Monday, December 14, 2015

A letter about Dunwoody Traffic Calming to Councilman Heneghan

Mr. Heneghan:

Thank you for sharing the results of your inquiry.  I stand by my position that there seems to be strong inertia that is resistant to change with regard to areas of traffic concern, and while I think that an element of this resistance is in the service of public policy (especially when acting in promotion of fast emergency service response), I believe that the barriers to change are too great.  I will concede that with regard to this process, my sample size is only one (Stonington Road), but I feel compelled to share some of the elements of that partially completed journey that gave rise to my frustration.

1.       The problem is not always speed alone.  There is a three-way stop at Stonington Road and Huntington Circle.  This stop sign is regularly disregarded at speeds which are not in excess of the limit.  At the outset of my attempts to make Stonington more safe, I set forth three issues, high speeds, ignoring stop signs, and illegally cutting through the neighborhood.   The feedback that we received initially is that the stop sign was placed in a high visibility area on a straight run.  As such, the tongue-in-cheek solution initially proposed by Mr. Smith was that we take the stop sign out, and thus all of the law-breaking goes away.  To his credit, he did not dig his heels in on this position, but rather recommended a study.  This study was conducted on a non-school day, and revealed that the 85th percentile speed at the study point was 34 miles per hour (9 miles above the speed limit, which was insufficient to force further attention from the city).  To the city’s credit, however, multiple solutions were provided, but without a “preferred solution”, which left the debate up to the neighbors in the “affected area”, and created enough diversity of opinion that the project stalled.  The only guarantee given at the time was that the stop sign at Stonington and Huntington would need to go, regardless of the project.

2.       What is the affected area?  To determine who is allowed to vote on a traffic calming project, the “affected area” must be determined.  It is 65% of the property owners in the affected area who must ratify a calming project.  In our case, we were provided with multiple solutions, but without a preferred project from the city, the affected area owners were simply expected to vote on the idea of traffic calming rather than an actual project.  This caused considerable communications difficulties, as individuals were resistant to losing the only potential mitigating factor in the area (the stop sign), without knowing what was coming.  Additionally, I was told that the affected area could be as large as the city wanted it to be because of the thoroughfare nature of the cut through.  While the city did the right thing and narrowed the scope to about 18 homes, they made sure to inform me during the process that they could have justifiably expanded this to a much greater degree, and simply crush our efforts due to the scope of work that would be required to seek approval from 65% of the property owners.  Because there are minimal objective guidelines when determining the affected area, this can easily be used as a deterrent to change, especially in areas of high use.

3.       The change process causes areas of higher rental property or higher ages populations to be more resistant to change, even if this is not the owners’ intent.  A major component of the traffic change proposition is that need for the approval of 65% of property owners in a given area.  As you well know, oftentimes property is held by a trust, a corporation, a bank (for foreclosures), or an out of state owner.  No provision is contained within the traffic calming policy to deal with this, nor is there a proposal to deal with households where a spouse works elsewhere or lives in an assisted living facility.  The net effect of this provision is to require wet signatures from 65% of ALL property owners, often two spouses, or the children of the actual residents of the property, etc.  This presents an undue burden on the process.  Furthermore, as the City encourages aging in place, it should be acknowledged that fixed income seniors who might otherwise support a calming plan will likely be disproportionately affected by the $25 perpetual charge on the affected area residents for the improvements.

4.       Signs may not be the most effective deterrent to unsafe driving etiquette.  The City acknowledged that the stop sign at the Huntington and Stonington Road interchange is ineffective.  The solution should not simply be to remove or replace signs (as was suggested during the evaluation of options).  Truly effective measures should be employed when promoting safe traffic in Dunwoody.  More than once a week I see individuals on North Peachtree make an illegal left into Chesnut Elementary School during school hours, blaze through pedestrian crosswalks on Tilly Mill, and come screaming down Stonington on their way to Tilly Mill.  This is just a small sample size, but each of these issues should be addressed by more effective means, including perhaps road dividers in front of Chesnut, speed tables at the crosswalks on Tilly Mill, and chicanes on Stonington.  Each of these solutions requires an associated expense, but I am of the position that common-sense applications of these devices where warranted ensures pedestrian and driver safety, and will likely save the city considerable expense should a tragedy occur at one of these locations.

Thank you for addressing this issue.  I truly believe that measures such as traffic safety, local zoning enforcement, and a local police force are at the heart of what drove many voters to the polls in support of cityhood.  Let’s work together to find a common-sense way to improve the city while avoiding arbitrary and capricious traffic calming projects.

Kind regards,
Thomas O’Brien
Dunwoody Resident

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Positive Early Feedback and Property Map

This is a big thank you to those folks who have already shared their thoughts on the potential solutions.  The early returns seem to indicate a feeling that we need to do something, and the "mini-speed tables" seem to be earning the bulk of the support thus far.

