Saturday, August 12, 2006

Speed traps

I've been thinking about speed traps lately. As a cop, I have long loathed the idea of catching speeders simply for revenue, yet small towns are consistently in need of ready cash, and the steady progression of the small town Mayor's court is like a payday, as regular as Friday, that helps keep the coffers filled. However, the practice generally sucks as it routinely taxes citizens for driving through town.

Small town mayors (hell, big town mayors too!) like four lane highways, with a good median and ample shoulders. They lobby unceasingly for them, then they want them to go right through town. As soon as they get the highway, they set the speed limit at some ridiculous limit, about thirty mph under what the highway is designed for. Then, they instruct the cops to enforce the speed limit. The poor cops ought to write Welcome To Podunk in reversed script across the hood of their cruisers, because the only official welcome a traveler gets is when he is invited to mayor's court.

There is a place and a reason for traffic tickets. Revenue enhancement isn't one of them.

You see, a highway is designed for a particular speed. Interstate highways can sustain higher speeds than unlimited access four-lanes. Those four-lanes can accomodate higher speeds than two lane paved roads. Two lane paved roads are infinitely better at moving traffic than a gravel road, and gravel is better than a dirt path through town.

Putting a four-lane highway through town and setting the speed limit for a two lane highway is ridiculous. First of all, it pisses off motorists. But it also limits the growth of a city. In the Texas example, the first thing a small town wants is a loop around it. Businesses that depend on high speed traffic and good industrial roads locate on that loop. The town grows out and people build homes outside the loop. To take that example to the logical conclusion, look at Shreveport, LA, which has three loops, the Inner Loop, the Industrial Loop, and the Outer Loop. Yet the downtown area remains prosperous, focusing on businesses that uniquely prosper downtown.

One small town mayor recently told me that he wants the speed limit through town set low, so people will stop and give business to his downtown. I asked him what business relies on flow-through traffic and he couldn't point to a single gas station, convenience store, or restaurant that might entice a traveler to stop. The gas stations are on the edge of town. The businesses downtown focus on the resident. He has a high-speed route through town, yet nothing at all for a traveler. All he gets downtown is increased traffic without the benefit of sales. He'd be better off if that good, strong highway passed around his town because business there would enjoy the benefits of cheaper land and room for growth. His town would likewise grow and revenues would increase.

Speed traps aren't the answer. Getting people to stop for gas and soda is only part of the answer. Growing businesses is a better answer.

If you simply want people to slow down, destroy that good four-lane highway and gravel a nice path through town. The traffic will slow down considerably.


Anonymous said...

Boy, is this a sore spot with me. Down here on I-10, Vinton has told its cops that they're responsible for 40% of the town budget. They get this by radaring the two miles of I-10 within their city limits. You can buy a grocery bag of crack on a down-town street corner, but a Texan can't do 75 on a 70 MPH stretch of the Interstate without contributing to Vinton's welfare...

Anonymous said...

Vinton and Iowa have become thick with state and local troopers on weekday mornings. On my trips to the Beaumont office, I set my cruise control on 72-73 and don't touch it until I cross over to TX, then I drive 78.

Two big speed traps I drive through often are Maurice and Golden Meadow.

Anonymous said...

Small towns in southern New Jersey are rife with speedtraps. One notable one is between the Garden State Parkway(one of the major N-S roads in NJ) and the town of Belmar(a popular summer spot for tourists). The sign is positioned in such a way that it is easily overlooked, and the speed limit drops down from 45 to 20, for no good reason.

A coupla years ago, The Newark Star Ledger posted the towns with highest percentage of the municipal governments budget made up from traffic violations. the champ was over 20%. One of the more interesting aspects of this whole scheme is this - if they write you an actual speeding ticket, the town has to split the money with the state, but if they give you a summons for "driving in an unsafe manner" the township gets to keep it all. I found this out a few weeks after getting nailed in Clinton, when I got one, despite being caught blatantly speeding(admittedly, I was keeping up with traffic, but having out of state plates..)yet I got the "unsafe driving" ticket. It's better for you as it's no points on your license, but the cop had me dead to rights. Then I found out why. They just wanna keep all of the fine. Oh! One more thing, if you get a ticket in NJ and live out of state - Pay it right away! The day after the due date, if you haven't paid, they issue a warrant for your arrest!

oyster said...

Isn't Jeff Davis parish pretty ... um... "efficient" with the speed traps? (I don't think there was a slowdown per se, in that stretch, but there's been so much damn construction on I-10 there that I think we should nominate those orange cones to be LA's state bush. Anyhow, one time I got nailed in Jeff Davis parish and have had several close calls.)

I've found the Texas Highway Patrol to be, frankly, some of the best in the country. You rarely see them, but when you do, they're almost always doing something impressive. I rarely see them set speed traps. However, if you speed on the east side of Houston the city cops are waiting to nail ya.

Small towns who want business can make sure a gas station/convenience store/fast food establishment is nestled right next to the exit. Post a sign on the interstate containing the words "Clean Restrooms". Ladies like the clean restrooms.

Pondering American said...

Is Dry Prong still a Speed Trap. Its been a while since I ahve been that way.

Anonymous said...

Keep moving, nothing to see here...pretty much describes Vinton. Bump in the road has couple new business on Hwy 90, but it's still a motley collection of trailers and shotgun shacks for the most part. Cops may be stepping up municipal traffic busts since the state is grabbing biggest share of Interstate writeups. So watch your speed, stops, and signals. Not very friendly either since they are probably having to work longer hours -- traffic fines and some gaming revenue is about all that keeps this place alive.