By Ted Schnell • BocaJumpElgin finally has the money in hand from a 2008 grant application the city pursued in a joint effort with Elgin School District U-46 to purchase portable electronic speed signs that let motorists know how fast they’re really going while driving through school zones.
The idea generally is to get motorists to slow down around schools, said Aaron Cosentino, the city’s management analyst.
The $32,000 Safe Route to School Grant is administered by the Illinois Department of Transportation. “Because of all the administrative work, the (grant) contracts actually aren’t coming to fruition until now,” he said Monday. “So now, we’ll actually be able to go out and buy these … signs.”
The City Council on Wednesday approved a staff request for authorized to purchase the signs.
The grant enables the purchase of five electronic speed display signs, which are much smaller and more portable than the trailer-born devices with which Elgin residents are more familiar, Cosentino said. In fact, he added, the signs can be permanently be mounted onto polls, such as those that mark the beginning of a school speed zone, yet still can be moved by the city when needed.
But the signs do more than just reflect the motorist’s speed back at the driver. Cosentino said they also can collect information, even if the speed display is turned off, to monitor traffic patterns and “do covert data collection” to find out details about traffic volume passes through the area, the average speed.
He added that the devices cannot be used for traffic law enforcement.
Assistant City Manager Rick Kozal added that even if the devices were equipped with cameras, for example, they could not be used to enforce traffic laws without the General Assembly passing a law allowing that.
Kozal pointed out that state lawmakers did just that to allow the use of red-light cameras to catch scofflaws at intersections.
But Kozal said one of the arguments for using the signs are studies that have indicated they do work in getting drivers to obey the speed limit, such as in construction areas.
“They do get people to slow down,” Kozal said.
Cosentino said the signs will be used near Elgin schools, although no specific schools have been selected yet.
Colleen Lavery, the city’s chief financial officer, said the portability of the units is particularly appealing, because they are easily installed and easily moved.
“With these, you can move them to different areas — that’s what’s kind of exciting about these,” she said. “You can put them somewhere for six weeks and then take and move them to five new places for another six weeks.”
The city expects to complete the purchase of the signs in mid-September. Kozal said the city will work with the U-46 to identify the first five schools and proceed from there.