Budget cuts flatten plans to build more speed bumps

June 30, 2010 

All over Anchorage, from Sand Lake to Eagle River, people are calling the city and discovering that the speed hump program, aimed at slowing traffic primarily in residential neighborhoods, was eliminated in budget cuts, city officials say.

The administration cut speed bumps and all other stand-alone traffic calming projects to save $133,000 in operating expenses, said city budget director Cheryl Frasca.

Traffic calming demanded the oversight of a full-time person, and that person's job was trimmed at the end of 2009, which brought the program to a halt.

Now that it's summer and the roads are clear of the natural speed reducers ice and snow, the decision is not sitting well with some residents. Forty of them have put in requests for speed humps since April, says a city traffic official.

Judy Voorhis is one of them. She lives on a pothole-wracked, no-curb section of Honeysuckle Street that she says attracts drivers racing to cut over from Dimond High School to Dimond Boulevard. There are children living all up and down the road, she said. She sometimes approaches unmarked police cars and begs officers to come ticket speeders.

"I just really feel if we could get some kind of speed bumps, it would help," she said.

Adele Landroche has been trying for years to get something done on Blackberry Street in her Sand Lake neighborhood. The problem is a short piece of the road that curls back to Jewel Lake Road via 74th Avenue, and is used as a detour route. "There have been some close calls" due to speeders, she said.

The Northeast Community Council just passed a resolution asking for speed bumps on a road in Muldoon where a 6-year-old girl riding her bicycle was hit by an SUV in May.

Sen. Bill Wielchowski, who represents the northeast area, shepherded through a $350,000 state grant designated for traffic calming in East Anchorage, and is not at all happy to find the city without a traffic calming staffer.

Acting city traffic engineer John Crapps says it was one of few programs in his department that is not required by code and was therefore available for cutting. The traffic department must maintain traffic signals, striping and road signs, and make sure new development meets standards, he says. It's legal responsibilities don't include installing speed humps.

Greg Jones in his job as city community planning and development director is in charge of the traffic department. He said the city will find an appropriate way to use the eastside grant, and another smaller one for Abbott Loop, but it will take more time than it would have before.

He is interested in the city trying out some flashing signs that could be fixed to posts. There would be a sign that displays the speed limit, and then a flashing sign that showed drivers their own speed. If people are going way too fast, some versions of these signs flash in red: "Slow down," Jones said.

There are flashing speed signs already on the road to Kincaid Park, and on the road to Government Hill.

Wielechowski contends flashing signs would not be effective, and doesn't think they'd be permissible under the state grant. The grant language specifies: "Improvements are expected to include lighting, chokers, speed humps and sidewalks."

Traffic calming as defined in a city manual involves creating barriers to make it hard or impossible to drive at high speeds, or to discourage taking short-cuts through neighborhoods. Traffic calming measures can range from speed bumps that cost less than $10,000, to more elaborate measures that cost many tens of thousands of dollars, such as traffic circles; raised, red-tinted crosswalks; or a design that chokes down the width of a street at intersections,

Speed humps have been installed in 202 spots in Anchorage neighborhoods, said Crapps. The city began laying down permanent humps in 2002, after testing cumbersome but temporary speed bumps in different areas.

They definitely work, there's no question, though Crapps said some of them can pose drainage problems.

"From my own experience ... having driven over speed humps, you can't drive over them too fast," said Anchorage police Sgt. Justin Doll, the traffic unit supervisor.

Government Hill was one of the first communities to get them. Bob French, Government Hill Community Council president, said in his mind, speed bumps are the only thing that's been effective in that neighborhood to slow drivers down.

He doesn't think much of a flashing sign installed on the road to Government Hill. "It hasn't worked in the winter time at all. ... It's just blank."

Anchorage Assembly members seem to have mixed feelings about the staff cut that affected traffic calming.

Some new members, including chairman Dick Traini and West-sider Ernie Hall, hadn't heard of it.

Patrick Flynn from the downtown-Government Hill district said he'd like to explore whether neighborhoods that have access to money can get permits to install their own humps, while adhering to city rules.

Assemblyman Chris Birch representing South Anchorage said he's willing to give portable speed signs a try.

"I'm interested in seeing how effective that actually is."

Harriet Drummond, representing West Anchorage and Spenard, doesn't believe flashing signs work. "Those things are obnoxious. Pretty soon you get used to them flashing at you. It does nothing to slow you down."

Landroche, who's fighting traffic problems on Blackberry, thinks the city's budget priorities are off.

"I watched them planting and watering flowers. I don't have any problem with that, but if you have to cut services, do you cut things that are beautiful? Or (instead) sweep sidewalks so that kids don't get hurt on gravel, and put in speed humps?"


Find Rosemary Shinohara online at adn.com/contact/rshinohara or call her at 257-4340.


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