A meeting Tuesday night of Apalachicola’s revitalized Community Pride Partnership has recommended city officials embark on a comprehensive traffic study to take a closer look at the patterns of speed and stoppage throughout the city.
Attended by two dozen city residents, the largest turnout to date, the consensus was that city commissioners not act on turning two Commerce Street intersections downtown, at Avenues D and E, into four-way stops.
The community pride gathering did not register an opinion on a third request now pending before the commission, to turn the 11th Street and Avenue F intersection into a four-way stop. That request has been made by Brent Mabry, who said he plans to push for the change because of motorists who speed down the street to avoid the traffic light at 12th Street and Avenue E.
City Administrator Betty Taylor Webb conducted the community pride meeting, recording the many comments made by the group, which included both downtown merchants as well as neighborhood residents.
The clearest and most emphatic consensus reached by the group was opposition to adding more speed bumps in the city, with some calling for the removal of existing bumps.
“I live on 15th Street and they came in and put bumps on Avenue M and now Avenue L,” said Leon O’Neal. “I have to detour both streets to get to 12th Street. It’s really beginning to be something.”
O’Neal pressed Taylor-Webb to look into whether the city is liable for accidents or injuries caused by the speed bumps, to bicyclists or skateboarders, and what their effect is on emergency vehicles.
Harry Arnold said he was “100 percent against speed bumps, I think they all should be taken up.” Even Jerry Weber, a longtime advocate of speed bumps on the north end of Seventh Street where he lives, said he was not advocating for speed bumps elsewhere, but only where the residents on a particularly troublesome street can agree they are necessary.
“Before long you’re going to have speed bumps all around town and you can’t go two blocks without hitting one,” said Bobby Miller. “Even if you hit one of those speed bumps, it’s going to jar your car and you’re going to tear something up.”
Stop signs, speed limits draw disagreement
There was not nearly as much complete agreement on the matter of stop signs and speed limits, about which there was much discussion.
Pointing to a large city map where she indicated with markers where stop signs and speed bumps had been added in recent years, Taylor-Webb said these traffic control devices had grown out of an earlier safety committee’s informal assessment of the entire city.
“They felt people were speeding too much through residential areas,” she said. “It was to slow traffic and protect people in congested areas.”
Taylor-Webb said the committee took inventory of stop signs in the city, which led to adding several two-way and four-way stops, some of which were later removed due to opposition by residents or disapproval from county or state officials.
“There is discussion now of having too many stops in town. People are really not pleased with that,” she said. “We want to talk about some solutions. Do we want some clear through streets so you don’t have to stop?”
Miller said he could remember “when there were few stop signs in town. Now you’re stopping and starting.”
Taylor-Webb said historically, the city’s avenues were thoroughfares along which motorists did not have to stop.
City Commissioner Brenda Ash said she has heard from constituents that “stop signs in the Hill area is an overkill.
“There needs to be some kind of speed control, but there is an overkill,” she said. “When they (stop signs) started coming in, they didn’t stop going on. There has to be some consistency on the number, or more involvement as to why those signs are there. There is no thoroughfare; it’s stop and go.”
George Mahr suggested “mentally, (we) take them all out and start over.
“We really haven’t looked at our overall traffic patterns,” he said. “You got to take a look at the whole picture here.”
Tayler-Webb said finding funds for a traffic study will be a challenge, and urged patience.
“I have to find a way to make this happen so don’t think it’s going to happen next week,” she said. “(The state) can give funding to assist. It should be a professional (study), not a group of citizens.”
Taylor-Webb said she plans to tell commissioners the committee wants the city not install any more speed devices, “unless it’s warranted,” until the study is complete.
Some people taking part in the roundtable discussion wanted the city’s 25 mph speed limit lowered to 15, while others thought it could be raised, coupled with the application of even stricter enforcement.
“If we gave out tickets, you wouldn’t need stop signs,” said George Coon.
Police Officer Pam Lewis said cracking down on speeders has been a top priority for the department following last month’s city commission meeting, in which traffic issues were discussed.
“I think we can fix that without all the speed bumps and stop signs,” she said. “It will take a minute for them to realize they have to obey the law.”
A change in store for Commerce Street?
Miller said he would like to see a flashing electronic sign brought in to warn people about their speeds, and even hinted traffic cameras that record speeders and issue tickets could be an option.
“Is the juice worth the squeeze when you can get a machine to do it for you?” he asked. “25 mph to me is awfully slow. I’ve tried to drive 30, and at 25 mph I feel like I should get outside and push it. Bump the speed limit up to 30 and make clear that it’s strictly enforced. You start getting in my back pocket and I’ll slow down.”
Carol Barfield said she wanted the limit lowered to 15 mph. “When you have kids in the community. ‘I’m sorry’ isn’t going to be enough,” she said.
“You can’t let your children go out and play in the road,” replied Miller. “It wasn’t paved to be a playground.”
The group weighed a number of ideas for handling traffic on Commerce Street, with most people voting in favor of keeping things as they are, at least until a more careful examination is made of parking patterns and the lines of sight that motorists and pedestrians have.
Susan and Cassie Gary, who own the Owl Café, were opposed to turning Commerce Street into a one-way, an option that drew no support. The Garys were among a half-dozen people who thought the city should consider a limited closure of the street to vehicle traffic, and perhaps even allow tables and chairs into a pedestrian-only area.
Robin Vroegop said she was opposed to closing off a portion of the street. “It will be confusing to visitors and will throw traffic on to other streets,” she said. “There’s a problem of safety with delivery trucks. We have issues because we can’t see around them. There should be hours during which they can deliver.”
Susan Gary said that was an impractical alternative, since because the city is at the far reaches of truck routes, “we get deliveries when they feel like delivering to us.”
Dale Julian, who manages Downtown Books, asked the group to consider the effect street closure would have on neighboring businesses. “How would that affect businesses on a street that are suddenly on a beer garden?” she said. “That’s a lot of shops being impacted.”