Stalled in Traffic

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As chair of the Traffic Commission, I have always said that solving our traffic problems requires data, and people to evaluate the data and find solutions. The first challenge was getting the people: Although we had plenty of volunteers for the commission, Mayor Jones and her allies repeatedly blocked them, leaving us chronically shorthanded and unable to conduct business when members were sick or had scheduling conflicts. That issue was finally resolved with the appointment of Stephen Robin to the last vacant seat, an effort which spanned several council meetings. We’ve now gathered a list of speed problems throughout the city, from both residents and elected officials. We are ready to move ahead with evaluating the extent of speed problems on these roadways.

To accomplish that, we evaluated speed measurement devices, settling on the Jamar Technologies Black Cat II. After several months of delay, the unit was ordered, and it arrived on October 21. And there it sat, for nearly two weeks, until the city called a meeting with commission representatives on November 3. At that meeting, we were told that the city had changed their mind, and would not be allowing volunteers from the commission to mount the device on utility poles, and instead would delegate the logistics of speed studies to the public works department.

Myself and Mr. Foushee strongly objected, on the grounds that this would substantially delay implementation, and would also result in spotty performance once the studies were underway, as staffing problems and competing priorities collided with the need to manage and move the device on a strict schedule. At this writing, it has been 36 days since the device arrived, and we have not heard another word from the city. The device, for which the city paid a substantial sum, is sitting in a box at the city garage, and we’ve already squandered the opportunity to do studies on a dozen of our city streets. Queries to Mr. Osterberg, from both myself and our liaison, councilor Lipka, have gone unanswered.

The city claims that this can’t be done by commission members due to “liability.” Yet at the Twilight Run, and at every parade, the city enlists volunteers to do something far more dangerous: stand in the middle of a roadway and stop cars, protected by nothing but a vest. The city has also initiated a Volunteers in Parks program, where residents will be encouraged to engage in tasks far more dangerous than holding a plastic box and tightening a couple of band clamps, while just a couple of feet up a stepladder.

We don’t know whether the city’s intransigence stems from a faulty assessment of the risk of doing the benign activity pictured at the top of this article, or is a continuation of the mayor’s ongoing effort to prevent the commission from doing its work. What we do know is that as of this day, the Friday after Thanksgiving, we would have completed speed studies on a dozen streets. A report of the traffic speed and volume on each street, along with detailed data, would have been released to the public, so that residents of our neighborhoods would know precisely the extent of the problem. And the commission would already be discussing which streets require the most urgent attention, and what solutions would be helpful to the situation and affordable to the city. Instead, we have accomplished nothing at all.

Perhaps the leaders of our city believe that throwing up a few “Slow Down” signs, writing an average of two tickets a day, and wringing our hands when the issue is pressed, is all we need to do about our traffic problems. Perhaps they believe we should simply respond to the noisiest complaint, making decisions based upon anecdote instead of data. I dare say most residents would disagree. The city should promptly give the speed measuring device to the commission, so that our important work can proceed, and can continue without constantly competing for the attention of our busy city staff. Until then, with no data upon which to base our decisions, the work of the Traffic Commission is stalled.