Wednesday, August 29, 2012

When dogma deludes reason

On the evening of Aug 28, 2012 we attended a meeting with around 20+ people from my neighborhood and some city employees, the Police Chief (who lives on East Washington Street) and the Mayor.  The premise of the meeting was to convince the City of Bloomington, IL they should provide an exception to existing Traffic Calming Policy and remove speed humps installed in 1999 on nearby Country Club Place (a road that connects East Washington Street and Towanda).

Country Club Place was suffering from a traffic problem.  Specifically speeding which the City measured and calculated a 76% violation rate (the highest violation rate measured in 1999 among all the traffic studies conducted in Bloomington, IL).  The speed humps had the intended effect and reduced the violation rate to 8% and reduced the number of vehicles on Country Club Place from over 4000 to around 1800.  Country Club Place also has no sidewalks so pedestrians are either walking on the street, on the Country Club grounds or someone's front lawn.

The FGNA (Founders Grove Neighborhood Association) Secretary also provided a petition signed by over 150 people supporting an exception to existing policy.  The petition was also available to sign at an FGNA ice cream social event (Disclosure: I never actually saw the petition but the FGNA Secretary asserted the petition at the beginning of the meeting and the FGNA posted on their facebook page that the petition would be available to sign at the ice cream social which I also did not attend).

Some of the "facts" (and I use the term loosely) presented to support the premise of granting an exception to existing policy by various meeting attendees including the FGNA Secretary include:
  1. The speed humps on Country Club Place meant that the vehicles that used to take Country Club Place were now taking East Washington instead.  
  2. That the speed humps should not have been placed on Country Club Place because the policy was for streets with less than 2000 vehicles a day.  
  3. That traffic studies were not conducted on East Washington Street after the speed humps were installed.  Implying the City traffic engineers had not done their due diligence analyzing traffic patterns after the fact.  Thereby letting the traffic problem fester on E Washington for over a decade.
  4. There are no speed limit signs on East Washington Street between Clinton and Veterans Parkway.  The implication being that people do not know the speed limit is 30 MPH.
  5. Because of the high volume of vehicles on East Washington Street it is dangerous for children in the neighborhood going to/from Washington Elementary School.  
  6. The traffic calming never should have been conducted on Country Club Place because of the location of the Washington Elementary School.  The assertion that traffic was diverted from Country Club Place onto East Washington thereby negating the necessity to have traffic calming.
  7. Recent legislation introduced to the State of Illinois to allow for speed cameras in downstate Illinois had been passed.  We should use speed cameras on Country Club Place instead of speed humps.
The City does have one option which is to widen Washington Street (and possibly raise the speed limit).  People questioned why would you widen a street that is so dangerous to begin with?

The City Manager conceded that he could hire an external traffic engineer to review the situation and see if what the City is doing in terms of traffic calming and if may be some other "creative solutions" this independent engineer could recommend.  There was no time left to discuss how much this independent engineer is going to cost the City.  

The Rest of the Story

As provided in the previous link the City of Bloomington, IL has a well defined Traffic Calming Policy and it is used by the City when traffic calming is needed.  Let us look at some of the "facts" presented by attendees:  

  1. The speed humps on Country Club Place meant that the vehicles that used to take Country Club Place were now taking East Washington instead.

    This turned out to be false.  Although the data from 1999 is not posted online the most current data from 2009 counted a total of 10,600 vehicles on the section of East Washington people were concerned about.  In 1999 before the speed humps were installed the count was over 11,000.  There was a brief spike in the measurement taken after the speed humps were installed (in 2001 if I remember correctly) but soon fell.
    .
  2. That the speed humps should not have been placed on Country Club Place because the policy was for streets with less than 2000 vehicles a day.

