After much public outcry, the Holmes Beach City Commission is preparing to take action on newly lowered speed limits on State Road 64.
City commissioners made a motion Tuesday night to draft a resolution that would return a portion of the area of State Road 64/Manatee Avenue with a lowered speed limit to its original speed.
The motion made by Commissioner Jean Peelen is that the speed limit would stay at 35 mph on the bridge to Anna Maria Island, but the speed limit be returned to 35 mph — rather than dropping to 25 mph — on the stretch of State Road 64 west of the bridge.
The commissioners will vote on the resolution during a special meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Commissioners and the majority of those who spoke during public comment at Tuesday’s meeting were largely against the 25 mph speed limit.
“Twenty-five miles per hour is the worst speed limit in the world as far as I’m concerned,” commission Chairwoman Judy Titsworth said, who admitted she was angry when she recently noticed new speed limit signs.
However, Commissioner Pat Morton said the speed is not the problem, it’s the traffic. He said he had no problem bringing the speed limit back up, but “it won’t solve the traffic problem.”
Some residents said they were concerned that public and commissioners were not asked about the 25 mph zone, which some said seemed to happen “overnight.”
Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said during Tuesday’s meeting that he had asked FDOT to establish the 25 mph zone and take into consideration bicycle and boat traffic in the area when making the decision.
Some argued that the reduced speed does the opposite of promoting safety by causing people to slam on their brakes to slow from 35 mph to 25 mph coming off the bridge.
“I just think we need to temper good intentions with common sense,” said Tony Rizzo, one of the members of the public who spoke during the meeting.
What’s more, many added, changes to speed limits have been approved in the past without public input.
But two women spoke out in support of the 25 mph zone. One said she knew a cyclist who was hit and killed by a speeding driver and said lower speeds would reduce accidents.
Another woman said she has nearly been hit on her bicycle “many times” by drivers. She would like to see a consistent speed across the whole island.
Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson said city officials expected a study by the Florida Department of Transportation before the speed limit was changed.
Titsworth said a study was never received.
Now, Titsworth said, what’s needed is a letter from the mayor with a copy to the police chief and FDOT to change the speed limit in that area back.
Thursday’s vote, Titsworth said, will give the city time to draft the resolution before it is voted on. Then the mayor will be instructed to write a letter with the police chief copied on it, and “all should be well again.”
Tokajer said he’s sure a study will show Holmes Beach speeds should be lowered.
“That’s their prerogative, I think that there is enough data that will come forward when the true study is done that shows we have a need for lower speeds,” Tokajer said. “But we’ll leave that up to the experts. Whatever they recommend is what I hope the commission will go with.”
Peelen also made a motion to lower speed limit near the school, which was greeted with cheers and applause from the public crowd.
Titsworth said that when they address this again, city commissioners hope to make speed limit adjustments a “major change” that must come before the commissioners before changes are made.