Controversial speed limit change to stay for now in Winter Springs

A speed limit change that immediately had residents complaining will stay, for now, as Winter Springs commissioners debated the merits of dropping the speed limits on one of the city’s most well-traveled roads after it had already happened.

A speed limit change that immediately had residents complaining will stay, for now, as Winter Springs commissioners debated the merits of dropping the speed limit on one of the city’s most well-traveled roads after it had already happened. 

“With some of the push back from some of the residents and so forth I just felt we ought to put it back on the agenda and take another look at it,” Commissioner Ted Johnson said. “If I made a mistake, I own that.”

At issue was Winter Springs Boulevard, spanning about 3 miles through the heart of Tuscawilla, the city’s largest neighborhood, linking two of the county’s major thoroughfares. Until recently, it had a speed limit of 30 mph for decades. But in March the Commission voted unanimously to lower that speed limit to 25 mph to try to improve safety. 

The Tuscawilla Homeowners Association board agrees with the decision, president Kurt Miericke said Aug. 28, citing safety concerns but also uniformity with speed limits of other main connecting roads within the neighborhood.

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“Winter Springs Boulevard is being shared by people on bicycles, runners, joggers, walkers, children waiting at bus stops, golf carts, and animals crossing the road like gray herons and, once in a while, a bobcat,” Miericke said.

At the time Police Chief Matt Tracht said that the city should try adding in traffic-calming measures such as raised intersections, narrower traffic lanes, wider bicycle lanes, and others before looking into lowering the speed limit. 

“We’ll do whatever the Commission recommends,” Tracht said. 

Those other traffic-calming measures were implemented, as was the new speed limit. 

Johnson said that his rationale was to get ahead of developments at the eastern end of the road that were being allowed by Oviedo just over its border with Winter Springs. The fear was that if the road kept its higher speed limit, it might incentivize more traffic to use the neighborhood’s main artery as a cut-through road, Johnson said. 

An image of a 25 mph speed limit sign.
The revised speed limit in Winter Springs will stay at 25 mph for now. Photo by Isaac Babcock.

“I just wanted to make folks clear that this didn’t just come out of thin air with me,” Johnson said. “It was just another tool in the tool bag to discourage them from using it as a cut-through.”

But how the Commission had changed the limit also raised some controversy, as the city didn’t complete a traffic study before lowering the limit. This ended up being a non-issue, Johnson said, as he consulted with the Florida Department of Transportation and he said they told him it was OK. 

“The Florida Department of Transportation in follow-up contacted the city and was not concerned about that particular requirement,” Johnson said. “Essentially they said ‘Do whatever you want.’”

Once the new 25 mph speed limit came into effect in July, the complaints began. But so did the data collection. 

Tracht said that in 11 studies over a 7-year period, the average “85th percentile” speed along Winter Springs Boulevard was 31.18 mph. 

“What the 85th percentile means is that 85 percent of those vehicles are traveling at that speed or under it when they pass through that speed device,” Tracht explained. “The Florida Department of Transportation uses that 85th percentile to determine what is the safest speed limit for that roadway.” 

Since the speed limit dropped Tracht said the city’s police department has conducted over 200 traffic stops, with 32 resulting in citations and fines. 

“It’s not a ‘speed trap’ as some have said,” Tracht said. “There are 99 miles of roads in Winter Springs. All these roads get some of the same attention.” 

When the time came to decide whether to put the limit to a vote, Commissioner Rob Elliott pointed out that he didn’t think there was as much support to revert the speed limit to 30 mph as had been indicated from complaints. 

“I’ve gotten some comments about putting the speed limit back to 30 from 25, but yet there were 5 people in this room, one of them representing the entire Tuscawilla HOA, who would rather see it stay at 25,” Elliott said. “The people wanting to put it back to 30, none of them were here.”

In the end the issue died without a motion to vote to change the speed limit back. Tracht indicated that more study will be done on the road, noting that there had been issues with data collection in the most recent round of deploying speed-collecting equipment. After the data comes back, Johnson said, the issue may be returning to the Commission again.

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