Transportation

Speed Sign Data In Hand, Massachusetts Police Prepare for Aggressive Enforcement

Police in Southbridge, Mass., are relying on data gathered by digital warning signs to map out where they need to focus ticketing efforts.

by Brian Lee, Telegram & Gazette / June 22, 2018
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(TNS) — Southbridge, Mass., police say they intend to "aggressively enforce speed limits" in neighborhoods this summer, after the police department purchased solar-powered signs that track motorists' speeds and warn them to slow down.

Late last summer, the department bought its first speed sign, which can be programmed to display messages and can track data, from a Pennsylvania company called All Traffic Solutions. At $5,000, it wasn't cheap, but the return has been so significant, the department purchased another sign six months later, said Police Chief Shane D. Woodson. He said he received numerous complaints about speeding after he was named chief two years ago.

In particular, complaints came from residents of the thickly settled Charlton Street, where the speed limit is 30 miles per hour, and whose residents include a hearing-impaired child.

Residents said speeds exceeded 60 mph, and sometimes 70 mph, which the chief said he found hard to believe, given the makeup of the road. He deployed a traffic officer there, and the officer confirmed that some drivers sped more than 60 mph.

This was a motive for buying the signs, which track fastest and slowest speeds and calculate the average speed.

Traffic Officer Matthew Beinema reviews the data every week to determine the highest frequency of speeding. Then the signs are taken down and an officer goes to the location to operate a radar gun and issue citations.

The previous speed sign that police used used was big and clunky and had to be towed to the various locations. Also, the battery had to be recharged every other day.

The Southbridge Department of Public Works mounted permanent poles at various locations so that the new signs can be relocated weekly.

Chief Woodson said he likes the signs because they give people the chance to slow down and correct their behavior.

The information culled from the signs can also help dispel concerns. Residents in a different Southbridge neighborhood complained about rampant speeding, but police placed a speed sign there and the data suggested there wasn't a problem, the chief said.

United Lens Co. on Route 169 followed the police department's lead, and purchased two of its own signs for the busy street, which United Lens employees have to walk across to get to the building from the parking lot, the chief said.

Elsewhere, Dudley police bought a sign in recent years with a donation from Dunkin' Donuts, according to Police Chief Steven Wojnar. The department only had to pay for renewal of the service contract. This week the sign was on Airport Road, said Chief Wojnar, who called it very helpful for getting an accurate read on speeding in neighborhoods where residents complain.

According to All Traffic Solutions, Worcester and Auburn are among numerous other communities in the area that have the signs.

Jennifer Saunders, the company's marketing director, said the ability to download traffic data is a "game changer" in the industry.

It's like putting more officers on the street, she said.

The signs also allow for "quick speed studies" if transportation officials require additional information before putting in a stop sign.

The signs also are equipped to take photographs of vehicles that reach or exceed a certain speed, set by the traffic officer.

But Ms. Saunders said the photos aren't of a quality that would read license plates. The photos can be used for investigative purposes. For example, police could send someone to the area to try to locate a driver if a situation is potentially hazardous situation.

Ms. Saunders said more and more communities appear to be turning to this type of technology because "resources are getting really tight, budgets are getting cut and communities are trying to do a lot more with a lot less."

She added: "I think it's helping a lot of communities control speeding issues and volume issues without having to add more people."

Despite the effectiveness of the signs, Chief Woodson said residents still tend to ask him about the possibility of putting in speed bumps. He said he is against them because speed bumps cut down on emergency response times, and he considers them more intrusive to a neighborhood.

©2018 Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.