The Riverside Board of Trustees is poised to repeal a 2006 law that established 20 mph speed zones near four village parks in favor of targeted enforcement near parks and issuing warning tickets to those driving above the speed limit in those areas.
Eight years ago, the Riverside Village Board passed a law setting a speed limit of 20 mph on streets near Harrington Park, Big Ball Park, Blythe Park and Turtle Park. But officials quietly decided never to enforce the law after they learned it would force the village to erect about 80 new signs.
Last month, Village President Ben Sells asked Police Chief Thomas Weitzel to come up with alternatives to the park speed zone law. Some suggested enlarging existing school speed zones, but further study showed that parks generally wouldn’t be included in those zones even if they were enlarged to their maximum limits.
In any case, school speed zones aren’t enforced on weekends and in the summer when the parks are used most.
Weitzel, at the April 17 meeting of the village board, suggested special enforcement details near parks to control speeding in those areas.
“We would issue a written directive … if we make a traffic stop in a school zone or on a road adjacent to a park where children are present, the officers will issue a citation, and they will note on the citation the area,” said Weitzel. “When that ticket is in front of our local prosecutor and it’s in front of the judge, they’ll be able to see it. And hopefully the judge will take a look at that and do a little bit more harsh penalty and not dismiss them.”
The trouble with respect to speeding tickets, said Weitzel, is that unless they are 11 or 12 mph over the speed limit, the citations are routinely thrown out of court.
“But they may have a different opinion if it’s right in front of a school or [near parks], if it’s a Saturday and kids are playing in Swan Pond, for example,” said Weitzel, adding that there’s still no guarantee a judge will treat speeding tickets of less than 10 mph over the speed limit more harshly near parks than elsewhere.
“The judge can still do what he wants,” Weitzel said.
Police officers may also be given the authority to write warning tickets for those caught speeding near parks, he said, as an alternative to issuing a traffic ticket. Riverside’s present policy frowns on warning tickets.
Police to tweet special details
Another way to at least temporarily limit speeders in certain areas, not just near parks, is for police to use Twitter to announce when they’re going to set up a traffic enforcement detail.
Weitzel, on April 18, announced that Riverside police will begin using the social media platform to warn motorists exactly when and where police will be looking for traffic violators.
The chief told village trustees that departments on the East and West coasts of the country advertise enforcement blitzes.
“What happens is that [recipients of the warning] send that to all their friends and they either avoid that street or they slow down when they travel,” said Weitzel.
What impact such a policy will have when motorists know that police aren’t present isn’t clear. Weitzel admitted that whenever a squad car is present near an intersection with a stop sign, for example, motorists make sure to come to a complete stop.
But once the squad car leaves, people aren’t so careful to stop. Still, if the policy works, even temporarily, it’s a benefit, said Weitzel.
“Our goal is to have the reckless driving stop,” he said. “So if they are avoiding us and going somewhere else, we are accomplishing something.”