Council Recap: ‘Old town’ asks for traffic controls

Alex Sirney -- June 8th, 2010

Representatives called for traffic calming measures on streets in the residential neighborhoods southeast of downtown Harrisonburg Tuesday, days after an accident that sent a woman to the hospital with serious injuries.

Five people spoke during the public comment period, asking City Council for signs and physical deterrents like speed bumps to slow traffic in an area focusing around Franklin, Ott, Paul and Bruce Streets. Residents described the area as a common short cut for drivers looking to avoid traffic around downtown.

Bruce Street in downtown Harrisonburg. Photo by Kevin Steele.

This request follows Saturday’s traffic accident at the intersection of Franklin and Ott Streets that sent a Harrisonburg woman to the University of Virginia Medical Center with life-threatening injuries, according to The Daily News-Record.

Sandra Quigg, a resident of the area, spoke first and longest, asking Council to take steps to calm traffic in the area as well as develop a comprehensive plan for traffic calming. She also asked that steps be taken to expedite the process, expressing a fear that proposals would be bogged down in committee meetings.

Council members addressed her concerns and expressed a desire to move forward within the process in place. Residents are required to obtain signatures from representatives of 75 percent of 200 households affected and present the petition to the Department of Public Works. Quigg said residents had circulated a petition and were in the process of counting signatures, but she was confident that they had the 75 percent.

Quigg was supported by about 25 adults and children, which was almost all of the audience in attendance.

Other notable actions:

  • Council heard a proposal from the Department of Public Works to combine several existing plans into Streetscape Master Plan. The plan would help Public Works give consistent guidelines to new construction projects in the city. No motion was required and Council directed Staff to move forward.
  • Council approved 4-0 (Byrd – see below) a motion to move forward with a bond issue to fund the second phase of the Stone Spring-Erickson Road project. Money from the issue will allow the City to pay off some old bonds and take advantage of reduced interest rates. City Manager Kurt Hodgen said that the City will save about $300,000 per year in interest payments as a result.
  • Council approved 5-0 a motion to amend and re-enact the City Code forming the Traffic Safety Commission. The Commission will now be called the Harrisonburg Transportation Safety and Advisory Commission and will have the added responsibility of addressing bike and pedestrian issues.
  • Council member Ted Byrd was about 45 minutes late because of family commitments. Council was aware of this possibility before the meeting began.

City Council minutes are available online after they are approved at the subsequent meeting.

Thank you to Thato for letting me borrow a pen this evening.

25 Responses to “Council Recap: ‘Old town’ asks for traffic controls”

  1. julie says:

    Thanks to Quigg and also Heather Griscom for their work to get traffic slowed at this dangerous intersection. Hope that the Council does all it can to help before anyone else is injured.

  2. David Miller says:

    I’d like to visit the families with Wilt signs in old towne requesting this Big Government intervention in their neighborhood and ask them what part about Limited Government they didn’t understand ;) Do they support a tax increase to cover these expenses or is our local government just supposed to do more with less? …..insert digital sarcasm here

    • Alex Sirney says:

      Mayor Degner actually commented that road projects have been expedited in the past when communities have volunteered to help shoulder some of the cost.

  3. I would add to the support for something being done about this set of streets that have become de facto main thoroughfares, where clearly they should not be. When I and my wife raised this issue earlier with some city officials and others in the neighborhood, something we heard that was supposedly going to tilt against anything being done was a claim that the city police like to use these routes themselves for getting across town quickly. I certainly hope that this does not become a determining factor, given that the police should be on the side of safety rather than contributing to its lack, if only indirectly.

  4. David Miller says:

    As a resident of Broad Street I can tell you that this problem is not limited to Old Town. I remember when the city put the no thru traffic signs all over the Dogwood area. I assume they were having the same problems

  5. Brooke says:

    I agree – there’s no way this issue is isolated to Old Town. People ignore stop signs, speed, and use residential areas as throughways all over town.

    I think part of what’s contributing in Old Town are the hills involved. People come shooting down the hills, at sometimes 40-45 mph, and don’t stop before shooting on through the intersections.

    Maybe people in each of the other areas experiencing the problems can start petitions as well.

  6. William Knorpp says:

    I’m also a (relatively new) resident of Broad street, and the problem here is ridiculous.

    • David Miller says:

      Its practically a drag strip. Have you ever spotted a speed limit sign on the road, I can’t remember ever having seen one.

      • William Knorpp says:

        Any chance of us getting some of these traffic-slowing measures on Broad? I have the feeling that it might be harder to get the residents of Broad on-board with such a thing than it would be in Old Town.

        Seems to me that this neighborhood is on the cusp, and could go in a good direction or a bad direction; controlling the currently out-of-control traffic might help nudge things the right way.

        • Alex Sirney says:

          The speed limit is 25 mph on all residential roads in the city, so (according to some comments/implications at the meeting) it seems the city doesn’t necessarily see the need to post the limit everywhere.

