FLETCHER’S SENIOR ZONE:
They either love it or hate it.
Installed last fall, the senior zone – a 35 mph speed zone similar to a school zone – has garnered praise from retirees and indignation from students while increasing incidents of traffic violations by nearly 11 times that of previous years.
The senior zone serves its purpose, say some residents of John Knox Village. Its success so far has prompted county lawmakers to designate one other area a senior zone, with 46 more planned to follow. Those opposed to the zone will likely remain frustrated.
Many John Knox Village residents said the senior zone, which spans from Magnolia Drive to 42nd Street, has made it safer and easier to enter and exit the retirement community.
“Absolutely, (it’s) much safer,” said Tom Vann, a former Tampa city councilman and now president of John Knox’s residents’ association. “We couldn’t get out of John Knox in a safe manner (previously).”
Imogene Holub, Vann’s sister and a resident for six years, agrees.
“People are trying to cooperate with the spirit of the senior zone,” she said.The number of speeding citations issued in the area of the senior zone has spiked, according to reports by the Hillsborough County Crime Analysis Department.
With 56 citations in 2003, the number dropped to a consistent 15 for two years. However, during 2006 – in the last quarter of which the senior zone was installed – speeding citations rose to 151. In the first quarter of 2007 alone, 165 tickets were reported.
For record-keeping purposes, deputies place the location of traffic infractions at the nearest intersection, so these figures are only approximate, according to the HCCAD.
Located at 4100 E. Fletcher Ave., retirement community John Knox Village has existed since 1979. According to the St. Petersburg Times, residents petitioned the county as early as 1989 for a traffic light to mitigate what they felt were dangerous driving conditions on Fletcher Avenue.
Due to the expense of construction – to install a light would have cost $300,000, nearly 10 times more than the price of the senior zone – and the proximity of other traffic lights, another solution had to be found, said Vann. After conferring with Blair, who had county engineers evaluate the area, the proposal was set in motion.”(The senior zone) was the next best thing. The traffic light wasn’t feasible,” Vann said.
Despite this, some students view the senior zone unfavorably. Business major T.J. Riordan called the zone unnecessary, saying 45 mph is slow enough. Riordan formed a Facebook.com group titled “Remove the Senior Zone – which currently boasts 31 members – in response to the implementation of the speed zone. He feels the same result could have been achieved by increasing police patrols on Fletcher without lowering the limit.
“If they only want drivers to slow down, then they only need to increase enforcement of a reasonable speed limit,” Riordan said. “Once there is a higher presence of police, drivers will slow down and violators will learn a lesson.”
The purpose of the senior zone, however, is not to trap drivers and hand out tickets, Vann said.
“We just want (drivers) to slow down,” he said.
Efforts are already underway to add a second senior zone to serve Rocky Creek Village, a senior community on Waters Avenue in Tampa. An April 19 Hillsborough County press release stated that, in an effort to facilitate access for residents into their retirement communities, a Senior Zone program will install up to 46 other senior zones around the county. Spearheaded by County Commissioner Brian Blair, this project carries a proposed cost of $2.4 million.