Thursday, January 21, 2010

Speed Trap Alley Blues

Magnet #148: Downtown Tampa Photo

Material: Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By: Me

As I mentioned in a previous post, I got out of Savannah this past weekend to take advantage of the holiday on Monday. My friend Lindsay and I were pretty excited as we headed down to Florida in search of warmer weather and new experiences. We grabbed up all sorts of brochures at the Welcome Center, both for our current trip and future ones. And then, a pretty crummy experience derailed our good spirits for a bit.

I'm still kicking myself for not making use of my AAA membership and getting them to make a Trip Tik mapping out the route for us. If I'd done so, I would have likely gotten their warning to avoid U.S. Route 301, which cuts across the state, in effect joining Jacksonville and Interstate 75 on the western side of the state. This notorious track of land is nicknamed Speed Trap Alley, and two of its towns are the only in America that AAA has officially named a speed trap. The speed at these towns will plummet as much as twenty-five mph in a few hundred feet while police officers lie in wait with radar guns for out-of-state motorists. One of them, Lawtey, had this exact trap, and Lindsay was stopped and issued a ticket for $266. I've since learned their police chief has been in office since 1962, which is a world record. Shame on the Florida legislature and its attorney general, whose coffers are dependent on tourism revenue, for allowing uninformed tourists to be basically robbed by these latter-day, legalized highwaymen. They need to step up the same way Oklahoma did when its attorney general and Department of Public Safety declared its town of Moffett to be an illegal speed trap and stripped it of all ability to issue tickets. It has since filed for bankruptcy. If Lawtey and its neighbors like Starke and Waldo are incapable of making a more honest income, they should go the way of Moffett. If you are traveling through Florida, avoid Lawtey and U.S. Route 301 at all costs.

Regardless, we decided to continue on, making the best of what we had left in the day. We found out we were too late to catch a show at Weekee Wachee, where mermaids perform, so we continued south onto Tampa. On the outskirts, Lindsay had a bit of retail therapy buying birthday presents for her daughter. By late afternoon, we had reached Tampa and checked into a hotel. The receptionist was very friendly and suggested we try visiting a nearby historic location location that night. We took his recommendation and had a pretty nice time. Later, we ended up doing takeout and having dinner in the hotel room. I had a salad from a nearby restaurant that was quite good. Unfortunately, we had some noisy neighbors, and even though I was able to get some decent sleep thanks to earplugs, poor Lindsay wasn't quite so lucky. It wasn't the best beginning of a trip, but at least it got better from there.

Well, I have been reading up on Lawtey and its neighbors, and it's been interesting to hear what's out there. Apparently, these towns make about a third of their income by writing tickets. Some motorists on message boards have claimed that they were ticketed going at or under the speed limit in these towns, and I'm inclined to believe them. Stark, Lawtey, and Waldo don't exactly strike me as honorable locales. A few state leaders in the Florida legislature have tried to take action against the towns, but so far have had no success.  And I wish I had a more appropriate magnet to post, because we had a pretty nice time in Tampa, but I'm glad I didn't spend any money on U.S. Route 301 and I don't really want a magnet from any of those locations.  Apparently, I'm not alone in feeling this way, as businesses have really suffered along this road since AAA started warning motorists about it.  Trust me, there's not much to be found along there, anyway.  Sorry, I know this post has been a bit of a downer, but the trip's recaps will be much more pleasant after this one, and if this rant has convinced anyone traveling in Florida to avoid U.S. Route 301 like the plague it is, it's done it's job.


  1. Yeah, a pretty rotten start for what should have been a wonderfully long weekend away. I'm glad however the rest of your trip was better. Looking forward to see what other magnets you found along the way.

    You know the road is bad when you recognize its a likely speed trap and still get pulled over despite being wary of it. Lindsay had tweeted about it smelling like a speed trap an hour or so before you got nailed.

    And don't forget another reminder for Georgia drivers visiting: make sure you have your proof of insurance in the car. Georgia no longer requires it, but Florida does... making them all the more likely to try and pull you over hoping you'll have forgotten to pack that little document in the car with you. Leeches.

    I'm going to avoid that section of roadway like the plague on future trips to Florida (going down in both February and March.)

  2. She actually made that comment after the ticket, but she was so upset she left it out. I was on the phone right then, fuming about it.

    Thanks for pointing that out. Apparently, there's some sort of database Georgia can access. I have to wonder if Florida doesn't because proof of insurance and registration are another way to get money.

    Glad to see our experience has influenced at least one person. Hope more travelers see this post in the future.