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.

Brownsville school zone sign relocated

The in basket: Gary Minder of Brownsville said the school zone at Brownsville Elementary had been shrunk and he wondered why.

“The school zone flashing light on northbound Illahee Road NE used to be in the vicinity of the intersection of Illahee Road and NE Arizona Street.  Now it’s maybe 400-500 feet further north near where Washington Street intersects Illahee.

“My minor daughter received a traffic ticket in the old school zone and has a contested hearing coming up in May,” he said. “I would like to know if the school zone was by chance moved as a result of others ticketed in the old zone.”

The out basket: Jeff Shea, traffic engineer for Kitsap County, says, “The sign was moved to make it a legal school zone and to enhance enforcement.

“State law is very clear on where a school zone can exist.  School zones can only extend 300 feet from active school grounds or designated school crosswalks. When the flasher was initially installed it only covered the crosswalk, and left northbound Illahee Road at the posted 25 mph speed limit, and not a 20 mph school zone.

“Moving the sign to its current location served two purposes.  One, it established a legally enforceable school zone for northbound traffic at the school.  Second, it allows a sheriff’s deputy to see both school zone signs from one vantage point, so both northbound and southbound traffic can be enforced.  “When we moved the flashing sign to its current location we had to replace the school zone speed limit for the crosswalk.  At crosswalks we normally configure them so that they are enforceable when children are present as the current sign designates,” Jeff said.




Do speed patrol’s trigger Pinecrest school zone lights?

The in basket: Don Cocks of Bremerton wrote on Nov. 2 to say he had driven by Pinecrest Elementary School on Pine Road “between 11:15 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. every Monday through Thursday for the past several

“I noticed the school zone lights are flashing at this time whenever the sheriff is doing speed enforcement with either an unmarked car or by motorcycle,” he said. “The lights are not flashing when there is no speed trap set up.
“For the past week,” he said then, “the lights have been not flashing and there has been no
speed trap (school has been in session). I know this is a money maker for
the county as they usually have a car pulled over whenever I drive by and
the lights are flashing (the car is always going northbound, down the  hill).”
Don asked “Is the Sheriff’s Department allowed to turn on the school
zone lights whenever they want to do speed enforcement or are they only
supposed to be turned on at set times determined by the school?”

Even before Don wrote, I had wondered about those flashing lights. I regularly passed by that school one day a week between 3 and 4 p.m., when I would expect the lights to be on, but they never were. I asked Don’s question of Deputy Scott Wilson, spokesman for the Kitsap County Sheriff’s office.

The out basket: Scott replied, “KCSO does not control the flashing school zone lights at Pinecrest Elementary School or at any other school in the county.

“Flashing school zone lights are controlled by Kitsap County Public Works.  The school districts coordinate with Public Works to set the times on the school zone flashing light systems for each school.  These flashing light on/off times can be adjusted to suit school district requirements.

“Federal and state requirements dictate that law enforcement agencies conduct school speed zone enforcement patrols. The sheriff’s office complies with these requirements as resources are available, but also because it’s the right thing to do.

“We don’t have enough traffic enforcement deputies to patrol all schools in the county.  Traffic deputies conduct speed zone enforcement around schools that have a significant number of students who walk to school and/or those schools that are located on county roads with a high volume of vehicular traffic.

“Pinecrest Elementary School happens to be one of those locations,” Scott said.

I tried to see if Pinecrest officials had anything to add about when they want the lights to be blinking, but I didn’t get a call back before they closed for the holiday break.

How’s a driver to know he’s entering that school zone?

The in basket: Jim Cole writes that the school zone on Sedgwick Road at Converse Avenue in South Kitsap is an unfair speed trap for those on Converse.

“While driving west on Sedgwick,  I noticed a sheriff parked in a driveway just past Converse,” he said back in late May.  “The school zone lights were flashing on Sedgwick. OK, 20 mph.

“A car pulled out of Converse and turned left towards Bethel. I noticed in my mirror the sheriff pulled out, lights on, behind the car that just turned left out of Converse. I thought to myself, I don’t think there’s flashing lights on Converse approaching the intersection.

“Later in the week,” Jim continued, “I traveled Converse and, sure enough, there is an ‘end of school zone’ sign (at the end of the school zone at the school itself) but no warning that you are approaching another school zone at Sedgwick.  The flashing lights for Sedgwick face east and west and are not visible from Converse.

