Before speed kills, neighbors want action

Jo and Jon Lacy didn’t realize that the quiet neighborhood they moved into last summer had a surprising danger.

Drivers in the northwest area of Oak Harbor speed and cut the 90-degree corners of Ensign Drive. In one week in December, two cars ended up tearing up the front yards of their neighbors’ homes. One of the cars smashed into an RV that was sitting in the Lacys’ yard, where their two preschool-aged sons might have been playing.

“I don’t want my yard to be the next Starbucks drive through,” said Jo Lacy.

In response, the couple put up their own homemade sign warning drivers to slow down. The Lacys and a number of other neighbors also contacted the city about doing something more permanent to stop the speeding.

It turns out that the Ensign Drive neighborhood isn’t unique. Dozens of residents each year contact the police about speeding and other traffic concerns. The engineering department deals with a couple of complaints each month from residents who want some sort of traffic calming device in their neighborhood.

But the solution isn’t always as easy as it seems. The Lacys want a stop sign in front of their home, at the corner of NW Third Avenue and Ensign, to stop speeders who sometimes cut the corner so sharp that tires come up into their yard.

While the police say they wouldn’t object to the idea, the engineering department has a different point of view. City Engineer Eric Johnston said stop signs simply aren’t effective as traffic calming measures.

“Stop signs do not get people to slow down,” he said. “They actually result in speeds being higher than they were before.”

Johnston said that while residents commonly request stop signs to stop speeding, studies have shown that they frequently cause an increase in speed, increase accidents and generally make areas less safe. Last November, the department did concede to neighbors’ request for a new stop sign in the Fireside Division, but it didn’t solve the problem.

Yet help is available. Johnston explained that the city has a specific, multi-stepped policy for dealing with residents’ complaints about traffic problems. The first step is for a resident to fill out a “citizen action request” form.

Johnston said the city follows the “three Es” in response. First, there’s education followed by enforcement. The last resort is an engineering solution, which might mean simply painting the centerline or going as far as installing traffic humps. But while safety is a top priority, engineers consider other factors, such as the efficient flow of traffic, the clarity of traffic control, motorist delays and the annoyance factor of things like traffic humps.

“We’re not trying to get people to go 10 miles per hour. We’re trying to get people to go the speed limit,” he said.

On Ensign Drive, the city recently set up a speed trailer which shows motorists how fast they are traveling as an education component. Lt. John Dyer said officers are conducting emphasis patrols in the area.

Finally, Johnston said his department is conducting an engineering study in the area to see if anything can be done to the roads. But ultimately, he said, it’s often up to the public to simply follow traffic rules. Remember, he said, the speed limit is 25 miles per hour in the city unless otherwise posted.

“From an engineering standpoint, we can’t solve all of the problems all the time,” he said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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