The purpose of this blog entry is to identify the address numbers of the affected properties.  65% of these homeowners will need to "buy-in" to a plan in order to request that the City begin construction.  I have pulled a picture of the "affected homes" from the GIS system on the City of Dunwoody website.  According to the City there are 18 affected properties, which means that to enact change at least 12 property owners will need to ratify a change.

I would ask that if anyone who lives on or near these addresses is so inclined, please speak to your neighbors about the proposals, and test the waters.  I suspect that we are already close to the required number, but we want to ensure that folks who may not have seen the plans have a chance to ask questions and share concerns.  Let's make our road safer!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Here are the Proposals

It's been awhile since I have updated this blog, but there is finally news to report.  I met with Michael Smith (Dunwoody Public Works Director), John Heneghan, and Douglas Thompson (City Commissioners) recently.  In my previous post, I discussed the various solutions that the city was likely to propose.  We have the official proposal back now, and I can share the drawings that were commissioned by the City to address our concerns.

What are the Proposals?
Essentially the proposal is one of two scenarios.

1) Install Chicanes between Huntington Circle and Stonington Circle on Stonington Road (picture and link below).  The Chicanes would be "mini-gardens" along the road side, and would make the road "crooked" to slow down traffic.  A double yellow line would be painted down the middle of the road as well.  I have attached a link as well since the picture below if small.  Click here for the full version.

2) Install speed humps (probably three) in that same area.  The speed humps would be like "mini-tables" with painted approach lines.  The City of Dunwoody has only built one set of these since becoming a city, and those can be found on Village Creek road near Dunwoody Elementary School.

How do we proceed?
The next steps are to seek the input of the "affected parcels".  These are the properties that fall between the Huntington and Stonington Circle Stop signs, with a couple of parcels beyond the stop signs in each direction.  If 65% of the owners of "affected parcels" approve of one of these solutions, the project will proceed.  If not, the road remains unchanged.

Has the scope changed since this effort started?
The actual size of the project is somewhat different than where we began for a couple of reasons.  If the actual traffic calming measures extended to East King's Point and Tilly Mill, the amount of "affected parcels" jumps into the hundreds of homes.  Seeking a 65% majority from a group this large would be daunting to say the least, and the city is of the opinion that we can accomplish our goals by addressing the area shown.

What is the Cost?
There are two costs to doing this project.

The first is to have the Stonington Road stop signs uninstalled at Huntington Circle and Stonington Circle.  This DOES NOT include removal of the signs stopping traffic before turning left or right onto Stonington Road.  Those would remain.  According to Michael Smith, the stop signs currently used on Stonington Road were likely installed as calming measures sometime in the past. They are not acceptable calming measures (as we all know) that work in these circumstances.  The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (used by Dunwoody as well as cities nationwide) agrees.

The second cost is a $25 per year increase to the property taxes associated with the "affected parcels".  In my opinion, this is a reasonable price to pay ($2.08) per month to increase our property values by managing the speed of the traffic that passes our homes and families daily.

So what is next?
In the weeks to come, I would appreciate hearing your feedback regarding the proposals.  In addition to the two choices above, we have a third option.  We can abandon these efforts.  If the majority of folks that would be affected by this change do not agree that these could address our concerns, status quo is an option.  In my opinion, either of the new solutions would improve the speeds with which people would navigate our road.  I think that the Chicanes would be nicer looking, but the Speed Humps would likely be more effective.  What do you think?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Positive Progress on the Stonington Traffic Calming Initiative

Today I met with Councilman John Heneghan and Director of Public Works Michael Smith, both of whom were kind enough to make some time to discuss Stonington.  We hit a broad range of topics, so I will do my best to organize this blog post so that the broad discussions that occurred have some semblance of organization, but please read this with the idea that I am hoping to fix three problems: excessive speeds, disregarding traffic signage, improper cut-through traffic.  

The broad strokes we discussed are- (1) the study that was conducted on Stonington, (2) discussions regarding the need to study solutions (benefits and costs), and (3) timeframes under which future efforts will occur.  If you have questions about the following, do not hesitate to contact me through this blog.

1.  The Study - Mr. Smith was kind enough to provide me with the results of the study that was performed on Stonington Road, which I will happily share with any interested parties.  The study was conducted on October 3, 2012 for the entire 24 hour day.  As you may recall, the hoses for the counting device were at or near the lowest point on Stonington.  They revealed that 85% of the traffic travels at speeds of 34 mph or less.  They also revealed that during this time period, 1,072 cars traveled over Stonington.  To automatically qualify for a calming study, the travel speed must be 11 mph over the speed limit or 36 mph.  One flaw with the study is that it took place on "Walk to School" day, so an appreciable amount of the usual traffic was likely foot traffic on that occasion.  John shared this fact with Mr. Smith, and it appears that the results of the study will not impede getting Stonington's situation looked at further. 

