Island motorists accustomed to cutting through on one of the “tree streets” in Central Beach to avoid A1A backups en route to the Barber bridge will want to cruise very carefully if they keep using that shortcut.
Over the past week, Vero Beach Police have issued 39 citations and three written warnings to drivers on the quiet, canopied streets where residents have long complained about speeding cars.
At the Vero Beach City Council meeting last Tuesday, Central Beach residents cited incidents of cars clipping bicycles, nearly hitting leashed dogs and even careening into one home, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage.
More than one said they had considered moving or wished they’d never bought into what they thought was a quiet, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood where their kids could play and they could stroll with the family dog without fear of being run over.
After hearing an hour’s worth of citizen complaints, the City Council directed staff to crack down on speeders with extra police coverage – which has resulted in all those tickets – and to gather traffic data for possible additional stop signs.
The city has tried numerous tactics to slow drivers down in the neighborhood.
Crews recently put up electronic warning signs on Live Oak Road and Indian River Drive, the roads most used by short-cutting drivers. The signs flash the speed of an approaching car and produce a strobe light effect if the car is going more than five miles over the 25 mph speed limit.
One street, Fiddlewood, has four-way stop signs to deter people from cutting through, but that effort required the neighbors to agree, and to petition the city – an action that might not be feasible on every street.
Speed bumps were installed on some streets years ago, as this problem spans more than a decade, but the speed bumps were later ripped out, City Manager Jim O’Connor said.
The city also posted signs that side roads are not through streets, but that is not an enforceable distinction.
Planned sidewalks on Live Oak Road should help residents feel somewhat safer, but Public Works Director Monte Falls said completion of that project is months away. Falls said traffic officials are also studying the timing and synchronizing of the traffic signals on A1A and Beachland, and that such adjustments might help.
In the meantime, Councilman Val Zudans, a Central Beach resident since 2002, has proposed the drastic idea of closing off westbound access from A1A to the 11 narrow, residential streets from Acacia Road to Live Oak Road.
He said the speeding problem has gotten worse as the population on the north barrier island has grown, the dog park has developed into a destination and renovations at the Vero Beach Yacht Club have increased use of those facilities by local groups for meetings and other functions.
“People are coming to me and expressing a concern, and they’ve expressed an idea that they’d like to try. I think we live in a citizen government where the leaders should be responsive to their citizens and at least consider their idea,” Zudans said of his proposal.
Of the 400 or so households in that neighborhood, 156 people signed a petition saying they agreed with closing off access to the tree streets from A1A. “It’s not a slam-dunk,” Zudans said, but it’s worth a try. If it backs up traffic too much, the temporary barriers can be removed.
Councilmembers and city staff discussed pros and cons of making the east end of the tree streets into dead ends. Cons included reduced access for emergency vehicles and added driving for Central Beach residents who would have to circle around on Beachland to reach A1A.
“If it stops all these people speeding through my neighborhood, I don’t mind being slightly inconvenienced,” Zudans said.
The changing traffic patterns would need to be studied, and any changes involving Beachland Boulevard, which is also State Route 60, and U.S. Highway A1A, would have to be approved by the Florida Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“There’s no doubt that the use of those streets has increased over time,” Mayor Harry Howle said. “[But] I do not agree with closing of any of those roads because whenever you do that, it doesn’t matter how you structure it, you shift the pattern to different parts [of the road network].
“If you cut off these roads . . . [A1A] is going to be backed up to the 7-Eleven,” Howle said.
Councilman Tony Young asked that whatever is done be fully coordinated with the schools so parents and school bus drivers know what’s happening. He also wanted to make sure that the diversion of law enforcement resources to traffic enforcement while school is still in session wouldn’t reduce officers’ ability to effectively protect all the schools in the city.
Vice Mayor Lange Sykes said he grew up in Central Beach, trick-or-treated on those streets, and is in no way trivializing the issue, but that he’s afraid of setting a precedent of shutting down public streets.
“If we’re going to do that, then we’re changing the whole landscape of Vero . . . [and] almost turning these into gated communities,” Sykes said.
Zudans countered saying that the measure could increase property values and reduce crime.
Councilwoman Laura Moss said she thinks the electronic signs are working and that she personally monitors her speed more closely when she sees one of the signs ahead of her on the shoulder of a road.
While the city looks for other answers, clamping down on speeders is a way to take action now, the City Council agreed. Lt. Jerry Karchefski said officers will be patrolling the tree streets in cruisers and on motorcycle to deter speeders.
He said speeders are a mix of local Vero residents, folks headed to and from Indian River Shores or the Orchid area, plus visitors. Google maps and other Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) navigation applications sometime direct people down the side streets when traffic data signals a backup at the Beachland Boulevard and A1A intersection.
Chief David Currey said data from the electronic signs shows that about 9 percent of drivers speed in Central Beach.