“I though to myself  “If this isn’t a trap what is.  It’s certainly unfair that our citizens may be sited for a zone that is unmarked on Converse.”

The out basket: A newcomer to the area wouldn’t know about  the school zone he’s approaching when northbound on Converse, and even someone aware of the zone wouldn’t know whether the signs’ lights were flashing or not.

There’s no way of knowing why the sheriff’s deputy Jim saw made the stop. It could have been anything from expired tabs to rolling through the stop sign to peeling out dangerously to the car’s having been stolen.

I suggested to Jim that a driver would really have to step on it to be over 20 mph before reaching the end of the Sedgwick school zone, but he didn’t buy it. He tested it and at his suggestion, I did too, and I found it’s easy to be at 30 mph from a standing and turning start at Converse while still in the zone.

There used to be a comparable situation on Finn Hill Road at Rhododendron Lane in North Kitsap, near Vinland Elementary. County public works removed it at the sheriff’s office request because it would have needed some further improvement to be enforced, Doug Bear of public works said.

Anyway, here is what two law enforcement agencies most likely to be patrolling Sedgwick Road have to say about the Sedgwick zone.

From Krista Hedstrom, spokesman for Washington State Patrol in Bremerton:

“It is up to drivers to be aware of the speed limits on the roads they drive, and if they do not know, they should drive at a reasonable safe speed until they see a speed limit sign.

“Most school zones are clearly marked and most drivers are aware that they are in one – especially when yellow lights are flashing.  If a driver was stopped and they explained that they had pulled out of a side street and did not see a sign, I would take that into consideration when choosing whether or not to issue an infraction.

“That does not necessarily mean that lack of knowledge is an excuse for getting out of a ticket, but it is good information to know and can always be used to determine if there is a location that is better suited for the posting of a speed limit sign.”

From Deputy Scott Wilson, spokesman for Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office: “For this specific situation, the issue of ‘speeding’ in a school zone is not enforceable.

“A law enforcement officer must witness a vehicle exceeding the posted speed limit in a school zone after the vehicle passes a school zone warning sign.

“Traffic enforcement officers in the sheriff’s office are aware of this particular intersection and the fact that the specific situation indicated above is not enforceable.  They also are aware of and remember the similar situation on NW Finn Hill Road.”

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 Sedgwick Road school zone raises questions

The in basket: “What am I going to do with you?” old friend Jack Gaudette asked me on the phone the other day. 

I had included Jack among those  named in an earlier Road Warrior column who were puzzled by the length of the school zone on newly widened Sedgwick Road at Converse Avenue.

But he wasn’t asking about that school zone, Jack told me. He had been asking about the school zone at Sedgwick Junior High a few miles down the highway to the east. 

In that earlier column, a state official had said the end a school zone can be indicated by an “End of School Zone” sign or a speed limit sign setting a higher speed. They had chosen the latter at Converse.

But there is neither at the junior high, Jack said. The only speed limit sign one encounters going either way on Sedgwick is a long way down the road. Do they have to stay at 20 mph all that way when the school zone lights are flashing, he wondered.

The Sedgwick zone got flashing lights just last year to indicate when the 20 mph speed limit is in effect.

That same day Jack called to straighten me out, Mary Gay phoned to make the same point. “I think the state forgot to put in an ‘end school  zone’ sign,” she said. Most people figure they’re out of the school zone when they pass the sign with the flashing light for traffic going in the opposite direction, she said. But with the regular speed limit of 45 mph, you’re risking a whopper of a ticket risky making that assumption. 

The out basket: I drove it and found that there are 1.3 miles between speed limit signs on either side of the school zone. 

Steve Bennett, traffic operations engineer for the Olymmpic Regi0n of state highways, said there definitely should be some indication that the school zone had ended once one is past the school, and the state will install 45 mph speed limit signs where the school zone ends at each opposing flashing light.

Where does new Sedgwick school zone end?

The in basket: Roger Hoskins and Jack Gaudette, both South Kitsapers, wonder about the new school zone established on recently widened Sedgwick Road, where there is no school, but where many children use the crosswalk getting to and from Hidden Valley Elementary a ways down Converse Avenue.

It’s one of those in effect when a light attached to the school zone sign is flashing. 

Dave Dahlke, also of SK, has the same question about that kind of school zone generally

It’s “very nice and safe for the children.” Roger said of the Sedgwick zone, but it’s unclear where it ends.

