Dependable Erection

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Pace Cars

Spend any time reading any of Durham's lively neighborhood listservs, or even just talking to your neighbor for a few minutes following your team's elimination from the NCAA tournament, and the problem of speeding, especially on Durham's neighborhood streets, is going to come up. If i happen to be the person you're speaking with, it'll come up rather quickly, but regardless, sooner or later, someone will mention that they were out walking the dog and some idiot blew by them at 55 miles an hour in a 25 mph zone, possibly getting airborne over a speed hump down the street which was installed precisely for the purpose of encouraging aforementioned idiot to maintain a reasonable speed.

It's a problem with multiple causes, and hence, multiple solutions. In some cases there's a conflict over what the purpose of the road is. North Duke St. and Guess Road, for example, are five lanes wide, with unbroken center left turn lanes. NCDOT designed those roads to move as many people as possible between North Durham and I-85 during rush hour. The rest of the time, all that wide open asphalt, with few traffic lights and fewer crosswalks, is an invitation to cruise at 50 mph and higher, despite the posted 35 limit. The one-way pairs of Duke and Gregson, and Roxboro and Mangum, serve a similar function between I-85 and the Durham Freeway. The proposed design for the widened Alston Ave looks very much like the recently widened Guess Rd. and one imagines that traffic will function similarly should this design actually be built.

But even on roads which might appear to be less inviting to speeders, like Club Blvd., or Markham Ave, which are narrower and lined with parked cars, speeding is an issue. At last Monday's Coffee with Council for District 2, traffic calming and pedestrian safety was the single most discussed issue, raised by more than half a dozen speakers from as many different neighborhoods.

Bad road design can only be blamed for so much of our speeding problems. Lax enforcement of existing laws is also a factor. Community tolerance of speeding is another. Combine all of these, and you end up with a local environment in which a high percentage of people behind the wheel have no qualms about cutting through your neighborhood surface streets at freeway speeds.

That's what makes the new Durham Pace Car program so interesting. Durham drivers participating in the program slap a yellow magnet on their cars, like the one above. They agree to drive the speed limit (and not run red lights or stop signs, yield to pedestrians, etc.), especially on neighborhood streets. They have no enforcement capabilities, and there's no hot line to the police department when someone passes you on Gregson at 50. But, as people make a commitment to drive at safe speeds in Durham's neighborhoods, and a decision to be visible about it, steps are taken to change the culture which allows a relative handful of idiots to force the city to spend scarce resources on physical traffic calming measures.

I've heard some stories from Pace Car drivers of other people getting pissed off when stuck behind them, pulling alongside at the next light and flipping them off. I haven't seen anything like that in my first week with the sticker on my car.

Hopefully, we'll be seeing a lot more of these around town in the coming months. It would be helpful if the Durham Police would make the program a little more prominent on their website. Right now you have to download the pdf, or call and ask to have a copy of the brochure mailed to you. Fill it out, return it to Officer Hester, and wait for your magnet to arrive in the mail.

Sticking a copy of the brochure in the next round of water bills would be a good thing. Contacting neighborhood associations and making sure articles run in neighborhood newsletters would help, too.

I've long said that changing the culture in which speeding is OK will take a decade or so. I recall living in Phoenix, AZ, seeing police at every elementary school during drop-off and pick-up hours, enforcing the 15 mph limit ruthlessly. I remember being shocked while, standing on the curb, traffic in both directions stopped and waved me across Van Buren street. The Pace Car program is a good first step.

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  • Asking citizens to enforce traffic regulations by becoming rolling speed bumps is a disaster waiting to happen.

    A co-workers car was keyed by someone after they put the sticker on. Just wait until the first road rage incident and something more serious occurs.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:27 PM  

  • I haven't exceeded the speed limit in over two years. (I haven't been late for anything, either :-) I did notice some people getting upset, but that was *before* I put a Pace Car sticker on my bumper.

    Here's a tip: Cruise control works great, even at 25 mph.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:25 PM  

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