By Patricia A. Book, Ph. D., Willow Springs Community Association
Should we install large, flashing “driver feedback” signs on our neighborhood streets?
The Board called a special community meeting to discuss this issue featuring the City Traffic Technician who had conducted a traffic mitigation study for us. The study involved temporary driver feedback signs that collected traffic volume data and speeds in our community. We have 460 units (single-family, patio homes, and condos). We also have significant community amenities in our neighborhood, including walking paths, a pond, tennis courts, a playground, and a pool with a Club House so foot traffic is relatively high with residents of all ages walking with or without dogs, biking, scootering, or skateboarding.
The City and I led the wide ranging discussion of stemming the flow of speeders in our neighborhood after reviewing prior data. Based on that study, our Board's first attempt at traffic taming, was to recommend the City install driver feedback signs. The signs turn off at 11 p.m. and turn back on at 5:00 a.m. and do not require a neighborhood petition approving their installation. However, the City Technician shared his unsuccessful efforts to get homeowner approval to install large driver feedback radar signs on their property. The signs would have to be placed in homeowner’s yards, which are small on street frontage.
Over 30 people attended the meeting and emotions ran high. Perspectives ranged from “there isn’t a problem” and therefore “we should do nothing” to “we need to get City police stake-outs to write speeding tickets”. Some felt the situation was critical and that we weren’t counting the “near misses” and that it was only a matter of time before tragedy strikes. One member present finally said in frustration that he had lost a child (not on our streets) and those who hadn't were lucky.
Our neighborhood was built in the 1990s and was built out long ago. We are now experiencing turnover with many young families moving into the community. The amenities are wonderful for the children, but parents are concerned about traffic and observations of speeding particularly near the pool and playground.
We are not a through-way so the speeders are our neighbors and our service providers. Among all the options discussed, the Board's sense was that "speed tables" (not the hard bumps of yore) were the most favored option among those present and concern about speeding was validated at least among the majority of this group of homeowners. But the straw poll was not necessarily representative of the whole community.
What did the data say and is it compelling?
Our streets are fairly wide and there is little on street parking. There is little street friction, therefore, to cause the driver to feel the need to slow down. The posted speed limit in our community is 25 mph. During the period of this study, the majority of residents were within the posted speed limit. On two streets, the average speed was 24 mph. At the 85th percentile, used by traffic engineers as a benchmark for "safe, reasonable, prudent" speed, we found the majority were doing 28 mph or less. The other 15% were driving in excess of the norm at greater speeds. Of these, 43.7% were traveling greater than 25 and 8.1% were travelling at speeds greater than 30 mph. Roughly a third were travelling over the speed limit on two streets and on one, 43.7% were travelling in excess of the norm.
This later street connects to an arterial road with a stop light that favors demand on the arterial road. The “green time,” therefore, for egress out of our community is becoming increasingly problematic as growth continues and traffic volume on the arterial road grows with continued development. This causes the increased speeds on this connector street as people try catch the green light.
The bottom line is that the data analysis for our community met the three criteria qualifying us for City traffic mitigation based on volume and speed or distance and visibility.
What are our options?
What are all the options open to a community concerned about traffic safety in their neighborhood? We discussed many options and here is what I learned:
- Installing unwarranted stop signs, such as adding 4-way stops, should not be used as a speed control device according to City and Federal Highway Administration uniform standards. They are effective only in the immediate vicinity of the stop sign but encourage flagrant violation. They can also give a false sense of security in a pedestrian and an attitude of contempt in a motorist with tragic results.
- Driver feedback signs tend to be effective right where they are located only and typically reduce speed 1 mph. There are no consequences for speeding, so, driver awareness is the main benefit. Behavior change is another matter.
- Speed tables also reduce speed on average of 1-2 mph but the mitigation is not localized and is spread out along the street. In addition, one speed table can be identified as a raised crosswalk with different signage calling attention to the fact that it is a crosswalk so it would give better precaution at our pool and playground. We don’t meet the volume requirements to install a flashing crosswalk sign. The City traffic engineer decides which households would be included in a required petition for speed tables to be installed (could be frontage units only or whole neighborhood). Each house gets one vote. The City likes to have two-thirds in favor of this mitigation. The traffic engineer would decide whom to include in the petition and would administer the petition.
- Based on the meeting, our City Traffic Engineer is now working on improving the traffic signal timing for egress into and out of our neighborhood on to the arterial road to give us more green light time in off-peak hours. We suggested a turn light but the bar is high to secure that approval.
- It may be a good idea to temporarily deploy the driver feedback radar signs in the Fall when school starts up and again in the Spring when kids are back out on their bikes. The City is willing to do that for us. It might be a good idea to install a permanent driver feedback radar sign on the street adjacent to the pool in addition to the speed table/crosswalk signage if we can reach the threshold of two-thirds in favor in the community.
- The City of Fort Collins also has a host of collateral materials including yard signs and a package of information the City designed for a "Neighborhood Traffic Safety Program" that we can use in a community education campaign to increase awareness of speeding.
- The City of Fort Collins also created a “Traffic Tamers” program to improve the safety and livability of neighborhood streets. It is a neighborhood speed watch program that allows residents to use a radar gun to monitor speeding levels on residential streets. A letter from the Neighborhood Traffic Safety Committee is sent to registered owners of the vehicle observed speeding, and asks that all drivers of the vehicle obey the posted speed limit in residential areas. No fines or violations are cited on the registered owners driving record.
- In summary, we plan to conduct a community survey to get a broader sense of our community’s sense of safety and support for traffic mitigation.
It is important to remember that traffic mitigation is designed to mitigate the upper speeds--the top 15th percentile—even though the majority of homeowners are driving safely. Traffic taming is a pressing issuing for our communities as growth around us affects traffic volumes. We have a perceived problem, with evidence to support the perception but we do not have consensus on either the problem or the potential solutions.
Our future path is not yet clear. Our hot topic is still sizzling!
Patricia A. Book, Ph.D. is President of Willow Springs Community Association and serves on the CAI-RMC Board of Directors as a Community Association Volunteer Leader. She is a medical anthropologist by training with an academic career leading university professional and continuing education programs.