Dependable Erection

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Could it really be that a senior Durham Police official told a neighborhood association group that the department is not able to enforce Durham's traffic laws and speed limits due to manpower and prioritization issues?

I've only spoken to one person who was at the meeting (although it's someone who i've come to trust implicitly), but if that in fact happened, it's troublesome on so many levels it's hard to know where to start.

(ADDING): My source indicates that the senior police official referred to above was more indicating that the problem lay within the courts. IE - it may not be worth DPD's time and manpower to write these citations if the courts are going to allow them to be bargained down to equipment failures, or if the violators are going to simply ignore the citations, knowing they'll never be tracked down anyway. While this mitigates somewhat the statements that prompted this rant, i don't think it solves the problem or even points the way to a successful solution. The DPD's job is to enforce the laws, including traffic laws. They need to write the citations. If it turns out that the court system for collecting those fines and/or throwing chronic violators in jail is broken, that's a completely different problem.

First, speeding, especially on neighborhood surface streets, is so endemic that the city is unable to fund all of its traffic calming requests. The waiting list for speed humps, for example, is so long that the conventional wisdom regarding their effectiveness has had time to evolve while some neighborhoods are still waiting for their installation. The huge Club Blvd. project near Oval Dr. Park is supposed to be a model for similar traffic calming measures in other parts of town, but it took years to find the money for that project, and there's not much left for other projects. The perceived need to slow down traffic on our surface streets is so great that over 1200 Durham residents have signed on to the PACE Car program, voluntarily and publicly pledging to drive within the speed limit at all times in the city. Believe me, we don't do that because we like making sure we leave five minutes earlier to be on time for all of our appointments.


People who work on pedestrian and other, non-automotive transportation issues, like to talk about the three Es: Education, Engineering, and Enforcement. In our town, education about things like pedestrian rights-of-way in crosswalks is virtually non-existent. Similarly, the engineering of many of our roads (and i'm thinking about N. Duke St., Guess Rd., Roxboro {north and south} as examples) encourages speeding while discouraging pedestrian activity. That pretty much leaves enforcement as the sole means of making any sort of difference in the current, unacceptable, situation.

Second, though, is the incredible insensitivity of making that statement to a neighborhood association group. Our neighborhood associations and PACs are the heaviest concentrations of concerned, committed, and invested citizens. It's been the work of these people, as much or more so than any capital investment from the city, that has made Durham such a great place to live. You simply can't come into a group like that and say that their concerns are not going to be addressed. It's getting pretty damn frustrating to hear from department after department that they can't carry out their jobs because they're understaffed and underfunded. You know, a great many Durham residents have lived in other towns and cities across the US. We've seen, with similar budget constraints, that they've figured out how to enforce traffic laws and zoning regulations. I'm not asking for every pothole in the city to be fixed in 24 hours, or every broken streetlamp to be repaired the same day it's reported. But it's simply unacceptable to hear time and again from department heads that "We'd love to implement that program, or solve that problem, but we don't have the personnel." We read abot the same troublesome landlords leaving their properties to fall apart in neighborhood after neighborhood throughout Durham, while no one is able to devise a program to bring them into compliance.

We hear a lot about "broken windows" theories of community development when we talk to our municipal leaders. Think of vehicles driving at unsafe speeds through our neighborhood streets as mobile broken windows. The prompt parents to keep their kids indoors, and discourage pedestrians from using the neighborhood. There are about as many traffic fatalities in Durham as homicides over the past five or six years. It's not an insignificant problem, and it's one that deserves more of an effort from our civic leaders to fix than what we're getting.

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  • My father in law suggested that we sit on our front lawn and hurl hammers at the cars speeding by. Since DPD has as much as said they aren't going to enforce residential speed limits, this seems more within the realm of the justifiable.

    Of course, it should be mentioned that my father in law lives in a small rural town in Canada where it is highly unlikely that a speeding motorist will be armed with anything more menacing than a hammer...

