City mulls changes to neighborhood traffic safety


Staff writer

New neighborhood safety criteria could change the way neighborhoods get speed bumps and stop signs installed on residential streets.

Last July, the cityŽ’s Land Use and Transportation Committee directed city staff to revise the neighborhood traffic safety program after one project in the city failed to get voter approval ŽÑ even though it qualified for traffic-calming measures based on the cityŽ’s criteria.

Officials last week presented the committee with a traffic safety plan that adds collision severity to other criteria, which include how frequently people drive faster than the speed limit, the volume of cars driving through the area and the history of car crashes on the street.

Traffic safety engineer Rick Perez said adding collision severity to the criteria didnŽ’t significantly increase the number of neighborhoods qualifying for speed bumps or stop signs because most of the few collisions that did occur didnŽ’t involve injuries, let alone fatalities.

The small sampling of serious injury or fatality data made it hard for traffic analysts to say for sure that the streets needed devices for slowing and controlling drivers, Perez said.

Ž“ItŽ’s really hard to pin it down to say this is a problem ... and it could be prevented by traffic calming devices,Ž” he said.

About 20 neighborhoods called city staff last year to install speed bumps or stop signs on residential streets. About 70 percent of those moved forward into the balloting process. All but a few passed, Perez said.

Ž“They were all over the place,Ž” Perez said. Ž“ActivityŽ’s been on the upswing.Ž”

Traffic safety engineers use a point system to determine which projects qualify for city involvement. Nine points are possible, though three are all thatŽ’s needed for city officials to call up the neighbors and develop a traffic plan.

Those living within 600 feet of the proposed speed bumps or stop signs, as well as those for whom the street presents the only access to other roads, are allowed to vote on the plan developed by the city and residents.

If a simple majority of the voters approve the project, traffic safety engineers move forward with it.

Under the recently tweaked code, if a project receives six or more points, the voting process will be bypassed completely and city crews will proceed with installing speed bumps or stop signs.

Five projects out of the 40 submitted over the past year had six points or more, Perez said. Most have already been addressed because they passed with voter approval, but city staff will revisit one ŽÑŽÊSouth 308th Street near Lake Grove Elementary School ŽÑ that didnŽ’t make it through the process earlier.

Perez said city staff still are working out a couple bugs to make sure the process works for everyone. Ž“For us to say weŽ’re going to do it anyway will engender a fair amount of frustration with the city and with the process,Ž” he said. Ž“We try to work with consensus in neighborhoods. We donŽ’t want to cause safety problems.Ž”

Speed bumps and stop signs seem like a great way to slow down speeders, but Perez said they carry latent problems.

For example, speed bumps slow down everyone ŽÐŽÐ including firetrucks and ambulances. While the Federal Way Fire Department hasnŽ’t taken a position on the politics surrounding the neighborhood traffic safety plan, Perez said a study conducted in Portland, Ore. showed emergency vehicles lose about 10 seconds on each bump.

Stop signs can cause problems, too.

Ž“People think that all-way stops are a good, cheap avenue to resolve speeding problems. Every study that IŽ’ve come across has shown that they arenŽ’t effective at resolving speeding issues and in some instances cause collisions,Ž” Perez said. Ž“It appears most people will try to make up the time they lost in having to stop.Ž”

ThatŽ’s not a problem with speed humps, which most neighborhoods gravitate toward because theyŽ’re more effective and cheaper.

Ž“ItŽ’s weird and I canŽ’t explain it, but that isnŽ’t an issue with speed humps,Ž” Perez said. Ž“Our follow-up studies verify that humps do take care of speeding issues.Ž”

Speed humps have their own disadvantages, though, especially among the opposition.

Ž“Some voice their disapproval in lots of antisocial manners, like driving around them onto sidewalks, burning their tires on them in the middle of the night or honking,Ž” Perez said. Ž“ThereŽ’s lots of nuisance-type behaviors. The toughest one is driving around them on the sidewalks because we donŽ’t have a measure to counter that.Ž”

Traffic circles are a great tool, especially at high-accident intersections, but Federal Way has never installed one. Perez said Tacoma reduced collisions 67 percent at some intersections when they put in traffic circles.

Ž“The crazy things is, where we get most of our requests, there arenŽ’t that many collisions,Ž” he said.

In some cases, people who want traffic controls in their neighborhoods get into the realm of perception versus a real safety problem.

Ž“When youŽ’re standing on the sidewalk, someone drives by at 25 and youŽ’ll swear up and down theyŽ’re going 40,Ž” Perez said. Ž“And maybe 25 is too fast, but thatŽ’s the law.Ž”

Deputy Mayor Dean McColgan, a member of the Land Use and Transportation Committee, said changes to the neighborhood traffic safety plan need to be made sooner than later. Ž“WeŽ’re waiting for a major accident to happen,Ž” he said.

Perez said the balancing act is difficult for the cityŽ’s engineers.

Ž“ItŽ’s one of the most challenging issues in traffic engineering,Ž” he said. Ž“How do you get vehicles to coexist with all the things that go into a residential neighborhood?Ž”

Staff writer Erica Jahn can be reached at 925-5565 and

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