Plans appear to be in place for a traffic plan in the Woodland Heights neighborhood which would include speed bumps and other traffic calming devices to help with speeding traffic on several thoroughfares. Not all is well with the city’s decision, however, and several residents have continued to express frustration throughout the process, no matter the result.
Back in 2011, the Woodland Heights Civic Association asked the city to install speed bumps to help with the traffic. Over the next several years, city officials spruced up the plan before concocting an initial plan for 26 speed bumps and two traffic circles, with four of those on most-affected Pecore Street, which was reclassified as a minor collector so as to make way for the devices.
Fast forward to June 2016, when the city mailed ballots out to all the affected neighbors, and the vote came back as a resounding ‘No’ amongst most homeowners. Later, a revised plan contained a reduced number of overall proposed speed bumps down to where it currently stands at 17 devices.
On feedback for the second proposal, the comments appeared to play out as 202 in favor, 258 against, three undecided, and eight to go with the majority, with 29 wishing to add additional devices and 32 wishing to remove some.
However, despite the majority appearing to oppose it, the city decided to go through with a modified plan to put to another vote — which was puzzling to one Woodland Heights resident until she began receiving emails that some residents’ comments had not been counted. Several had voted no, but were among those who wished devices removed or added. Several members of the committee then proceeded to go through the neighborhood and audit all the votes.
“We went on Next Door and showed that some of those people had voted against it. We counted more than 300, as opposed to their 258 against figure,” she said.
The Woodland Heights resident went on to say that the city appeared to take the 202 pro comments, then added to it the 32 (removing) and 29 (adding), thus eclipsing the 258 anti-plan sentiments and providing merit for another revision.
“That’s how they came up with the original decision to move forward,” she said.
Fast forward to last month, and the latest results were 196 comments in favor, 213 against, two to go with the majority and two wishing to add additional speed bumps; suggesting (for a third time) that the majority remained against the plans.
However, the city had still said it would install the bumps. Even more troubling was the fact that the city appeared to be putting more stock into comments from the “neighborhood” (Woodland Heights) than those affected in Norhill to push the project forward in some residents’ estimations.
“I don’t understand how our neighbors who live just a few streets away from us could have less weight just because they have a different homeowner’s association or civic association,” the Woodland Heights resident said.
All residents within half a mile of any device were supposedly given the equal opportunity to comment, per city ordinance. City representatives did not provide answers to The Leader’s follow-up questions “I thought ‘No’ meant ‘No,’” added a Norhill Heights resident living off Pecore close to proposed devices. “If you’ve never had so much opposition, what is that telling you?”
And indeed, the saga appeared far from over at a sometimes contentious city council meeting on April 1.
Councilmember Karla Cisneros reiterated the case for the plan, saying that it was a cog of the traffic management plan put in place years ago, that the Woodland Heights wanted the plan and that money was already set aside for installation.
“This is a split vote in our neighborhood. In such a split in a device environment, we have to look at the streets that are the most affected, and the people on the streets most affected overwhelmingly want them,” she said addressing the council.
Following installation, officials are set to conduct another traffic study and round of public feedback before sending the decision to a vote.
“I think this is a responsible position to take in this instance. I wish it had been clearer-cut and an easier decision,” Cisneros said. “There have just been such strong opinions on both sides, and it’s in part because of some of the others working against it that numbers have come down to a reduced number of devices.”
However, that revelation sparked disagreement among several in attendance. “That doesn’t make any sense to me,” Councilmember Michael Kubosh said of the process described. “I’m getting a lot of pushback from the community on this, and it doesn’t make any sense [if the vote was that close] to install them before having it come back to us for a vote.”
Kubosh cited the potential cost of the bumps (estimated at about $6,000 per bump for 17 devices) as a major issue.
“I don’t think that’s a good resource of city dollars, especially when in a budget shortfall such as we are. I’d like for you to hold off on this and reconsider,” he told Cisneros. “I can’t see spending all this money on something, then having us vote on it afterwards. I oppose it.”
Additionally, several residents in attendance refuted council language saying neighborhoods “overwhelmingly desire” the project, such as 27-year Woodland Heights resident Simone Adams. Adams pointed out that of roughly 2,400 homes in the Woodland Heights, only 413 comments were received in total—representing only about 17 percent of the neighborhood.
On Pecore and Watson Streets, supposedly the most affected, she said the “for” comments do not come close to representing the voice of those affected.
“The interest and desire for the program in the Woodland Heights just is not there, but there are other neighborhoods with a significant majority for and need for the program,” she said. It initially appeared as though the one who has the ultimate power within the city might squash the project. “It does not seem as though that should be the logical sequence,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “Even if they say that’s the process, I’m going to reverse the process.”
However, at the next meeting April 11, Turner said that after investigation, the department had in fact followed the correct procedures; therefore installation will move ahead as previously planned.