2.  Solutions - After looking at the study results, Mr. Smith has indicated a willingness to proceed with evaluating and proposing solutions for Stonington's traffic problems.  He visited Stonington Road, and noted that the stop signs were in clear visibility areas.  According to Mr. Smith, stop signs in such locations are usually less effective simply because folks that were inclined to ignore the signs can quickly assess whether or not they will need to yield the right of way.  He also noted the sweeping hill, and the problems that this can cause.

After discussing some easier, but less effective solutions such as replacing the old signs with new ones, painting lines on the street (which are often used on major vessels that travel at faster speeds than 25 mph), or adding speed humps, which may solve certain problems, but create others, we came to discuss solutions more likely to address the speed and signage problems.  

I have included drawings of three such solutions below that Mr. Smith have indicated are worthwhile solutions.  We spent much of our time discussing the first drawing below, Chicanes, and also mini-roundabouts (not pictured).  The City's study will determine the optimal locations of each of these, but preliminary indications are that there would be two or three of these features, perhaps one at each stop sign, and one at the bottom of the hill.  This is by no means finalized, and has not been formally offered by the city, but Mr. Smith regarded them as effective and mutually desirable solutions for the problems we face.  He also indicated that these could be built in such a manner as to not impede the ability of emergency personnel to travel through the neighborhood.

So what is required to get this going?  Again, the affected parties, this time likely including portions of other roads than Stonington, must agree with a 65% majority that whatever the new study reveals is the best way to proceed.  Also, these solutions will likely replace the stop signs that are currently in place.  While removing the signs sounds like a risk, it is clear that many disregard the stop signs presently, so forcing traffic through channels may not result in the total stopping of traffic, but certainly will cause traffic to slow down.  Finally, all affected parties, as defined by the city, will have $25 added to their taxes yearly.  I know that this is not an ideal end, but for added safety, reduced speeds, and potentially higher land values I believe that the juice is worth the squeeze, and I hope you do too.

3.  Timeframes - Once the design proposal has been drafted, it will be made available for review by all affected parties.  The estimated arrival time on this document will be mid-December, after which we collectively decide (again by petition) the fate of the project.  This petition will require 65% buy-in from all concerned parties (as defined by the city).

Once I have heard from Mr. Smith regarding the study, I will be reaching out to friends and neighbors all over the affected areas to educate and discuss the proposed plans.  If you are so moved, when this process starts, I would be most appreciative if you would pick a neighbor or two to discuss this with, and share this information and the need for their support.

I believe that if our collective voice is loud enough, we can create change, and make our roads safer, more desirable, and nicer through-ways on which to live.  As always, please feel free to share this with any concerned parties who are not online, and please contact me if you have input or suggestions.

I met with Public Works...

...and the outlook for this project looks a good bit better than it did a week ago.  I will be sharing the news (some good, and some challenging) in a blog entry shortly, but I wanted to let all interested parties know that this is not the end of the road.

I want to thank John Heneghan for his efforts on our neighborhood's behalf. More to come...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A letter to our neighbors sharing the study results

I sent this letter to our neighbors and several City Officials with a copy of the email from the city.  In short, I am upset about the lack of response to the problems that were voiced in the original request.  

Good afternoon all,

After hearing absolutely nothing from the City of Dunwoody regarding the Stonington Road study that was conducted a couple of weeks ago, I reached out to a city representative for an update yesterday and received the following reply (attached below). In short, the speed is not sufficient to warrant the city's attention (despite being nearly 9mph in excess of the speed limit). What was not addressed in the study, despite clear requests to the contrary, was an analysis of drivers' adherence to the signage (stop signs), and the volume of cut through traffic. I am of the position that the study conducted by the city is insufficient, and that we are being given the brush-off.

I am disappointed with the effort and communication conducted by the city to say the least, and am disappointed with the amount of effort put forth to enforce existing traffic laws and preserve our neighborhoods. As such, I will be regrouping and determining a way to make our efforts more difficult to dismiss. I am somewhat discouraged by the behavior of our city bureaucracy since quality of life and a strong police presence were the major underpinings of my decision to vote in favor of the creation of a city. This level of customer (taxpayer) service does not reflect the ideals with which the city was created.

I will keep you posted regarding my future efforts.

Kind regards,
Thomas O'Brien

A Brush-Off from the City of Dunwoody

The letter below was the City's reply and encapsulation of the study.  As you can see, the results are unfavorable to the traffic calming cause.

Mr. O’Brien,
According to the study, Stonington Rd did not qualify for traffic calming at this time as the 85th percentile speed is 34 mph. However, the results also revealed that the numbers were probably close enough to warrant a follow up study in the future.
For the speeding problem at the moment we can try to work with the Police Department on enforcement, if you’d like. I can get you in contact with Deputy Chief Sides.
Jada Drysdale
Public Works Administrative Assistant
City of Dunwoody
41 Perimeter Center E, Suite 250, Dunwoody, GA 30346
(678) 382-6850 direct | (770) 396-4828 fax