by Josh Lanier
Cornelius town officials have offered to install a three-way stop on Westmoreland Lake Drive to address residents’ concerns about ever increasing and faster moving traffic.
But officials say the width and design of the street does not lend itself to speed humps, which many of the residents would prefer.
Last fall, Cornelius officials began studying traffic volumes on the street, which is the main entrance to the Westmoreland community off West Catawba Avenue, and the route used by residents of an apartment complex built at the end of the subdivision. But problems with a computer in a speed trailer delayed recommendations from the town.
The residents’ concerns crystallized on Easter Sunday morning when a man driving a Ford Expedition almost hit another car, knocked over a mailbox in one yard and then slammed into an oak tree. Police said the driver was intoxicated and traveling about 45 mph.
Karl Roe, whose tree protected his home from the runaway Ford on April 24, wrote in an email, “I consider this a ‘win.’ The city has agreed upon receiving yet another letter from our (homeowners association) confirming a stop sign within 20 feet of the crash.”
Not everyone sees the three-way stop as a real solution, however.
Huntersville Transportation Engineer Justin Carroll said he wants people to stop thinking of stop signs as traffic-calming devices.
Along with being forbidden by federal traffic codes, “installing unwarranted stop signs can breed bad habits,” he said. “When drivers approach unwarranted stop signs, typically no cars are on the side street to yield the right of way to, so the roll-through stop is created. This roll-through stop can lead to not stopping at all. This is where the danger is created.”
In Huntersville, much like Cornelius, transportation planners must weigh connectivity, safety and congestion. It’s a tight-rope act with an exploding population, but some residents feel it is life and death.
Traffic engineers have a number of tricks at their disposal to slow down speeders on existing roads: chokers, or a narrowing of the road; speed cushions, similar to road humps but mobile and more expensive; and mini-circles, similar to roundabouts. But the one that people most easily recognize are speed humps, or oversized asphalt speed bumps.
Last month, Huntersville approved speed humps for Sherwood Drive, much to the delight of many neighbors who pleaded with the town board to act “before someone gets killed.” But going from problem to solution in the world of transportation takes a number of steps and can take some time.
“It can usually take about seven to nine months to go through the steps we need to go through and then get approved by the town board,” Carroll said. “That’s not including the time it takes to construct it.”
It begins with an email or call to officials or a study conducted by roadway planners. Carroll gets several emails and calls a month from residents asking for help with speeders and traffic along their roads. Sometimes he’ll spot an issue while looking at a traffic study.
Roads must meet certain thresholds to be considered for speed abatements. For instance, 85 percent of vehicles on that road must exceed the speed limit by 6 miles per hour, a common speed measure used by engineers. Transportation officials will hide radar detectors that count cars along the road to collect data and count the number of passing cars. Along the 25-mile per hour Sherwood Drive, 85 percent of drivers went 10 miles over the limit.
“That’s pretty out of the ordinary,” Carroll said. “Generally, what we see in these neighborhoods … are a handful of people driving too fast. The majority of drivers travel near the posted speed limit or lower.”
In those instances, Carroll will reach out to the Huntersville police if they’re not already involved.
“Speeding is a ‘we have to see it to ticket it’ kind of problem,” Huntersville Police Chief Philip Potter said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t have ways to get people’s attention.”
Huntersville police will stake out problem areas with patrol cars and radar trailers and speak with residents about the issue. They’ve even been known to give some residents radar guns to clock speeders, but Potter said his staff doesn’t use that option often.
At the Glens in Birkdale Common, a retirement community, residents complained several times about one car that tore through the quiet neighborhood. They got the driver’s license number, and an officer paid him a visit to remind him of the town’s and state’s traffic laws.
“That’s not uncommon,” Potter said. “Traffic was the no. 1 issue when I got here, and it’s still one of our top priorities. Everyone takes this very seriously.”
– Frank DeLoache contributed to this article.
Is your road in need of traffic calming?
Huntersville passed a list of criteria earlier this year to guide residents through the process. It features a number of steps, including holding speed awareness sessions, speaking with police and getting residential participation to stop the problem. To read the full document visit www.huntersvilleherald.com or the town’s website, www.huntersville.org.