This month, the city is starting a new Neighborhood Traffic Calming process intended to make things more transparent and predictable.
According to the report presented to the city council in August, “The new process to intake, review, and implement traffic calming on neighborhood streets will provide a more proactive, data-driven, transparent, and equitable process that is easy for community members, their neighborhood organizations, and city employees that are implementing it.”
It is also intended to be a more effective use of limited resources.
“Public works receives approximately 2,500 requests annually for safety and traffic calming,” said public works engineer Jennifer Lowry. “To date the process has been very informal.” Requests have been taken individually on a case-by-case basis. Of those requests, due to available funding, she estimates that 10 to 20 calming projects are completed each year.
As of Sept. 15, anyone can make traffic calming requests online, or through 311. Those requests made by Nov. 1, 2022, will be considered for construction in 2023.
According to the report this process will help the city “make street changes that support slower and safer traffic speeds and/or discourage cut-through traffic on our urban neighborhood streets,” and will support the public works department commitment to “adding more traffic calming across the city in support of the city’s updated speed limits and Vision Zero traffic safety goals.
“The goal of this effort is to create a better process to vet the requests that come into us in a transparent and equitable manner,” said Lowry. Going forward all requests will be recorded and shared online and placed on a map that anyone with internet access can view. Ward 12 Council Member Andrew Johnson, who chairs the public works city council committee, said the process “will bring order out of the chaos of the 2,500 requests.”
CHANGES MADE AFTER COMMITTEE INPUT
This new process has been two years in the making. A draft was shared with the council, advisory groups and the public in 2021. The city’s pedestrian advisory committee (PAC) reviewed the draft last year and raised concerns they shared in January.
“PAC did review a draft of the neighborhood traffic calming request program,” said Peter Vader, the group’s chair and a Hale Page Diamond Lake resident. Vader reported that the group felt that traffic calming in general is good, but was concerned about the requirement of neighborhood association approval first and delays that could create. Additionally, he said, “We advised against calming measures that end up diverting even more car pollution onto already-busy streets of dense population (often poor).”
Among other things, the committee’s resolution said that the city should “ensure the right of all people – including those who are poor and/or disabled – to move freely and without fear of injury or death,” and “ensure that implemented measures do not harm community health by diverting traffic onto dense corridors where the majority of pedestrians severe injuries and deaths occur and are already subjected to higher concentrations of motor vehicles.”
“The updated traffic calming process removes the neighborhood organization requirement, which was a PAC request and a common theme in our engagement,” said Public Works Vision Zero Program Coordinator Ethan Fowley. “I will note,” he said, “our Vision Zero efforts prioritize safety improvements on high injury streets, which are all busier streets. We are keeping that priority while also making sure we have a way to fairly and equitably address traffic calming and safety needs on neighborhood streets, as well.”
SPEED HUMPS, TRAFFIC CIRCLES AND MORE
Because those streets are already getting attention and resources, the new process will not apply to designated “high injury” streets that are a focus of the Vision Zero program. It will also not apply to municipal state aid (MSA) funded roads, those owned by the county, state or other agency, or those under construction. Still, an estimated 1,100 miles of city streets will qualify as local residential, or neighborhood, streets.
Improvements could include pavement markings, speed humps, raised pedestrian crossings, curb extensions, pinch points, traffic circles, median refuge islands, or the conversion of a street to a one‐way or a two‐way street. Additional signage or the more temporary installation of posts or bollards could also be used.
Although any community member can fill out a request form, the city will require that all applicants provide signatures from at least five other households or businesses that show support for the application. If an application makes it though a preliminary screening scoring process, the city will then hold a community meeting to get more input and support from the neighborhood on their traffic safety concerns before identifying recommended solutions and final design. These will then be shared at a second community meeting. Without community support at that time, the application will not move forward.
Under the process, all requests that come in before a September deadline each year will be reviewed for possible action the following year. Staff will screen and score each application to see if the location qualifies and meets a minimum threshold for needing traffic calming. Applications that score highest will move to a data collection and design phase, and be considered for implementation the following year.
The city plans to contact each applicant to let them know the status of their application. Applications that pass the initial screening but are not selected for implementation in their first year will be reconsidered in the following second year.
$100,000 SET ASIDE
The number of traffic improvements that could be completed each year will be dependent on costs and funding. “We have committed to dedicating a minimum of $100,000 of existing operating funds to the 2023 implementation, hopefully more if we are able,” said Lowry. “We are also looking into the eligibility and potential of grant funding.”
Several council members asked about funding and how the city could increase the number of applications that could be funded. Ward 1 Council Member Elliot Payne asked about increasing the number of calming projects a year. Ward 13 Council Member Linea Palmisano said, “I would support a larger sum for getting to more of the new traffic calming requests that come from the community, which I think has quite a backlog.”
Johnson said he is interested in building the “capacity to look proactively at roads without requests.”
Lowry said, “This could be a benchmarking year,” and that the better data that will be collected this year from requests and results could be used to inform future funding considerations.
“As this body is considering the budget and thinking of future investments, especially as we have biennial budgeting now,” Johnson said, “there is strong interest in expanding capacity.”
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