Lawrence police to start pulling over drivers who violate new 25 mph neighborhood speed limit

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

A Lawrence Police Department vehicle is seen in this file photo from September 2018.

Lawrence police officers will soon begin enforcing the city’s recently lowered speed limits on neighborhood streets.

Starting Monday, police will begin pulling over drivers who exceed the new 25 mph speed limit as part of a $40,000, three-month traffic enforcement campaign. Senior Project Engineer Dustin Smith said in an email to the Journal-World that the first six weeks of the campaign would focus on educating drivers about the speed limit change, but that police could still potentially issue some tickets during that time.

“Although the initial enforcement effort will be focused on education, officers will have discretion to also issue written warnings or citations,” Smith said.

The traffic enforcement campaign is part of the city’s Neighborhood Traffic Management Program, which combines educational messaging, traffic enforcement and traffic engineering measures, such as street design and other physical elements, in an effort to help improve safety. The program is in response to long-voiced concerns about speeding in neighborhoods and some motorists’ disregard for pedestrians and cyclists.

The City Commission voted in October to approve an ordinance to reduce the speed limit on residential streets from 30 mph to 25 mph and to spend $220,000 for the design and installation of the approximately 1,000 signs. The program also allocated about $130,000 for the traffic education campaign and $40,000 to enforce the new speed limit, for a total of about $390,000 for the program.

To provide more targeted enforcement, the city has been collecting speed data on neighborhood streets at several locations throughout the city, according to a city staff memo. The memo states that the areas with the lowest compliance rates will be analyzed to determine the specific time of day that the violations are happening, and officers will focus their enforcement efforts accordingly.

The neighborhood speed enforcement campaign is in addition to traffic enforcement that police do as part of their regular duties. Various officers working on overtime will be dedicated to the enforcement effort, and the plan is to average about 20 hours of enforcement per week during the three-month campaign, with hours decreasing to around 10 per week in May and continuing through the end of this year, according to the memo. The memo states that, accounting for an average hourly rate of $65 per officer, the campaign will fund approximately 615 hours of enforcement.

When asked why officers would be paid overtime to do the enforcement duties as opposed to restructuring officer duties to cover the enforcement actions within regular shifts or hiring new officers, Smith said there were several reasons. Most importantly, Smith said the city did not want the campaign to interfere with the service level that the police department was able to provide for calls for service or other enforcement actions. In addition, he said the effort would require enforcement during very specific times and in specific areas, and previous data collection had shown that most speeding violations coincided with peak hours for service calls to the police department. Lastly, Smith said having a campaign that was separated from regular enforcement would aid in collecting specific enforcement metrics for the program.

Following the first six-week phase of enforcement, officers will have more discretion to issue written warnings and citations for violations, according to the memo. The second phase of enforcement will also last six weeks, and once it concludes the city will again collect speed data to see where problems persist and to inform decisions on additional enforcement efforts, additional education efforts and potential traffic engineering measures as part of a “maintenance phase” of the program.

“The follow up data that is collected will inform the intensity and the locations for continued enforcement efforts,” the memo states.

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