Nearly 1,700 tickets or 11 percent of all city speeding citations were written in one well-patrolled zone: College Avenue between El Cajon Boulevard and Montezuma Road near San Diego State University.
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That's more than twice as many tickets as those written in the No. 2 most-ticketed zone, Garnet Avenue between Ingraham Street and Balboa Avenue, according to a review by The Watchdog of nearly 15,000 citations issued on city streets during a one-year period ending in September.
The next two most-ticketed spots were in the South Bay, on Dairy Mart Road and Beyer Boulevard. Rounding out the top five was the stretch of Soledad Mountain Road coming down into Pacific Beach.
The top 10 zones, identified by The Watchdog's review, were so common for speeders or so popular among officers that they accounted for about 40 percent of speeding tickets issued by San Diego officers on city roads.
While some of the areas targeted for enforcement have crash histories that invite police attention, factors such as community complaints about speeders play a role, too.
San Diego Police Department Assistant Chief Lawrence McKinney, who oversees the departments traffic division, said the effect speeders have on pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists entering traffic from cross streets or driveways is also taken into account.
"If a citizen says cars are going too fast on my street, that is generally something that if we can we'll give it to a traffic officer to investigate," McKinney said. "If that area is prone to accidents, they may try to step up enforcement."
The College Avenue stretch has a speed limit of 35 miles per hour except in one, roughly 600-foot senior center zone where the limit is 25 miles per hour. Nearly all the tickets were issued in the senior zone when drivers exceeded 40 miles per hour, causing fines to increase by $125 or more.
Using todays fine amounts, the drivers ticketed on the College Avenue stretch during the year reviewed were fined more than $600,000. If all of the drivers paid those fines and some do not the city's take would be more than $109,000 with the rest going to the county or the state.
Pedestrians, both seniors and students, frequent that three-quarter-mile length of College Avenue. The road has two lanes in each direction and a turn lane, and no marked crosswalks other than those at El Cajon Boulevard or Montezuma Road. Some pedestrians walk to the crosswalks, but others cross where drivers have sped persistently for more than a decade.
During that decade, residents of the area have lobbied the city for traffic lights that would give pedestrians a way to safely cross and motorists a way of more easily entering the speeding traffic on College Avenue.
In May 2010, a coalition of the areas community groups worked with Councilwoman Marti Emerald to secure funding for two lights, one at Arosa Street near the senior zone and another down the road at Adams Avenue. The two traffic lights are expected to be installed in early 2012 using $450,000 of redevelopment funds.
Before becoming an assistant chief, McKinney was the captain who oversaw the police departments Mid City Division, which contains a part of the College Avenue stretch.
"That road is dangerous for pedestrians, for students, for young kids especially kids who have had too much to drink and are running around playing games out there on that road," McKinney said. "I felt as the captain of that division, if I could put the fear that there are a lot of people on that road and reduce their speed to a safe speed, that is a good thing."
Doug Case, Chair of the College Area Community Planning Board, said it's fine the tickets were issued, but added that the coalition of residents had not demanded speed enforcement, only traffic lights.
"I never thought it was an area that was highly enforced, the numbers you gave me were very surprising," Case said. "We have not been clamoring for enforcement."
Chris Cochran, spokesman for the California Office of Traffic Safety, said the office publishes no set guidelines for speed enforcement programs, but noted that traffic safety enforcement usually starts with the identification of a problem area based on data.
"Any kind of enforcement is going to take place in areas where there have been a concentration of problems," Cochran said. "For instance, DUI checkpoints are set up in places where there have been a high incidence of DUI crashes and DUI arrests."
The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration's speed enforcement guidelines list public outreach making the community aware of the speeding problem and where enforcement will be as a guideline for an effective program. Using accident history and community complaints in identifying problem areas is "at the heart of an effective speed enforcement program," according to the guidelines.
In the College Avenue zone, 39 accidents occurred between July 2005 and June 2010, the most recent five years of accident data available.
Other areas of the city had more accidents and fewer speeding tickets. Three people died in 104 accidents on University Avenue between Park Boulevard and Utah Street in North Park. Officers issued five speeding tickets there during the time they handed out 1,678 tickets on the College Avenue stretch.
Beyer Way at Palm Avenue in Otay Mesa was the site of 370 tickets, making it the seventh most-ticketed stretch of road even though the segment had only two accidents during the five-year period. The accidents resulted in no deaths.
Police Department Spokeswoman Lt. Andra Brown said some of the areas with less speed enforcement are broken up by traffic lights, which the College Avenue area still doesnt have. The lights curtail speeding and make it more difficult for officers to find a spot to measure the speed of free-flowing traffic.
"That could be another reason why there is no speed enforcement," Brown said. "If you are doing the comparison between the two, they are not really comparable as far as the stretch of roadway."
Though speeding tickets can provide an immediate and relatively inexpensive way of slowing drivers down, there are other ways. The citys traffic engineers can install parking on both sides of a road or put in a median to narrow the lanes, which slows drivers down, or they can install radar speed signs that remind drivers of both the speed limit and the speed they are driving. In some instances, they can also lower the speed limit.
San Diego Transportation and Stormwater Department spokesman Bill Harris said the citys traffic engineers are constantly taking actions to slow drivers and improve safety. He said they work with law enforcement to identify areas where speeding is a problem.
"You see changes like that all around town all the time. We install traffic calming devices. We install different types of parking, and, in fact, we do change speed limits on occasion," Harris said. "Thats just one element of traffic control, one arrow in our quiver, if you will, of managing traffic and traffic speeds."
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