A school zone light remains on during the summer break on Fountainbleu Drive. (Anne Mueller/The Lens)

School zone speed limits are no longer being enforced on New Orleans streets — but drivers may not know that when passing through some school zones where yellow lights are still flashing, cautioning them to slow down from generally 35 miles per hour to 20. 

Over the last week, several Lens readers submitted photos and videos of lights that were still flashing, despite school being out for the summer. Problems with school zone lights — either being off when they should work or flashing when they shouldn’t — have persisted for years

Earlier this month, city officials confirmed all school zone cameras had been turned off, but due to “personnel and equipment challenges in the traffic division,” not all warning lights have been shut off, city spokesman John Lawson explained on behalf of the Department of Public Works. 

“We are aware of these issues, we are continuously working towards fixing them, and over the course of the next few weeks, the public will see most of them turned off,” he wrote in an email.

“However, it is not harmful to have these still on, as it is always the best practice to have slower traffic on main roads and for the public to be aware of the school zones and their exact locations,” he wrote.

But some drivers disagree with that assertion after encountering school zones where yellow flashing lights are still on, yet some drivers are going the (typically) allowed speed of 35 miles per hour and while others are slamming on their brakes to drop to 20 miles per hour. 

It’s not always clear which traffic signs one should innately ignore.

It’s not the first time New Orleanians have had to deal with inconsistent traffic lights. 

In 2015, Lens reporters surveyed the city’s school zone lights and found fewer than half were functioning properly. In 2017, we found more than 80 percent were working properly, but the city has still failed to take advantage of the technology it purchased. 

The city has a decentralized all-charter school system and each school can set its own calendar. School zone speed limits are only enforceable on days school is in session. Though schools have worked toward a more “common calendar” they still have unique schedules. But despite the technical ability to program lights individually for each school, the city does not use that feature. 

Lawson didn’t directly answer a question about how often school zone speed cameras are calibrated.

“Our vendor that manages the school zone cameras ensures that they are functioning properly every year prior to turning them back on,” he wrote.

Asked whether the speed cameras are ticketing for the non-school zone hours speed limits, Lawson said they are not. 

“They are off, and they are not ticketing.”

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...