Lonsdale police challenge ‘speedtrap’ reputation

Lori Nickel, Staff writer

Enforcing safe traffic speeds on city streets is a priority for all police agencies. However, the Lonsdale Police Department have the added challenge of enforcing safe speed limits on state and county highways cutting through town as well.

“Every now and then I hear from people both within the community and outside the community that Lonsdale is known as a speed trap,” stated Lonsdale Police Chief Jason Schmitz.

Because the speed limits decrease from 55 mph to 30 mph along Highway 19 through town, the perception by some is that the Lonsdale Police pull drivers over without cause.

This prompted Chief Schmitz to use the new hand-held lidar speed detection device the department was awarded recently to challenge the notion that the Lonsdale Police are citing drivers without reason.

He spent three days and several hours recording speeds and keeping track of the number of drivers speeding through the posted reduced speed zones. No tickets were issued during his study and his results were higher than he expected.

Traveling east on State Highway 19 between Casey’s General Store and Arizona Street Southeast, speeds change from 30 mph in town to 55 mph. Chief Schmitz recorded a total of 168 motorists in this zone during his study. Of these vehicles, ninety-one percent were traveling over the 30 mph posted speed limit. Nearly 40 percent of those he recorded were speeding 10 or more miles per hour faster than the 30 mph posted. The fastest speeds Chief Schmitz recorded in the 30 mph area along Highway 19 was one vehicle traveling at 60 mph and several vehicles in the 50s.

“This study was surprising to me and the speeds I recorded are totally unacceptable,” stated Chief Schmitz. “The scary part of this is when drivers traveling east out of Lonsdale are already driving 55 mph by Casey’s, then by the time they get past Fred’s IGA Foods, they’re doing 70.”

Since acquiring the new Lidar speed detector, on average the Lonsdale Police Department issues 19 citatations each week for excessive speeds in Lonsdale. According to Chief Schmitz, many times drivers are passing through Lonsdale anxious to get to a destination and not paying attention to posted speed limit signs.

An added challenge to driving along the stretch of Hwy 19 traveling east between Casey’s and Fred’s IGA Foods is that there currently is not a sign posting the 55 mph speed limit change due to an accident two weeks ago that destroyed the sign. According to Chief Schmitz, the state is responsible for replacing the sign and he had no indication as to when that would be.

Schmitz commented that he would like to see the speed limit change from 55 mph to 45 mph near Fred’s IGA Foods and the Lonsdale Family Health Medical Clinic to further slow traffic along the commercialized section of Highway 19.

Another corridor where city officials are concerned about excessive speeds in Lonsdale is County Road 4 in front of the new M-L Elementary School East. The Lonsdale City Council and Mayor Tim Rud are in the process of working with Rice County to lower the speed limit on County Road 4 in front of the new school before it opens so drivers will have a chance to get used to the slower speed limit before children are present this fall.

Chief Schmitz stated that when this happens, motorists would be made aware through the use of signs and possibly a speed trailer that visibly shows drivers their speeds as they travel through the area.

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