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Cruise Control

Fed up with traffic on their streets, some Southland homeowners are getting help from local governments.

November 12, 2000|MARCIE GEFFNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Are speed jockeys terrorizing your once-quiet residential street? Are commuters using your street as a cut-through route to avoid a traffic-choked freeway or boulevard? Are you concerned about traffic safety in front of your own home?

If you're facing a traffic crisis, help may be as close as your city department of transportation. City traffic-management programs are posting new "stop" and "speed limit" signs, painting narrower street striping, installing roadway medians and speed humps, which are slightly broader and flatter than speed bumps, and using a number of other strategies to reduce traffic overload on residential streets throughout the Southland. Collectively, these strategies are known as "traffic calming."

Before a city will take action on a traffic problem, concerned residents must jump through any number of hoops, the nature of which varies from one jurisdiction to another. The process might include petitions signed by property owners, approvals from a traffic-safety committee or city council, a study of traffic conditions on the street and an engineering study to determine whether installation of speed humps or other devices is feasible.

Some cities allow renters to participate in the process, but others only involve property owners. Some cities pick up the tab for what are known as traffic calming devices while others expect the property owners to make voluntary contributions toward the cost of the installations. And some cities emphasize the installation of physical devices while others call upon local law enforcement as the first line of defense against speeding on residential streets.

Homeowners Sometimes Are Tapped for Funds

In the city of Ventura, for instance, property owners must reach a two-thirds agreement before any permanent traffic calming devices are installed on their street, and currently, the owners are expected to pay the full cost of installation.

The voluntary pay-it-yourself policy has proved controversial, and the City Council is expected to review it along with some other aspects of the program early next year.

"The devices cost from $1,000 to as much as $50,000. One neighborhood has tried two different [types of temporary] devices, but can't seem to get the two-thirds level [of agreement]. And some people living on the street believe they shouldn't have to pay for basic traffic safety," says City Transportation Engineer Thomas Mericle.

Riverside, which installs about two dozen speed humps each year, expects property owners to contribute about one-fourth of the total cost, which amounts to $350 per hump. Engineering Tech II Dave Chapman says gathering the signatures generally is more challenging than collecting the funds.

"Be sure to get the property owners' signatures because we check them," he advises homeowners. "Tell [the other owners on the street] it's not necessary for them to pay their share of the cost because it's not that expensive. For 10 houses, it's only $35 apiece. If two or three of the homes don't want to pay, [someone else] can pick it up. It's more important to get the signatures."

Los Angeles used to require payment from owners in some situations, but now picks up the full tab for speed humps that are deemed warranted on the basis of a needs-assessment study, which reviews the street's traffic patterns and traffic capacity, the incidence of speeding and the number and type of traffic-related accidents that have occurred on the street.

Depending on the budget cycle and the availability of funds, homeowners may wait a year or longer after final approval before their speed humps are installed. The waiting period can be bypassed if the owners volunteer to pay for the humps themselves.

The resolution of most residential traffic problems begins with a written request from one or more local residents to the city's traffic engineering section. In Ventura, the process starts with the submission of a petition-like letter signed by three to five property owners asking the city to evaluate their concerns about speeding or traffic volume on their street. The city then completes an initial evaluation and holds a neighborhood meeting to discuss the traffic problems and possible solutions.

Ventura's traffic calming policy has four levels. Levels one and two include increased law enforcement, additional "speed limit" signs, re-striped lanes, restrictions on commercial vehicles and a visit from the city's radar trailer, which educates motorists by flashing the zoned speed limit and the motorist's own speed on the side of the trailer.

Levels three and four include turning restrictions, speed humps, traffic circles, street closures and the like. During the program's three years of existence, more than 20 streets have been evaluated, with all but one resolved through level one or two measures, according to Mericle.

Traffic calming assessments in San Bernardino also start with a written request.

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