    By Blogger Brian, at 9:55 AM  

  • Speeding is one of my main pet peeves. It angers me to no end to see just about everybody speeding at roughly double the posted speed limit down my street. This includes not only everyday folk, but also city vehicles (water dept, garbage trucks, public works, and yes even police cars), as well as various commercial vehicles (Verizon trucks anyone?). Most troubling of all is seeing school buses, full of children, barreling down the street at 50mph in a 25mph zone.

    I know that one of my neighbors has placed countless calls to DPS to complain about this. Have the school bus drivers slowed down ? No!

    We've had the city do traffic studies (which confirmed that 85% of the traffic is going 40mph or faster), we've been promised a cross walk and traffic calming measures. What have we got after over a year and a half? Not a damn thing.

    I guess that the city is content to just sit back and wait until somebody is maimed or killed in a horrible car accident. An accident that would have been preventable with some enforcement. An accident that the city would hold some responsibility for, given their knowledge of the problem, and their refusal to do anything about it. I just hope that myself or my wife aren't the ones that are maimed or killed.

    By Blogger sgraff, at 11:29 AM  

  • Here's an idea. In a small town in France, we saw black silhouette signs of all (there were a lot) of the people who had been killed or injured on the roads. They were two different sizes, too, for kids and adults.

    It was a jarring reminder to drive carefully.

    An example of the signs

    By Blogger Valerie at We Love Durham, at 11:58 AM  

  • "sit on our front lawn and hurl hammers at the cars speeding by."

    "Broken windows," as you say...

    By Blogger Marsosudiro, at 4:10 PM  

  • Oh, gee. I think speeding is an inviolable expression of free speech, don't you?

    That was a joke.

    Look, when certain laws are easily violated, then the people who like to violate them will soon find out and behave accordingly.

    My house (not the current residence) had been broken into several times. DPD's idea of fighting crime was to blame me for not double-locking all my entries, for not photographing all my property, for not using an electric pen to inscribe my property with my name. My bad I got ripped off.

    But your post begs the question, what has to happen for DPD to "prioritize" a crime?

    By Blogger Tony, at 8:51 PM  

  • We get a ridiculous amount of speeders going by our house on Glendale, my husband perpetually feels the need to yell at them as they hurl by.

    once a couple of years ago, one car decided to screech to a halt and back up with the express purpose of yelling back at us.

    Nothing constructive, mind you, just to essentially call us racists for simgling them and their speeding ways, out. It was quite the spectacle, filled with all kinds of colorful shreiking...

    we still tell the story...

    but he doesnt yell as time they may not stop to just yell back.


    By Blogger Vera, at 9:29 AM  

  • in our neighborhood, newsome street (which turns into carver) is a big cut-through for impatient drivers. the city put in speed bumps years ago, but they don't prevent speeding.

    whenever i'm walking the dogs and i see a speeding car coming, i move to the middle of the street. not the brightest move, but it makes people slow down.

    By Blogger libby, at 10:06 AM  

  • This is simple. Get two cars that are not running. Not ugly junkers, mind you, but two cars that have non-visible mechanical problems and zero value. Park them across the street from each other. Park them as far away from the curb as legally possible. This basically turns the street into a one lane street at that point. Even the speeders will have to slow down to squeeze through. This is especially true if there's anything like two-way traffic as only one car can pass at a time. If the cars get hit, well, they weren't worth anything in the first place.

    By Blogger Locomotive Breath, at 12:42 PM  

  • What gets me is all the people who pay absolutely no mind to active school zone speed limits. The worst place I've found is in front of Pearson Elementary on Fayetteville. With the road there 4 lanes, almost no one slows down when the school lights are blinking. I've had cars tailgate me and actively speed around me and try to cut me off when I slow down for it (with my son in the car taking him to school). Aren't fines doubled in school zones? It seems to me they should actively enforce that and other school zone areas if for no other reason than to get more money (speeding fines) in the county coffers.

    By Blogger Tanner Lovelace, at 3:12 PM  

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