Q: What’s up with all the radar speed-limit signs popping up in the Gig Harbor area, and what kind of data do they capture? — David B., Rosedale
A: Maybe you’ve seen them, dear reader.
Pierce County has been using them recently. Gig Harbor deploys them within its city limits. There’s at least one in Tacoma on Marine View Drive.
We here at Traffic Q&A headquarters suspect other jurisdictions employ them as well.
Now, these are not those “photo-radar” contraptions, which are usually operated by third-party contractors and capable of issuing citations.
These are so-called “driver feedback” signs that are mostly meant to alert you that you’re exceeding the speed limit and guilt you into slowing down. Educational tools, if you will.
Many are portable and can be affixed temporarily to poles below the regular steel speed-limit signs. Some, such as the one on Marine View Drive, are permanent.
They display your speed in a digital readout as you motor past. Some might flash a “slow down” message if you get to going too fast. Others might trigger a strobe as an added warning that Big Brother is watching.
David said he spotted a half dozen along the Point Fosdick and Artondale drive corridors on a recent trip home.
Fox Island resident Larry C. wrote to say he recently spied one on Wollochet Drive, between Artondale Drive and 40th Street, outside Gig Harbor.
Both had questions.
“What is their purpose?” David wrote in a missive to Traffic Q&A headquarters. “Are these signs collecting any information?”
“What determines which street will host the radar sign?” Larry asked.
We put these questions and a few others to several local officials, including Ed Troyer of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and Kelly Busey, the police chief in Gig Harbor.
Troyer, passing along information from the department’s traffic unit, said the county’s signs don’t have cameras. They do have monitors that track speed, count cars, and record the time and date, he said.
Deputies and officials from the county’s roads division work together to determine where best to deploy the signs, Troyer said.
“Effectiveness is measured in three areas: engineering, education and enforcement,” according to the information Troyer passed along.
“The units capture info on traffic volume for engineering purposes. They provide instant feedback to the public for self-correcting (education) and information on when best to conduct enforcement if needed.”
In other words, if the data show a high number of speeders at a certain time, the Sheriff’s Department might dispatch a deputy to hand out a few citations.
Speeders won’t, however, get a ticket in the mail like those issued by photo-radar sites.
Busey said his department has a similar sign it rotates throughout the city.
“Ours does not include the flashing lights, and instead displays messages based on the vehicle speed,” the chief said.
Here’s that list:
▪ No vehicles — blank
▪ Under speed limit — “Thank you”
▪ Up to 10 mph over the speed limit — “Speed Limit”
▪ 10 to 20 mph over the speed limit — “SLOW DOWN”
▪ More than 20 mph over the speed limit — “TOO FAST”
“Additionally, it does record traffic data, such as vehicle speeds and volume, as well as the effectiveness of the sign in slowing traffic (to tell us if this is a good location to place the sign),” Busey added.
What about a camera, chief?
“It has the capability of taking a photo under certain circumstances, such as doubling the speed limit, vandalism to the sign and periods of congestion,” he said.
“We have not utilized those features and could not take enforcement action on them, anyway. This is simply to slow traffic in some problem areas we have identified and to collect limited general traffic data.”
Gig Harbor deployed its sign in the 2900 block of westbound 36th Street, speed limit 25 mph, for six days in early April. Busey kindly shared the report with us.
Nearly 11,000 cars passed before the sign’s all-seeing eye during that time. Number of speed violations recorded: 2,744, or about 27 percent.
The average speed during the collection period: 35.32 mph. The highest speed recorded during that time: 58 mph!
Might want to slow it down out there. Otherwise it might be a patrol car you see alongside the road.