“While traveling 20 mph in the eastbound lane of Sedgwick I was waiting for an ‘end school zone’ sign to appear when I realized that I had traveled a considerable distance without finding the sign,” Roger said. “Another clue that I had either missed it or it did not exist was the large school bus glued to my bumper. I decided to speed up near Brasch.

“I have traveled that several more times and can only guess that either the 35 mph sign signifies the end of the zone or someone inadvertently forgot to install the sign,” he said. 

Jack said essentially the same thing.

Dave said, “I am wondering why there is no sign stating ‘End of School Zone’. Unless I am mistaken I don’t believe that coming upon a speed limit sign is considered the end of a school zone. Is there a law that covers this situation?”

The out basket: Roger’s guess is correct, says Brenden Clarke, project manager for state highways here. 

“Our standards require the use of an “End School Zone” OR a speed limit sign at the end of a school zone.” he said.   “On Sedgwick, we have speed limit signs at the end of the school zone that designate the location where motorists can resume speed.”

That doesn’t seem to be the usual means of marking the end of school zones around here, but Kitsap County’s traffic engineer Jeff Shea agrees. 

It’s not a law, per se, but the Manual of Uniform Traffic 

Control Devices, the federally developed guidebook to which the state, county and cities normally comply, says either a speed limit sign or “End of School Zone” sign can be used, Jeff said.

We have most of our school zones marked with End School Zone signs and the speed limit sign either on the sign or near it.”  

School zone speed flashers coming to Sedgwick


The in basket: A man who asks anonymity lest he “jeopardize a case I have pending on this subject” wonders how he can learn how many school zone speeding tickets have been written to drivers caught in front of Sedgwick Junior High on Sedgwick Road in South Kitsap. 

He saw a sheriff’s deputy and state trooper stopping drivers for speeding there on Feb. 23. 

He also said he can’t believe that that school zone doesn’t have the flashing lights to warn drivers when the 20 mph speed limit is in effect, such as those he sees at other schools. “Flashing lights are definitely the answer to this situation,” he said. “I’m concerned that the lack of good signage and ability to see children within this more-than-quarter-mile span of highway is causing more citations than necessary, as well as endangering the lives of the kids since the speed limit during off-school hours is 45 mph. 

“I suspect the number will be increasing due to budget shortfalls and the inability of drivers to see children before reaching the crosswalk,” he said.

The out basket: School officials are hopeful that flashing lights to alert drivers to the speed limit reduction will be in place this fall. 

Sedgwick Principal Jay Villars said they don’t have a lot of kids who walk to school, but due to the ferry traffic that races past, he contacted state Sen. Derek Kilmer about getting the flashing lights. Sedgwick is a rare school located on a state highway, so getting the lights there was a more involved process and involved different money sources than the others.

Kilmer evidently stepped in and Villars and school district Director of Facilities Tom O’Brien both expect money to be made available for the lights this summer, allowing their installation by November or December. 

I wasn’t very hopeful about getting the number of tickets written there, as I’ve never had any luck pinning down such statistics in the past. But Deputy Scott Wilson of the county sheriffs office had some figures.

From  Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2008, Kitsap County Sheriff’s deputies wrote 52 traffic tickets for violation of RCW 46.61.440, speeding in a school zone, at various locations on Sedgwick Road in the vicinity of John Sedgwick Junior High School, he said.  

Figures for this year aren’t available yet, he said.

He and Trooper Krista Hedstrom the local State Patrol said they are unaware of any  emphasis patrols in that location. 

As I expected, both officers took the opportunity to address the common belief that budgetary needs drive speed enforcement. 

Scott said, “As you know, we’ve been down this road before, several times. However, we also realize that there is a percentage of the population who strongly believe this no matter what we do or say.  It is an inaccurate statement and belief.

“Counties and municipalities receive approximately 36 cents of every dollar that a driver is fined as a result of a traffic infraction. The other 64 cents goes to Olympia.  “This money does not go into a fund for the sheriff’s office, rather it goes into the county’s general fund. Monies received from traffic infractions account for about 1 to 2 percent of the county’s general fund.  Sheriff’s deputies are not going to increase county revenue by writing additional tickets.  

“Despite some opinions to the contrary, it’s not about the money.  It is about saving lives,” he said.

Added Krista, “For someone to think that this money will solve the current budget problems is inaccurate and untrue.  Our goal while issuing tickets is saving lives and changing driver behavior, not making money.”