          The way set out by Council is to get the petition with signatures and present it to Public Works. If you call the City Manager’s office, I’m sure they’ll help you get the process started.

      • William Knorpp says:

        David–
        If you’re so inclined, contact me about starting up some effort to get traffic dampening measures on Broad. I’m in the big white house adjacent to the Burger King exit/driveway.

        • Don Kidd says:

          Another thing that may help the Broad Street situation would be better timing of the lights along Mason. The driver coming from the side streets seem to get priority to the through traffic. It doesn’t seem uncommon for me to get stopped at each of the lights between Rock and Market. Often by someone making a “right on red” that has already cleared their side of the intersection. If we could keep traffic moving along Mason there would be no reason to travel Broad as a through street.

  7. Andy Perrine says:

    I live in Old Town and when walking around will routinely smile and flash a “two” and a “five” with my fingers when drivers go roaring by at 45-plus mph. More often than not these Friendly City dwellers will stop abruptly and threaten to beat me up for my suggestion that they drive the speed limit. If they have time to stop and threaten mayhem, I guess they’re really not in a hurry. So why speed?

    • Dany Fleming says:

      Andy, remember, your “25” looks like a “52” from the driver’s perspective. They may be upset that you’re encouraging them to speed.

      ….Also, the Preston Heights side of Paul St. and Myers Ave. are the recipients of pass-through speeders. Calming and re-direction efforts on that side may also help lessen pass-through speeders in Old Town.

      What’s been the effect of the Paul St. bump-outs?

      • Brooke says:

        Not much. People STILL fly down Paul Street. The only time it slows anyone down is if there’s a car coming the other way, and then the “who’s going to pull over to the side to let the other guy pass” chicken dance begins. Usually the wiser of the two drivers is who pulls over. The other just flies past.

        This becomes especially apparent in the winter months, when it’s icy. During this past winter, one resident ended up with a car on their front porch (after taking out some tree branches and shrubbery), and another resident ended up with a smashed up car, when someone careened into it because they were going too fast and lost control.

        Another problem is the cars parked along Ott Street close to the intersection. It makes it nearly impossible to see cars coming when trying to cross Ott at Paul – especially when heading East.

      • Andy Perrine says:

        Maybe they think I’m giving them the finger?

  8. Annie says:

    I would suggest four-way stop signs. While I understand some people may simply ignore the stop signs, most will not. I recently spent some time in Old Town Alexandria and the four-way stops seemed to work well. Stop signs would be less costly than bump-outs too.

  9. Anne Lorimer says:

    Is it possible for Old Town residents to request Harrisonburg police to lie in wait for and ticket speeding drivers? This seems like it would get habitual abusers to change their pattern, or at least their route, while also bringing in revenue for the city.

    Since it seems like a no-brainer, though, there’s probably a catch I haven’t thought of. (I don’t live in Old Town, so I can’t test it out.)

  10. Brooke says:

    Anne, I’m not sure that really qualifies as a “no-brainer.”

    For one thing, I’m fairly certain the police cannot put a dedicated patrol vehicle in Old Town, let alone every intersection in Old Town, which is what it would take to catch folks. Secondly, even if that were possible, there really aren’t many places for the cops to park that they wouldn’t be easily spotted, which would make it hard to “catch” people.

    I think there are other alternatives that don’t require a constant police presence in Old Town (or any other area facing similar problems).

  11. kuato says:

    I dont live in Old Town anymore, but I did live on the corner of Ott and Bruce for 12 months last year. In my experience, that was the worst place in town for dangerous driving. Bruce is a common cut-through, and despite the fact that it is a narrow road with terrible visibility, people just fly through there. I was afraid for my dogs and my son the whole time I lived there. I would definitely support some regulation.

    Secondly, in regards to the comment regarding the police using those cut-throughs, that was certainly a major problem. Police cars were absolutely the worst offenders on Bruce. Several flew through there each day at speeds around 45 miles an hour. At the very least, I would like to see the police setting a better example.

    • Indeed, I agree, and my comment about police was specifically directed at Bruce Street, which is an especially narrow street. If people think the situation of parked cars blocking vision at Ott and Franklin is bad, it is even worse at Ott and Bruce, although there is curb construction going on there right now that is blocking the usual parkers who blind the intersection.

  12. Scott says:

    Kuato – I lived at the same intersection at one point and routinely saw the same behavior from Harrisonburg’s finest. I now live on the west side of town and have seen multiple police cars flying down Chicago Ave at speeds exceeding 55 miles per hour.

  13. Anne Lorimer says:

    Constant police presence at every intersection would indeed be overkill. But police in other cities often mount so-called ‘sting’ operations: within a high-violation area, staking out one lurking spot, for one afternoon — or three spots for three afternoons in the course of a week. Sometimes the stings are announced in advance to create a deterrent effect. Either way, word does get around, and violators become more wary. Here’s an example of a stop sign sting (this one using warnings rather than fines).

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