After residents of North Raleigh’s Rainwater Road nixed a traffic-calming project many of them had petitioned for, the city’s transportation planners are trying to avoid buyers’ remorse on the costly street overhauls.
Back in February, bitter neighborhood divisions over the Rainwater Road changes prompted the city officials to review how the process works. After a petition got support from 75 percent of property owners, engineers proposed $125,000 in curb extensions, mini roundabouts and other efforts to slow traffic on the residential street.
But many who had signed the original petition didn’t like what they saw in the plans. They said the changes would limit on-street parking, create less space for emergency vehicles and possibly even cause accidents. In a compromise move, the city council downsized the project to a series of new stop signs.
The Raleigh City Council will vote Tuesday on changes that would offer informational meetings early in the process so residents know what’s involved. The goal is to prevent another situation where the city spends time and money designing a project neighbors don’t want.
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Transportation planning manager Eric Lamb said the new policy requires a neighborhood meeting before any petition drive starts, with diagrams and drawings showing what the anti-speeding devices look like. “Having that pre-meeting would give us an opportunity to feel the community out and seek out stakeholders that would be a steering committee throughout the process,” he said.
Future projects also won’t involve the public works department, which some complained led to conflicting information because two city departments played a role. Public works will now handle only minor traffic calming – such as speed humps – which go through a separate approval process.
Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said she thinks the changes will help. “The petition process is clearer,” she said. “They know what they’re signing.”
That was a common complaint during the Rainwater Road hearings – many said they had signed the petition thinking they were merely expressing interest in slowing traffic.
Rainwater Road resident John Dew, who was vocal in opposing the traffic calming project, told a city council committee on Tuesday that he’s still skeptical of the process. “I don’t think the education thing right up front is going to do you any good,” he said. “I think 10 people out of 200 might come to it.”
Dew said the process doesn’t work because there’s no way to control the petition drive – and how residents pitch the idea to their neighbors. He thinks that city staff need to be willing to cancel the projects when it becomes clear the majority of neighbors don’t like it.
“I don’t understand why you guys are not thinking about the kill switch,” Dew said.
But Councilman John Odom says the current process addresses that. It’s why the Rainwater project got downsized when it came before the city council. “There is a kill switch whenever five councilors make that decision,” he said.
Even after the stop sign compromise on Rainwater – which engineers discouraged as ineffective – some aren’t happy. “The traffic, and lots of it, stops and starts with great noise at these four new multi-way stops,” Dew wrote to the city council. “To this day, a vast majority of the traffic does not stop at these multi-way stops.”