Speeding through a school zone

When a truck blew through a North Mountain View stop sign and struck Fred Owens’ wife, he said they called police and tracked down the driver that hit her.

She wasn’t seriously injured. Owens still brings up the story to illustrate what he sees as the state of Mountain View roads; where reckless driving happens often and seemingly unchecked.

“It took over two hours for the police to get there, to begin with,” Owens recounted to Mountain View Community Council members earlier this month. “Then we found the truck in the neighborhood that hit my wife, we brought the police there, we met the police [officer] there and he was very reluctant to even write up a report.”

Fast drivers seem to flock to Mountain View — especially the very northern edge. A group of people who live and work in the neighborhood are hoping to slow them down.

Aug. 11, the Council passed a resolution asking for a traffic engineering consultation with the municipality. The resolution specifically seeks help for McPhee Avenue, which runs between North Pine Street and Irwin Street, intersecting more than half a dozen other streets along the way.

For Tasha Hotch, who lives near McPhee and across the street from Mountain View Elementary School, it’s about keeping her kids safe. She stood before Council members Aug. 11 and asked them to support some kind of speeding solution. She said she’s almost been hit by drivers whipping down the avenue, and her children often run across to the playground at the elementary school. There had to be some way to slow people down, she said.

“I’d like to see some kind of traffic calming happen there,” Hotch said. “Really, I’d like to put spiked strips that pop up.”

While spike strips may not appear on the city’s official list of traffic-calming solutions, others agreed with Hotch’s assessment: Drivers along McPhee go too fast.

Chris Woodward, principal at Mountain View Elementary School, swore the motorcycle that flew by the other day must have topped 100 miles per hour down the straight, tree-lined thoroughfare. He said he’s used to coming to work Monday morning and finding the tire marks left by drivers pulling high-speed donuts in front of the school.

“I would love to see somebody do something to slow the traffic down,” he said. “We have somehow, amazingly, yet to have an incident where a child gets hit by a speeding car but I’ve seen some relatively close calls.”

During the summer, the neighborhood is filled with kids riding bikes, dribbling basketballs, playing on street corners and walking along the sidewalks that spread throughout Mountain View. In less than a week, hundreds of students will return to the neighborhood’s two elementary schools.

Woodward said he hopes something can be done to make the streets a little safer.

As it turns out, the Municipality of Anchorage has a program for that.

There’s an email address for residents to contact – speedhumps@muni.org — and a pamphlet outlining the steps necessary to bring speed humps to a street near you. According to the municipality’s traffic division, a community council has to pass a resolution requesting the measure; similar to the one passed by the MVCC Aug. 11. Then, at least 51 percent of neighborhood homeowners must sign a petition. The traffic division said all signed petitions are reviewed in the order they’re recieved

After that, the municipality must complete engineering work, design and develop a construction schedule. There has to be funding from the city or the state or both: The National Center for Safe Routes to School estimates speed humps cost approximately $2,500 each.

In an update to community councils a year ago, the traffic division said speed humps would no longer be widely used; they cause overcrowding on neighboring streets and problems for emergency vehicles and buses and snow plows. If you ask the municipality, speed humps are a measure of last resort.

Daniel George, MVCC president and a resident of North Klevin Street, recalled a time several years ago when his neighbors took the speeding situation into their own hands.

“Glenn actually wrote ‘Slow’ in spray paint across the whole road as you drive by because there just wasn’t any action on it,” he said.

George said it took several years on a wait list before the municipality even began to test the traffic on the street to determine whether or not it warranted further action. Today, there are still no speed humps.

The community council president said there are other possible cures for high speeds in dense neighborhoods: There are flashing signs, curved roads and other structural tools.

“There are a lot of things that they’ve suggested to try and curb speeding but nothing stops it like a speed bump at 45 miles per hour,” George said.

Not everyone at Monday night’s MVCC meeting was sold on the idea.

Owens, who lives on North Flower Street and said he hears reckless drivers squeal down the road all the time, thinks speed humps are too easy to avoid. Keep one tire in the drainage near the curb and you can sail right over with no problems, he said.

“People are intelligent, they’ve got conniving minds and they know the ways around these speed bumps,” he said.

In his view, paying for speed humps means throwing money at a not-so-good solution.

Why make taxpayers share the cost of a relative few irresponsible drivers?

According to the municipality’s own Traffic Calming Protocol Manual, though, the humps are one of the most effective tools for reducing driving speeds. Jewel Jones, executive director of the Anchorage Community Land Trust, said it seemed wise to invest in some kind of traffic calming before someone was killed or seriously injured.

Speed humps are found throughout South Anchorage, she said to Council members Monday: Why not Mountain View?

Speed humps seem to work at the Northway Mall, another resident said. Why not here?

At the elementary school, Woodward said administrators have previously tried using a flashing speed monitor sign; hauling it out every morning and locking it up inside the school every night. It seemed to slow people down, he said.

But Woodward said there might be an even better solution. Nothing seemed to deter dangerous drivers like a police cruiser on the side of the road, he said.

Some Council members suggested asking the neighborhood’s volunteer patrol to park a marked car along McPhee Avenue during peak hours. Maybe the Anchorage Police Department could send an officer to keep an eye on traffic along the crowded neighborhood street. Someone suggested parking an old squad car in front of the school.

Lt. Jared Tuia, who stood against a side wall listening quietly for the first hour of Monday night’s meeting, laughed at that idea.

“It might not be there in the morning,” he said.

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