There’s a problem street in my neighborhood.
It’s a quiet street, lined with banyan trees, ninety-year-old bungalows and small apartment buildings. It’s a bit wider than most streets in the neighborhood, but it’s not even busy enough for a yellow line between the two lanes. It goes right past the small lake that is the centerpiece of our neighborhood, passing through the entire neighborhood as it runs west past the hospital, until it sputters out a few blocks shy of the interstate.
Because it runs all the way through the neighborhood – and connects to three busy north-south streets – some people have found it to be a convenient alternative to our main east-west arterial that lies two blocks to the north. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend using this alternate route as a speedy way to pass through the neighborhood, because the arterial doesn’t have any stop signs, while this road has three or four. The only way this quieter street works as a viable alternative is if you drive too fast.
And that’s where the problem comes in. As I mentioned, this street is a bit wider than most of the others around here (it’s probably because there used to be a streetcar line running on it, but that was a long time ago); it’s also quiet, so there aren’t a whole lot of other cars using it at any given time. Put those two traits together and some drivers are going to feel like the 25 mph speed limit is too slow. They’re going to speed.
As offenses go, speeding is pretty small beer. But as with most things, context is crucial here. Speeding through an unsuspecting residential neighborhood is different than speeding down the interstate. People aren’t expecting it. And because their kids are playing and walking nearby, it has a way of getting them upset in a hurry.
A few years back, at the behest of people living on and around that street, the city agreed to do a traffic study to determine the feasibility of installing speed bumps. They gathered data on traffic speeds for three or four weeks, and at the end of the study, they told us that according to their formulas, a speed bump was not justified. Drivers just weren’t speeding enough.
Residents were outraged. They didn’t need statistics to tell them that drivers were barreling down that street at unsafe speeds. Honestly, I think they had a legitimate point, based on the formula used to calculate the severity of the speeding problem. In a nutshell, the city’s traffic engineers dropped any observations in the lowest and highest ten percent of the population – in other words, the slowest and fastest speeds weren’t actually counted. They explained that this was to eliminate statistical outliers that might unfairly skew the averages; people who were clocked at really low speeds might be slowing down to turn into their driveways, and didn’t really contribute to an accurate picture of what was happening on that street.
But aren’t the outliers the whole point? I can understand the logic of dropping the bottom ten percent from the sample. But what’s the logic for dropping the highest ten percent? Those are exactly the people who are causing the problem in the first place. How can we get an accurate picture of the speeding problem on a street if we ignore the very worst of the speeders?
Needless to say, the city wouldn’t budge. Now, I don’t live on that street, so I don’t have in-depth firsthand knowledge of exactly how bad the speeding problem is there. Maybe the city’s right. But I do know that it was one of the factors that finally convinced some friends of mine who did live there to move away and put their house up for rent.
We’re lucky here because, as I mentioned in a previous post, we are currently rewriting our neighborhood plan. Doing a better job of addressing the perceived speeding problem on that street may well find its way into that new plan, if enough residents feel strongly enough about it.
But other neighborhoods with similar problems may not be so lucky. What can they do – within the law, of course – to solve problems like this themselves, when the city decides they either cannot or will not intervene?