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A number of city residents who requested anti-speeding measures on their streets are getting petitioners’ remorse when the projects near reality.
The Raleigh City Council on Tuesday downsized a proposed traffic-calming project on North Raleigh’s Rainwater Road after the plan bitterly divided neighbors. A compromise plan will temporarily install stop signs and electronic speed displays.
The initial petition for $125,000 in curb extensions, mini roundabouts and other efforts to slow traffic on the residential street drew the city-mandated signatures from 75 percent of residents. But many said Tuesday that they thought they were merely expressing interest in slowing traffic. Some then signed a counter petition as well.
“I don’t think an 84-67 vote against is a clear demonstration of support from that area,” said attorney Isabel Mattox, who represented several Rainwater residents. She was citing the final breakdown of residents on the street after the second petition.
At Tuesday’s hearing, opponents of the plan slightly outnumbered supporters. Some said they had changed their minds when the design details were released and drawn on the pavement for reference. The neighborhood was divided on the final plan, with opponents wearing red to the City Council meeting and supporters sporting green “please slow down” badges.
“We’ve become a high-speed collector cut-through,” supporter Gerry Wichmann said. “We simply want to slow down the traffic and make our neighborhood safer. The last time I saw true calm on Rainwater was a student-led candlelight vigil approximately one year ago.”
Wichmann was referring to the street’s highest-profile accident, when a drunk Millbrook High student crashed at a high speed, killing his passenger and classmate. Neighbors were split on whether traffic-calming measures could have prevented the wreck.
Safety concerns on Rainwater
And while no one in the neighborhood likes speeders, opponents of the plan think the curb extensions and mini roundabouts could cause more problems. They said the devices would limit on-street parking, create less space for emergency vehicles and possibly even cause accidents.
One of the curb extensions would be installed in front of Stacie Eickholt’s house. “If they swerve and miss, they land in my yard,” she said. “If God forbid my house catches on fire, where is the fire truck going to park? I don’t see how this is going to help me and my family.”
After a heated 90-minute hearing, Mayor Nancy McFarlane proposed and the council approved a temporary approach as a compromise solution.
“I would like to see us consider some sort of measure – either stop signs or an installation of signs that say ‘you’re going too fast,’ and see where we are in six months to a year,” McFarlane said.
Most of the residents in attendance raised their hands in support of the mayor’s idea, but traffic engineers aren’t sure stop signs will solve the problem. “Stop signs are not adequate controls for traffic calming” because cars speed up to make up for lost time, said Eric Lamb, transportation planning manager. Rainwater will likely get three or four stop-sign intersections, he said.
Bumpy rides in North Hills
Anti-speeding efforts are also controversial in the North Hills area, where numerous streets have requested speed humps. Humps were recently installed on Shelley Road, Rowan Street, Wimbleton Drive and Northbrook Drive, leading neighbors on Cranbrook Drive and Northwood Drive to start petition drives too.
Teresa Summerlin signed the initial petition for Cranbrook, but now she’s thinking her neighborhood could be getting speed hump overload.
“I hope the city will begin to take into account the cumulative effect of installing speed humps on so many streets within the same community at the same time,” she said. “For residents of this area who must travel these streets regularly, there is a downside of implementing multiple traffic-calming programs on neighboring and adjoining streets.”
Summerlin is also among several neighbors upset that the contractor made four of the seven Shelley Road humps too tall. Tom Fiorello, the city’s traffic-calming coordinator, said the mistakes were fixed last week and other humps’ heights are being checked. “It’s the first year the project’s been done,” he said. “There’s a learning curve for everybody involved.”
Smooth sailing on Glascock
Many of the city’s traffic-calming proposals don’t generate much backlash. At the same council hearing as the contentious Rainwater Road project, a $440,000 treatment for Glascock Street northeast of downtown passed with little fanfare.
No residents there spoke against the project, with strong support for a narrower road and more sidewalks. John Seitz has lived on Glascock for 12 years. “I’ve seen the traffic grow dramatically in that time,” he said. “I see people pass each other across solid yellow lines. It’s in great need of help.”
Still, Lamb says his department could tweak the approval process for traffic calming to help avoid neighborhood squabbles like Rainwater Road’s. “The petition process is something we’ve talked about – how do we change that to get better canvassing, to make sure all the property owners were contacted?” he said.