Councilman Johnny Sinclair said he talks to residents about traffic calming at least three times every week.
“Quality of life issues have become very important,” Sinclair said. “People don’t want their kids to be trapped in their backyard.”
Sinclair represents neighborhoods bordering the downtown area that he says has the biggest problem with “cut-through traffic,” or commuters driving through residential areas to avoid gridlock.
The question of whether or not to install a series of 3-inch high humps that are 22 feet wide has pitted neighbor against neighbor, and homeowners against homeowners association boards.
On Wednesday, the City Council will decide whether to authorize a new round of balloting to begin, with this batch targeting Reynolds Street, which can be used to cut from Whitlock Avenue to Powder Springs Street.
According to the most recent traffic-calming data, Reynolds Street has 1,730 cars passing by each day,
with an average speed of 39 mph in a 25 mph zone.
On the same list for approval is Brookwood Drive which connects Whitlock Avenue to Kirkpatrick Dive, and Gresham Road, which is a three quarter-mile dead-end street near Six Flags White Water.
The speed tabling process first became an issue when voters approved a one-cent special purpose local option sales tax March 15, 2011 to fund transportation improvement projects in Marietta and Cobb County.
Before the SPLOST funding, residents of a street or neighborhood were responsible for paying for the installation of a speed hump, which resulted in very few projects, City Engineer Jim Wilgus said.
With an average cost of $1,000 per speed humps, and multiple humps installed for each speed tabling project, Wilgus said there is enough funding to last for years.
The first set of speed tabling was installed in the southern portion of Hickory Hills neighborhood, near the city-owned golf course.
“I think that the impact has been pretty significant as far as reduction of speed,” said Glenn Luckett, boardmember on the Hickory Hills Homeowners Association Board.
Although the area has successfully made it through the entire speed tabling process before, possible projects on two other roads in the neighborhood are at a standstill.
Votes by residents on whether to install speed humps on Hickory Drive and Woodvalley Drive have been returned, but the City Council has ordered that the ballots remain sealed.
Woodvalley Drive may not meet the criteria for traffic calming because a study showed the road has more than 3,000 vehicles driving through a day. That would be above the limit to qualify, according to Marietta’s speed hump policy.
The council has asked for another study on the traffic volume along Woodvalley Drive.
This confusion by the City Council on the exact steps to take with traffic calming has many residents crying foul.
Luckett said he is not promoting a certain outcome for the 450 homeowners in his 40-year-old subdivision.
But, Luckett said he is concerned that without a clear process to follow, it is impossible to get an accurate picture of what the neighborhood desires.
“What is the right way to do it?” Luckett asked.
Lisa Schneiderman, of Russett Court, said the City Council has been reactionary to each challenge of the speed tabling policy, causing constant changes to the requirements.
Schneiderman built her home 24 years ago in the Lee’s Crossing subdivision, across from Kennesaw Memorial Cemetery off Whitlock Avenue, when the neighborhood was in its final development stage.
She lives on the back end of the complex and drives down a mile-long residential road to get out of her neighborhood.
The entrance road, Lees Trace, could be approved for installation of speed tables at Wednesday’s City Council meeting if the recently returned ballots are approved.
Schneiderman said more than 68 percent of the 285 ballots were returned by homeowners, which is well above the 51 percent required by the policy.
Sixty percent of the votes were in favor of speed humps, which is the minimum needed if a neighborhood is governed by a home owners association. If a street is not represented by a board, the minimum approval rate is 70 percent.
The outcome would not be upsetting to Schneiderman, except the four votes that pushed the approval over the top came from extra ballots given to the Lee’s Crossing Homeowners Association Board of Directors.
Although only one vote is allowed per property, a homeowners association represents any taxable lots that are not occupied, such as the Lee’s Crossings swimming pool, tennis court, clubhouse, and green spaces that are managed by the HOA.
Last week, Schneiderman wrote a letter to the homeowners in Lee’s Crossing about her frustration with the homeowners association swaying the determination with “community lot” votes.
She said the City Council was “out maneuvered” by her HOA, who pushed the subdivision through loopholes the council was willing to widen. This includes decreasing the approval needed from 70 to 60 percent, which was changed before Lee’s Crossing was balloted.
“Policies like this need to be figured out before you start them,” Schneiderman said.
The speed tabling process was set up over two years ago by the City Council, but the qualifications were immediately adjusted when only three roads in the city met the parameters.
Now, the qualifications for a residential road is that the speed limit must be below 30 mph, with no more than an 8 degree incline and few curves.
Sinclair said the requirements are starting to overrule the safety concerns raised by citizens, and that since the council created the criteria for the ordinance, they should be able to make exceptions.
Wilgus said the process is confusing “because the rules keep changing.”
The first step is the City receives a written request, by letter or email, for traffic calming on a street.
If authorized by the City Council, traffic data will be collected over a 24 hour period.
The report must show that 95 percent of cars travel at a speed at least 5 mph above the limit, or 85 percent of cars traveling at 15 mph above the limit.
Priorities are given for roads near schools, parks and bus stops, or that have a high rate of accidents, Wilgus said.
After reaching that metric, the Council must instruct the Public Works Department to design a plan of where to install the speed tabling and start balloting property owners in a specific area to tabulate support or opposition to the speed humps.
The Public Works Department holds a public meeting near each location, and property owners are given 60 days to return their votes.
Wilgus said the Public Works Department can ballot three to four locations at a time. Out of a list of 74 approved areas, some have been waiting for more than a year.
At a City Council meeting May 29, Sinclair said about the long list, “I am tired of putting them off.”
Six streets, as well as roads within Carriage Oaks subdivision, are currently out for a vote, with results due between mid-July and mid-August, Wilgus said.
Wilgus, the City Transportation Engineer and a city clerk validate each vote based on the address listed on the top of the form, count the results and seal the ballots.
The results are not revealed until the next City Council meeting, Wilgus said.
Results for Whitlock Drive, South Woodland Drive and North Hillcrest Drive will be given Wednesday.
After the ballots are verified, they are sealed so that the public cannot know how specific property owners voted.
At June’s City Council meeting, City Attorney Doug Haynie said the measure is a protection afforded by the Voting Rights Act. Councilman Phillip Goldstein disagreed that such a protection exists and thinks the ballots are subject to the Open Records Act.
On Wednesday, Mayor Steve Tumlin will seek to suspend the current speed hump policy and hold all activities in order to review and revise the language for “clarity, definitiveness, completeness, conclusiveness and reasonableness.”
The item listed on the agenda also proposes creating a committee to be chaired by Tumlin, and include Councilman Jim King and Goldstein, to present recommendations at the August City Council meeting.
Wilgus said despite the heated public meetings before speed tables are approved for an area, there are “no negative comments” once speed humps are installed.
Schneiderman admits “there is no way to get around” a speed bump, unlike stop signs where drivers can just “blow through.”
But Schneiderman said speed humps cause wear and tear on a car day after day, and that a greater police presence or a sign that displays a the speed as a vehicle passes could be other options.
“Unless (city council members) hear from citizens from Lee’s Crossing and all over Marietta, they will continue to react to the small, but squeaky wheels that are calling for speed tables in our neighborhoods,” Schneiderman said.