Payson Police spent more than a month flashing signs, warnings and traffic tickets — hoping to scare drivers on Longhorn Road into slowing down.
Once the extra patrols went away, traffic counters showed the average speed had dropped just one mile per hour — from 34.1 to 33.36 miles an hour.
That’s the bad news. The good news?
More drivers are going that average speed — which is still nearly nine miles an hour over the posted 25 mile per hour speed limit. After the enforcement effort, the percentage of drivers exceeding that 33.36 mile-an-hour average dropped from 10 percent to 5 percent.
The month-long experiment seemed to validate the sage and cynical view of traffic planners: The speed at which people drive has more to do with the width of the road and the amount of traffic — regardless of the speed limit.
And since the stepped-up enforcement effort netted only three tickets — the experiment also demonstrated that Payson drivers are very good at spotting police cars and slowing down.
“People really thought traffic had slowed down,” said Chief Don Engler, “and we did too. But when we looked at the data, we were not as successful as we felt.”
The town council had asked Engler to step up enforcement on the street that runs along the north side of the high school before considering whether to install striping and reflectors to narrow the lanes, put in more signs or put in speed humps, in response to resident complaints of excessive speed.
The town’s Surface Transportation Advisory Committee, on the other hand, has been studying whether to recommend changing speed limits on streets throughout town based on traffic flow. That recommendation could have led to an increase in the speed limit on Longhorn, based on the traffic studies showing most drivers naturally go about 35 miles an hour on that street.
The police deployed a total of 12 “traffic details,” which means an officer with a radar gun on the street for anywhere from 20 minutes to four hours.
In addition, the police parked on the street for two weeks a radar sign that measured driver speed and flashed a warning, so people would know they were exceeding the speed limit. Even after they moved the radar sign, they left in place large signs that indicated the street was a special speed enforcement zone.
The officers on the traffic details wrote three speeding tickets and issued 11 warnings. Engler said the officers recorded the highest speeds at night, often when shifts changed or places closed — resulting in a brief flurry of drivers hurrying home.