    This fact is debatable.  Current traffic calming policy states no more than 2000 vehicles a day.  No one had a copy of the 1999 Traffic Calming Policy and so we don't know if the policy had been revised since 1999.  Or even if there was a policy in 1999.  We don't know what we don't know.  Either way, traffic today on Country Club Place is at less than 2000 vehicles a day and within policy.
    .
  3. That traffic studies were not conducted on East Washington Street after the speed humps were installed.  Implying the City traffic engineers had not done their due diligence analyzing traffic patterns after the fact.  Thereby letting the traffic problem fester on E Washington for over a decade.

    As we saw from point #1 this assertion was false. Traffic analysis had been conducted in subsequent years with the latest data from 2009.  Needless to say people then vocalized they did not think the vehicle counts the City provided were accurate. The City traffic engineer can't win, can he?
    .
  4. There are no speed limit signs on East Washington Street between Clinton and Veterans Parkway.  The implication being that people do not know the speed limit is 30 MPH.

    This one I was scratching my head on.  There is a speed limit sign just a few feet east of Washington Elementary School.  False.
    .
  5. Because of the high volume of vehicles on East Washington Street it is dangerous for children in the neighborhood going to/from Washington Elementary School.

    Safety is a concern to most reasonable people.  And certainly having children in a dangerous situation is not good.  However, if East Washington Street is so dangerous where are the accident and fatality statistics?  Have children been run over since the speed humps were installed on Country Club Place in 1999?  No data was presented at the meeting in support of this assertion.

    Likewise, as previously stated, there was less traffic in 2009 than there was a decade earlier.  The streets are no more dangerous due to vehicular volume than they were in 1999.
    .
  6. The traffic calming never should have been conducted on Country Club Place because of the location of the Washington Elementary School.  The assertion that traffic was diverted from Country Club Place onto East Washington thereby negating the necessity to have traffic calming.

    We already know from the vehicle count data that the latter part of the assertion is not true.  Traffic was not diverted to the Towanda/Washington intersection because current vehicle counts are less than they were in 1999 before the speed humps were installed.

    As for the location of Washington Elementary school it is actually two blocks away from Country Club Place and the street in between is East Jefferson.  Therefore the school really isn't located that close.
    .
  7. Recent legislation introduced to the State of Illinois to allow for speed cameras in downstate Illinois had been passed.  We should use speed cameras on Country Club Place instead of speed humps.

    I'm still waiting on confirmation of this fact.  While legislation was introduced by our State Representative, Dan Brady, no one from the City was aware the legislation had passed and were positive they would have been contacted if that was the case.  One can only conclude this was a falsehood provided as a bargaining chip against the use of speed humps when the alternative to use speed cameras is currently not available to the City.

    Update from Dan Brady's office:  Illinois General Assembly bill passed the House and failed in the Senate.  Our own Sen Bill Brady voted against.  
Overall, it was interesting to see how many neighbors were ready to trample established City policy and deny the residents of Country Club Place a remedy to what was a serious speeding problem with legal traffic calming devices.  Especially when the traffic problems on East Washington have nothing to do with speed humps.  In fact, the primary problem in our neighborhood is that people do not drive the speed limit.  More than one neighbor stated they purposely drove 30 MPH to slow down the speeders behind them.  Hm, where have I heard about a speeding problem before?  

Conclusion
This is where dogma (a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds) deluded reason.  We could have discussed productive traffic management solutions for our neighborhood and we did not.  Instead we wasted an hour of our day.  That is the sad reality.  Even worse, the concession to have an independent traffic engineer review the situation is more tax dollars being spent (or wasted depending on your viewpoint).  Quite frankly, unless the City engineers have made some serious mistake (which I highly doubt because I know for a fact the traffic patterns were reviewed in 2007 over another controversial neighborhood traffic issue) so this data has been looked at several times.  In addition, the Mayor and City Manager both said speeding is a problem all over Bloomington.  

A footnote here.  The City Manager mentioned that the Country Club Place residents (which the traffic calming policy states 90% of them have to agree to remove the speed humps) "got wind" of what the Founders Grove neighborhood (including the FGNA Secretary) were plotting and were mobilizing their own counter effort to keep the speed humps.  Let us hope they don't find a policy exception for East Washington Street the independent traffic engineer can hang his hat on...