Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Traffic Control Follies

So about five years ago, the City decided to repave the street I live on. It's five blocks long and is a school and city bus route as well as a feeder into this residential area. And the street needed it, I'll admit. The pot holes had taken up arms and were demanding a toll price from drivers--five bucks or one of your axles, thank you very much. Repaving sounded like a good idea.

Homeowners were informed that broken sections of sidewalks would be replaced at the same time. Still fine, even though that's going on my property taxes for the next six years.

However, the City also decided that they needed to do something to reduce the speed of traffic on our street. Huh? Even though the City did a speed study and found the 80th percentile of traffic speeds was under 25 mph, something apparently needed to be done to curb those horrendous speeders flying up our street at 23 mph. For those who don't know, one of the bases for setting speed limits on streets is that 80% of the drivers will drvie at safe (or slower) speeds. So a speed study is done to determine the speed that 80% of the drivers are travelling at or slower than. And that's the speed limit.

So what to do? The letter that we got from the City said something about a roundabout at the end of our block (the second block). I've driven through roundabouts on busy streets in the Bahamas, but on a one way, lightly travelled, residential street? We would have lost two parking spaces on each side of the street on both sides of the intersections--that's eight parking spaces! The snowplows' rare winter appearances on our street would have been eliminated completely because the 12 foot blades could not have gotten past the roundabouts. It was also unlikely that the school and City buses could have made it around the obstruction.

So the City said they would put in a small roundabout--maybe six feet in diameter. Oh, yeah, that's better. Now instead of a nicely landscaped roundabout, we get a concrete circle that will go untended for years until it cracks and disintegrates and turns into urban blight. Unless someone ran over it in the dark and took out an axle or a oil pan or something. Then we could have urban art. A dead car in the middle of the road.

I went down to City Hall and met with the guy handling the project. He told me other speed-reducing items they were considering, including speed bumps and speed tables. All bad ideas in my book. Speed bumps and speed tables would have also prevented snow plows from operating on our streets, and we would also have to listen to every single car, truck and bus going down our street hit the brakes, down-shift, step on the gas, and up-shift again. I moved to this location to get away from traffic noise. This was crazy, and I argued strongly against it.

Finally--and I don't know if they listened to me or others, or just plain changed their minds--the City decided that they would narrow our street two feet and install curb "bump-outs" at the intersections. OK, I could live with that. Those things wouldn't change traffic on the street one bit.

Five years later, traffic still moves at the same pace down our street, but the number of cars being sideswiped has risen. My sisters's car had been hit twice, and the neighbors' brand new truck with less than 50 miles on it currently needs a brand new bumper.

We also had a bus get stuck on our block one winter. The street had been blessed/cursed that morning by the City plow. The plow had run down our street and piled two feet of snow in the parking spaces at the edge of the street. Not out of the street, mind you, in six feet between the street and sidewalk, but IN the street. A friend came to visit me, and he parked on the street (no other option) far enough from the curb that he could open his door and get out of his pickup truck. Thirty minutes later, a cop is knocking on my door. Will we please move the truck, he says, because the bus can't get up the street. The bus had apparently driven up the block, realized it couldn't get past the truck, backed down the block, gone around, and called the cops.

I told the cop we would move it, but that the bus driver should have called the street department instead.

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