Jul 11, 2023
Staff, residents often collaborate to find ways to improve city streets, parking
Nearly everyone has a street they travel regularly that just vexes them. The consternation may be tied to the design of the road, the posted speed limit or the condition of the road. And on the
Nearly everyone has a street they travel regularly that just vexes them.
The consternation may be tied to the design of the road, the posted speed limit or the condition of the road. And on the surface, the potential solution may appear simple.
But the route for finding the solution is often a bit more indirect.
The streets division, which is within the Jefferson City Public Works Department, must balance the need for a perfectly-engineered city with residents' requests and suggestions for improvements. It requires a deep understanding of how people drive and what people want, because what somebody wants isn't always what's best for everyone else, city officials say.
For example, a "children at play" sign should direct motorists to slow down in a residential area, leading to better protection of small children. However, officials at the Missouri Department of Transportation discourage such signs since they can be distracting to drivers and allude to the idea that children playing in the street is normal and welcomed.
If a Jefferson City resident noticed a rise in speeding vehicles near their street where children play, they could speak with the Streets Division and might ask to have a "children at play" sign installed.
Staff would then use this information to settle on a compromise with the resident that might result in less speeding in the area while maintaining that some signs just don't work.
So if a resident wanted to alter a particular street's rules, he or she would fill out a traffic request form for design engineer Tia Griffin. The forms are on the Jefferson City government website in the public works section under "citizen request forms."
The form is then forwarded to the transportation and traffic commission, which meets once a month. Griffin, who serves as a staff member on the commission, prepares a staff report -- including an official recommendation -- for the commission. The commission then votes on whether to push the recommendation forward to the City Council for approval.
The process recently played out in a request involving a stop sign on Sherman's Hollow.
Susan Ryck asked the commission on June 1 to consider adding stop signs on Sherman's Hollow at streets that connect with the collector. Ryck said she noticed vehicles speeding on and near Sherman's Hollow and asked for stop signs.
"Vehicles are not going 30 mph, and there are two hills on this particular street," Ryck wrote on the request form. "Some drivers are observant, but many disregard the posted speed limit. It is a dangerous street to live on."
Britt Smith, operations divisions director, noted the Missouri Department of Transportation has told the city's streets division that stop signs are not effective in slowing traffic.
"Stop signs never work as a speed control; what studies have found is people will actually accelerate faster -- and maybe go faster between the stop signs -- because they're trying to make up lost time," Smith said.
Instead, the department looks at other methods of traffic calming to naturally slow vehicles down -- through speed humps, roundabouts, adding curbside parking or adding medians.
Often, Smith said, the best approach is to simply narrow the streets so people are less comfortable speeding. The idea is that with less room on each side, a driver has a smaller view of oncoming traffic.
The Public Works Department also follows up on reports of speeding to determine if there is a need to install traffic control devices. A requirement of the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) is to follow the guidelines listed in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. This manual states that traffic signs and signals must be warranted, either due to the number of vehicles or pedestrians.
Staff members will set out speed counters to track how many cars are at or within 5 mph of the posted speed limit and evaluate the 85th percentile, or the speed that 85 percent or more vehicles maintain in the given area.
Sometimes, Griffin said, there is no data-driven reason to control traffic or parking in a neighborhood, and therefore staff members do not recommend to move forward with the request.
Smith said a big part of his job is trying to combine an engineer's viewpoint with the public's needs.
One example is when the Public Works Department wanted to remove parking alongside Southwest Boulevard in order to add a left-turn lane to a nearby intersection.
"We found there was one section where if we removed the parking, we would kill the business," Smith said.
Smith spoke further with the business owners and then decided to widen the street and allow for parking on the street outside of the business while maintaining the necessary room to add a third driving lane.
"We could achieve what we needed, which was a good three-lane section that moves traffic, and they could retain what they need, which is a vibrant business. And you can't come to that unless you have a conversation," Smith said.
When a local man complained that cars parking on his street blocked his driveway and asked that parking be removed along the street, Griffin went to meet with the homeowners to discover a compromise, which was to paint each side of the driveway to delineate where cars are not allowed to park.
This is a fairly common issue and a fairly common solution, Griffin said.
"There is an ordinance that says you can't park in front of a driveway, but what is the definition of a driveway? And can people see it? So we do put a couple of feet of yellow paint at the owner's request on either side, just to highlight where the driveway is," Griffin said.
Back to Sherman's Hollow
The speed counters showed Sherman's Hollow has garnered more speeders than on average, especially in the stretch of road between Sumter Place and Manassas Place; Griffin tracked the area from April 12-14 and found most drivers neared 40 mph on the residential road.
The traffic commission did not vote to add stop signs and instead, at Griffin's suggestion, voted to place temporary delineators, or "ducks," in the center of the street.
"People drive at the speed that they believe is comfortable and safe," Smith said.
Smith added it's important for residents to be involved in the government processes, like street upkeep, and he wants more people to know how to submit traffic control requests.
"Our job is not to decide what needs to take place," he said. "The people who live there, who drive it every day, they have the opinions. We can only guide as to what the ultimate outcome should be from an engineering standpoint."
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