Traffic circles brought out area residents Tuesday night as city officials discussed the process to make permanent the temporary traffic circles on Equestrian Trail at Appaloosa Drive and on 36th Street at Coconino Street.
While many of the 120 people who packed the multi-purpose room at Kyrene de las Lomas Elementary School were skeptical that the traffic-calming devices would slow speeders or are worth the money, people who live along the two streets were convinced that they work.
“There’s no question (traffic) goes very fast (on Equestrian Trail),” said Craig McCarthy, adding that he has clearly noticed a difference since the temporary traffic circles were installed in June.
Others recounted stories of losing mailboxes to speeders, having cars smash into walls and fears about allowing children near the street.
“We can’t have our kids play in our front yard,” said Edmund Pongratz, who also lives on Equestrian Trail.
Since the temporary traffic circles were installed there has not been one accident on Equestrian Trail, several homeowners said.
The traffic circles were prompted by residents in both areas asking the city for help to slow traffic on the collector streets.
Kerry Wilcoxon, who is in charge of the city’s traffic-calming efforts, explained to the crowd the final step to make the traffic circles permanent is a vote by the affected residents, which requires 100 percent of the homes directly in front of the circles and 70 percent of the homes along Equestrian Trail or 36th Street, to support the project before crews move forward to build the permanent traffic circles and install landscaping.
But many of the people in the audience were unhappy because they live outside the voting boundary area and won’t have a say in the installation.
“I want to vote,” said Wayne Sandifer, who lives a few blocks away, but who drives through the traffic circle on Equestrian Trail several times a day.
Neighborhood traffic is always a hot topic, and Wilcoxon himself admits he’s probably, “The most hated man in the streets department,” because he is in charge of speed bump and other traffic-calming devices, including traffic circles.
On residential streets neighbors can petition to have speed bumps installed to slow traffic, but that isn’t an option of collector streets because the speed bumps could slow down emergency vehicles.
With few options to physically slow traffic, the city’s bond committee in 2006 proposed funding for traffic-calming devices like traffic circles, which voters approved.
Councilman Sal DiCiccio was at the meeting and is a fan of traffic circles, partly because they are resident driven.
“The bottom line is if they want it they get it, if they don’t, they don’t,” he said.
DiCiccio added that the landscaped traffic circles are a nice amenity to a neighborhood.
Marc Pierce agrees.
“I think the permanent plan is attractive,” said Pierce, who has lived in the area for 12 years.
Whose idea was this anyway? Two separate groups of neighbors, independent of each other, went to the city in 2008 and asked about traffic-calming options.
Use the money for something else. The funding can only be used for traffic-calming devices.
Try “Stop” signs. “Stop” signs that are arbitrarily placed on a street won’t be obeyed, or slow traffic, if drivers don’t think there is a reason to stop. With little cross traffic on Appaloosa Drive or Coconino Street, drivers on Equestrian Trail and 36th Street won’t have a reason to stop.
How about more police? Officers can slow traffic just by being present. But as soon as they leave, speeds usually creep back up. And with budget shortfalls hitting the city this year and next, it is doubtful that extra officers will be available.
What about speed bumps? They can be used on neighborhood streets, but not on collectors like Equestrian Trail and 36th Street, which are used by emergency vehicles.
What difference did the temporary traffic circles make? On 36th Street, the percentage of speeders traveling 10 mph or more was cut from 13 percent to 2 percent. On Equestrian Trail the numbers fell from 23 percent to 1 percent.
They are dangerous. There have been no reported accidents at the two temporary traffic circles since they were installed in June. City traffic engineer Kerry Wilcoxon admits that it can take motorists some time to learn the etiquette of driving in a traffic circle, but that in the end motorists will master the traffic circle.
Why can’t everyone vote on the traffic circles? Where do you draw the line? All city of Phoenix property owners help pay the bond, which funds the project so an argument could be made that it should be a city-wide vote. Or you could limit it to people who drive, or those who drive in Ahwatukee Foothills. City policy is that the neighbors most directly affected have the final say to keep or remove the traffic circles.
What if they don’t get the 70 percent support needed? The city will pull the temporary traffic circles out and repair the streets.
Who maintains the landscaping if they are built? The city of Phoenix.
Will it impact property values? Unknown, but several residents assume that it will actually be an amenity, creating a “gateway” into the two neighborhoods. At 56th Street and Exeter Boulevard in Phoenix the homes values have held steady or increased over the past few years, despite the installation of the traffic circle and the meltdown of the housing market.
Who do I contact to complain about the circle? Kerry Wilcoxon, with the city of Phoenix, at email@example.com.
I like the idea and we could use it in my neighborhood. Who do I contact? Kerry Wilcoxon, with the city of Phoenix, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– By Doug Murphy