Hey Kelly Drive speeders: Been catching a lot of red lights lately?

 A view of the flashing 'Speeding Triggers Red Light Ahead' as seen during Tuesday's morning rush. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

A view of the flashing 'Speeding Triggers Red Light Ahead' as seen during Tuesday's morning rush. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

Since last Friday, a pair of flashing construction-style signs along Kelly Drive has issued a warning to motorists. Their message: “Speeding Triggers Red Light Ahead.”

The red light referenced is within a quarter mile (and eyeshot, in both directions) of the traffic signal at the Fountain Green Drive intersection, one of three lights between Boathouse Row and Midvale Avenue in East Falls.

The signs aren’t the handiwork of Philadelphia Police, who’ve teamed up with the State Police on occasion to counteract speeding and irresponsible driving along side the Schuylkill River. (Teamwork is necessary since, by law, the State Police is the lone agency permitted to use radar guns to catch speeders).

Rather, the signs are the first visible evidence of a new Philadelphia Streets Department traffic-division initiative to “get motorists to pay attention to the speed they’re driving.”

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How it came about

The department’s chief traffic engineer, Richard Montanez, said the idea was inspired by a conversation he had with a friend about a visit to Portugal. The friend told him that certain roads featured these signs and “the drivers’ progression always gets killed.”

In looking to do the same in Philadelphia, Montanez recalled several reports of motorists driving into the Schuykill River and, with limited traffic lights along the road, found the location near one.

The department has been monitoring speed in the area since October, he said. The signs represent a means to alert drivers about something that had already started: Sensors along Kelly Drive have triggered the light at Fountain Green Drive for weeks now.

To address the third prong in the “engineering, education and enforcement” mantra, police have been asked to keep an eye on the location as well, Montanez said.

“This is a curvy road, and it’s not designed for people to be driving 50 [miles per hour] or more,” said Montanez, adding there are no plans to end the initiative along Kelly Drive.

About a half an hour after this story was posted, the Streets Department issued a press release about the speed sensors, with quotes from Acting Streets Commissioner David J. Perri.

“Speeding motorists on Kelly Drive have made the roadway unsafe,” he said in the release. “To force motorists to slow down, the Streets Department is testing an automatic traffic control system that uses speed sensors embedded into the roadway surface.

“When excessive speeds are detected the sensors trigger the traffic signal at Fountain Green Drive to change from green to red. … The message that we want to send loud and clear is that that speeding will not get you to your destination any faster so slow down and drive safely,”

The need is there, according to a pair of NewsWorks stories that examined speeding on area roads. In both, Kelly Drive to be problematic at best.

In May, the average speed clocked was 51 miles per hour in a 30 zone, with a yellow Suzuki hitting 70 and three other vehicles more than doubling the limit. In Sept. 2012, a white SUV hit 68.7 mph in a 35 zone.

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