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

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