May 23, 2012 by Steve Winkler
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Any discussion of the automobile will at some point become controversial and emotionally charged. They’re a blessing and a curse. We hate them, love them; we love to hate them. We can’t live with ’em; can’t live without ’em.
Cities, large and small, around the world devote exorbitant amounts of attention to the car’s pollution, regulation, parking, roads, and traffic control. One device to reduce speed and volume is the “traffic calming” device introduced in 1970 known as the speed bump.
Speed bumps, speed humps and speed tables began appearing in Fayetteville several years ago and the bumps arrived last year to West Fork. First, residents of Doke Street requested and got them, followed shortly by requests from Pleasant Street and Riverwood Street residents.
Not everyone thought the “sleeping policeman” as they’re called in Europe were a good idea. Fire Chief McCorkel spoke against them at several council meetings noting the damage they can cause emergency vehicles and also resulting in slower response time. At the April council meeting it was reported that “while it is a common practice to cut the middle out of a speed bump for kids on bikes and motorcycles, the removal of half the bump on Pleasant Street was not done by the city. He [Bartholomew] said it was reported that someone with a pick ax removed a portion of the bump in the wee hours of the morning.”
But citizen concern for the safety of the children seems to have prevailed.
A renewed awareness of the topic surfaced at the May city council meeting when a property owner/landlord presented a letter objecting to several aspects of the three (3) speed bumps installed on dead-end, one-block-long Clifton Place.
His letter highlighted two concerns. First, he questioned the need of having three speed bumps on such a short, dead end street. He suggested issuing traffic tickets would not only generate income for the city but eliminate the need to spend “thousands of dollars on materials, machinery and manpower to create a situation that is irritating to the innocent residents and damaging to their vehicles,” adding that, “punishing the many to control the few is not the American way.”
His second concern was less ideological and more practical. The investment/income property he owns at the end of the street is effected by “these excessively large speed bumps [which] decrease the desirability and hence, property values, of all the homes at the end of the street. ” Our internet research found that to be accurate. Realtor groups consistently link speed bumps to neighborhood undesirability. And, he suggested, the taxpaying property owner should be considered a stake holder any city action that will affect his property value. His complaint was that the council relied on a petition supporting the installation of the speed bumps by the street’s residents, without considering the opinions of property owners who lived elsewhere. It is a public street, after all, built and maintained by taxpayers regardless of where they live.
We strongly support full rights for renters and leasees under the law; civil rights, voting rights, criminal rights, etc. The rights of the landlord, however, are accompanied by certain unique responsibilities. We see this in other areas of blurred ownership rights and responsibilities. The recent change in Washington County’s junkyard ordinance requires the owner, not the renter, to be held responsible for cleaning up the mess. In Fayetteville and most cities the property owner is held accountable for code violations (nuisance property, mowing, trash) and will be charged for the violation even if the renter is the culprit. Water bills in some cities, Winslow for example, are the ultimate responsibility of the landlord not the renter. This idea has been discussed for West Fork to help deter city losses from deadbeat water customers. Landlords have traditionally opposed the idea, preferring the municipality absorb the loss rather than including a water deposit along with the normal security deposit.
Speed bumps are clearly controversial. Many people see them as a blessing, and a way to ensure neighborhood streets are safe. Others including organizations such as the National Motorist Association, the Americans with Disabilities, Access Safe Streets and others point to the damage and vehicle maintenance, increased air pollution, emergency vehicle delays and questionable positive results.
The root of the speed bump issue in West Fork is the same as it is with most problems in West Fork; there is no written policy to guide action.
What are the criteria for installing a speed bump? Who is to be considered a stakeholder in the decision? Police and Fire Departments, street residents, property owners, the Street Department, the mayor, Ward council member, anonymous compliant?
How much does a speed bump cost? What about using pre manufactured, removable bumps? Shouldn’t the bumps be painted or marked? Should there be warning signs. Yes, there are industry specifications for speed bumps. Are they effective? Can speed bumps generate energy? Huh?
Are there alternative methods for calming traffic that would be just as effective but cheaper?
Here’s our humble suggestion for West Fork.
Someone, perhaps Charlie Rossetti, should instruct the head of the Street Department, Michael “Butch” Bartholomew to do some online research of the issue. Develop criteria for installing the bumps. Find out what other cities are doing. Explore the options and/or alternatives to speed bumps. Search the internet for the best speed bump bargains.