By Mark Carlisle
City Council directed staff to begin studying speeding inside Litchfield Park and consider ways to address problem areas.
“We’re trying to improve the streets and roads as well as, at the same time, put things in place that help to calm or slow traffic down so that we don’t have excessive speed,” City Manager Bill Stephens said. “And we’re in the process right now of looking at all of that.” Council directed staff to conduct a speed study at a few spots along Bird Lane and Villa Nueva. Mayor Tom Schoaf said the goal was to monitor each of these spots at the same time to get comparative data.
After staff studies the areas and considers possible solutions to slow traffic, City Council will seek resident feedback, especially from the residents in the neighborhoods impacted.
City engineer Woody Scoutten discussed the three Es of speed control: education — information campaigns informing drivers of the speed limits and asking them to obey them, enforcement — ticketing, which is done by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in Litchfield Park, and engineering.
The speeding study will largely focus on engineering changes, which as Mayor Schoaf said, are “changes to the design of our streets to make it less comfortable to drive so fast.” These changes could include speed humps, fewer lanes, tighter roads or parallel parking along a road, which make drivers naturally want to slow down.
Mayor Schoaf gave the example of more than a decade ago, when there was a speeding problem along Wigwam Boulevard in front of Litchfield Elementary School, the city changed the road from two lanes in each direction to one. “The natural speed dropped significantly,” Mayor Schoaf said.
The city has already increased its speeding enforcement efforts, asking MCSO to station an officer in the city for an increased amount of time each month, monitoring traffic on Litchfield Road and on Wigwam Boulevard. Mayor Schoaf said the goal is to “get people to understand there is some enforcement out here.” The last speed studies Litchfield Park conducted were in 2008 and 2010. “These are so old that they’re not really relevant,” Mayor Schoaf said of the studies. Councilwoman Ann Donahue noted that there are many more drivers in the city than there were when the studies were done. Other forms of speed deterrents could include adding traffic lights, speed cameras or photo radar. “I don’t know that the photo radar is really going to be a good long-term solution, but we at least ought to have the information about it,” Mayor Schoaf said.
He said a study will be important, because council shouldn’t make a change if the data suggests it is not necessary.
Mr. Scoutten noted that speed humps, which are about 12 feet wide with a gradual bump and are often found on residential streets are different from speed bumps, which about two feet wide and often found in commercial parking lots. “The real issue is finding out where to put them in relation to driveways… and the other question is drainage,” Mr. Scoutten said.
He noted that a downside of adding speed humps is that it slows emergency response times. An alternative to solve this problem are speed cushions, which are like speed humps but have two small gaps a car width apart for emergency vehicles to drive through without slowing down.
City Councilman Peter Mahoney said he’d heard of speed humps that can defl ate for emergency vehicles to pass over them. Mr. Scoutten said these are an option, but an expensive one.
The city is not speeding on large arterial streets like Camelback, Dysart and Indian School roads because most if not all of the roadway on those roads are under county jurisdiction or the jurisdiction of a neighboring city. While City Council directed staff to begin its study looking only at Bird Lane and Villa Nueva, the city had previously studied speeding on Old Litchfi eld Road, Desert Avenue, Village Parkway and Wigwam Boulevard. Mayor Schoaf noted a new traffic light is already planned to be added to Village Parkway when the city extends the parkway from Litchfield Road to Old Litchfield road next year.
Engineering on one Litchfield road encourages traffic to drive faster than it should, Mr. Scoutten said. The county built Litchfield Road with a raise in elevation on the curve. “Just like a race track, so you feel more comfortable going around that curve at speed. It not as high-banked as Daytona, but you know,” Mr. Scoutten said. Mr. Scoutten believes the county designed Litchfield Road for 55-mile-per-hour traffic, which is 10 miles per hour above the actual speed limit. Mr. Scoutten, however, believes the 45 mile per hour limit is appropriate for the nature of the road.
“The residential nature of Litchfield Road, all the way from Wigwam (Boulevard) to Camelback Road, begs for something lower than 45 miles an hour,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of traffic coming in and out of residential areas. You’ve got people on bikes, people on strollers, all of that. It’s not a typical urban arterial street where you’ve got a commercial corner and you’ve got some reason for people to be making turns into a car wash or something. So, I think the speed limit’s appropriate for the nature of the street and it’s just a matter of now getting people to obey the speed limit.”
Another section of Litchfi eld Road encourages high speeds, Mr. Stephens said. On Litchfield Road between Indian School Road and Bird Lane traveling northbound, the only right turn is at Wigwam Boulevard. There are very few turns while traveling southbound and some include deceleration lanes.
“There’s no other reason to slow, so everyone’s just pedal to the metal,” Mr. Stephens said. “…It blows your hat off.” Adding reasons to stop or slow along that stretch of Litchfi eld Road could prevent speeding, staff said. “Even having a traffic signal anywhere on that stretch of Litchfield Road will help because it creates gaps in the traffic,” Mr. Scoutten said.