DIY Traffic Calming
Marilyn Tower's one-woman campaign
"It started last spring when I was backing out of my driveway and I was almost hit by a car," says Marilyn Tower.
Tower, who lives on the 1700 block of Covington on the city's southwest side, estimates the car that almost hit her in the spring of 2011 was whizzing down the street at much more than the twenty-five mph speed limit. "I had enough," says Tower, her blue eyes flashing. "This is the main route from Scio Church to Dicken School," she says. "We have walkers, bikers, joggers, and kids, all on our curvy, windy street. And kids have a right to play outside!"
So she contacted the city. After repeated calls, she finally heard from senior project manager Pat Cawley, who explained the city's system for handling "traffic calming" requests. Since the first step was filing a petition, Tower collected fifty-six signatures from her neighbors on Covington.
"I turned in my petition, and I never heard back, so I called to find out what happened," she says. "I spoke to 'Kathy,' who said that funds ran out for traffic calming, that there was no money in the budget!"
Fed up with waiting ("No city official ever called me back"), this year Tower took to the street. Every weekday in May and June, she stood guard outside her house when kids were walking to and from school, holding handmade signs saying "25 MPH" and "Better Late Than Sorry." She resumed her station when school started in September--this time wearing a T-shirt her grandkids made that reads, "SPEED LIMIT 25."
"Some people are paying attention, and most people have been driving slower," Tower says. "One woman pulled over and thanked me, and kids wave a lot ... I'm going to do it until somebody does something. At my age [seventy-four], I don't care if I look like an idiot."
The city started taking traffic calming applications again when the new fiscal year started in July; Tower resubmitted her petition immediately.
Because an AAPD traffic study found that more than 15 percent of the traffic travels at over thirty miles per hour, Covington is a good candidate for speed humps, raised crosswalks, or extended curbs. But there are still political speed bumps to cross on the road to traffic calming. "First we get a tentative plan and then we have a meeting with the residents where we walk the neighborhood with them and get feedback," Cawley explains. "Then we refine the plan and have a second meeting with the residents and walk the neighborhood again. Then we send out a survey card to every household on Covington. We need to get 60 percent of those back and they need to have 60 percent approval."
Cawley estimates that about 70 percent of all petitions make it through this process. But with two other streets in line ahead of Covington, calming is likely to be years away. For now, all the city has done is to install a speed-limit sign at the Scio Church end of the street in June.
"I appreciate the sign," says Tower. "I understand the funding. I wish I had the money. I'd pay for it myself. But something has to be done before something happens, so I'm going to keep doing my crazy woman act on the street."
[Originally published in October, 2012.]