Webster Groves is moving forward in establishing school zones including flashing light signs as motorists approach schools. Some residents, however, have already complained about the bright warning lights.

Webster Groves Police Chief Dale Curtis said the signs define the school zone and warn approaching drivers to reduce their speed.

“That’s why the signs are a distance away from the school — to warn drivers that the speed limit is reduced,” he said, adding the speed limits in those areas are 20 mph during the designated hours.

The Webster Groves City Council on Nov. 4 gave initial readings to a bill establishing the zones. Flashing lights will operate from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays on school days at the Ambrose Early Childhood Center and Bristol and Edgar Road elementary schools.

Mayor Gerry Welch asked that consideration be given to cut off the flashing light signs earlier than 7 p.m. She said she has heard from several unhappy neighbors who don’t appreciate the bright flashing lights near their homes.

A final vote on the bill is set for later this month. The legislation is retroactive, as some of the signs are already in place.

The first school zone, with a sign and reduced speed limits, was recently established after residents made the request to the city’s traffic advisory commission. The zone includes a several-block area around Avery Elementary School on Atalanta Avenue.

Curtis said it was later decided to establish zones at other public elementary schools, including the Ambrose Early Childhood Center and Bristol and Edgar Road elementary schools. Clark Elementary School is located on a St. Louis County roadway and is already covered by a school zone along Big Bend Boulevard. 

Angry Neighbors

Mayor Welch said the first school zone sign, located on Gray Avenue, led to some neighbors being “beyond angry.”

“The school zone is large with flashing lights and is in somebody’s front yard,” Welch said. “People who live around there are subject to a sign with flashing lights from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., and it’s really jarring since that area is far away from the school. I encourage us to take a closer look as we put these signs in neighborhoods.”

Welch said that flashing signs along Big Bend, as motorists approach Clark Elementary, are more in keeping with a wider road and larger space. 

“But in residential neighborhoods, these signs can be way out of kilter. I think we’ll hear a lot from neighbors as signs go in,” Welch said.

Curtis said school zone signs are placed certain distances from schools in accordance with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommendations. If a sign is in a bad spot, it can be changed, Curtis said.

Council Member Sarah Richardson, who has children attending Ambrose Early Childhood Center and Edgar Road Elementary School, said she was “strongly in favor” of the signs and school zones.

“People fly down the road between Ambrose and Bristol, and that’s very dangerous,” she said.

Welch acknowledged that people often exceed the speed limit in that area, but urged the council to look at whether it’s necessary to have the signs flashing until 7 p.m., especially when it’s dark.

“I agree on the traffic being fast, but these signs seem far from the schools and may not have the impact intended,” she said.

Council Member Pam Bliss  asked if the lights could be turned off at night and on non-school days. Chief Curtis said it may be possible to reset the lights, which are solar powered and on a timer. The signs will not operate on holidays or weekends, according to Interim City Manager Joan Jadali.

A final vote on the matter is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 17.