Radar guns not used on many Napa streets
Register Staff Writer
Monday, October 29, 2007
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Unknowingly, motorists have been speeding with impunity on many city streets over the last couple of years.

Lacking up-to-date speed surveys, Napa Police traffic officers have been unable to use radar guns on dozens of the city's busiest roadways, Police Sgt. Tom Pieper said.
When the problem was at its worst last year, 80 streets or street segments lacked radar enforcement, said Farid Javandel, the city's traffic engineer. Even now, with the no-radar list cut nearly in half, there are segments of major streets such as Browns Valley Road, Imola Avenue, Jefferson Street and Soscol Avenue where speed limit enforcement is nearly impossible.

The core of the problem was budgetary, Javandel said. With city finances running in the red, the Public Works Department pulled back on spending to keep speed surveys current, Javandel said. "It was low on the priority list and it just didn't happen," he said.

"It became a big issue for the Police Department," Javandel said. "If they don't have valid surveys, they won't waste their time writing tickets."

In order to enforce a speed limit, police have to be able to prove in court that the posted limit is reasonable, he said. Speed surveys do this.

The speeds of 200 or more motorists on a section of roadway are surveyed using radar. Typically, the posted limit is set at the speed not exceeded by 85 percent of drivers, Javandel said.

Surveys are valid for seven years, but can be extended another three years if traffic conditions have not changed substantially, he said.

Since becoming traffic engineer this year, Javandel said he has been extending speed surveys whenever possible and assigning in-house surveys using city staff.

To make a bigger dent in the list of expired surveys, the Public Works Department is planning to spend $15,000 for a private company to do 20 or more surveys this fall, Javandel said. Within a year, the city should have current surveys on all of its major streets, he said.

Even with many streets off limits to radar, traffic cops have not lacked for work this year, Pieper said. There are more than enough streets where his officers can use radar guns, he said.

Police wrote 2,030 speeding tickets between September 2006 and September 2007. Traffic tickets of all types totaled more than 8,000.

While any officer can write a speeding ticket, officers who work traffic enforcement full-time write the bulk of them, Pieper said. Pieper oversees three motorcycle officers, with a fourth joining his unit this month thanks to a two-year traffic safety grant.

Speeding tickets are generally written when the motorist exceeds the limit by 10 miles per hour or more, Pieper said. Tickets are written for lesser violations if the officer determines the vehicle is traveling at an unsafe speed, he said.

City staff was at work this week doing speed surveys on streets where radar enforcement had lapsed, Pieper said. "As we speak, we're out surveying," he said.

Pieper said he is not concerned that lapsed speed surveys have allowed some motorists to get away with flagrant driving behavior. A risk-taking driver is a risk-taking driver, he said.

"Eventually they will get to a street that is surveyed," Pieper said. And that's when his officers will nail them.