Radar guns part of plan to slow traffic in Columbia

Thursday, October 3, 2013 | 7:48 p.m. CDT; updated 9:58 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 3, 2013

COLUMBIA — The Public Works Department will propose loaning citizens radar guns to help slow traffic in neighborhoods as part of a new effort to be more responsive to speeding.

The Neighborhood Speed Watch Program is one piece of a potential overhaul to the city's policies for handling requests for speed bumps, speed humps, traffic signs and other so-called traffic calming devices intended to reduce the speed of vehicles traveling through residential areas.

The Columbia Public Works Department has 40 outstanding requests for help, six of which date to 2006.

The city usually fulfills two requests a year and studies six, but no progress has been made on any of the requests since 2010. That year, the city passed an ordinance to lower the speed limit in residential areas from 30 mph to 25 mph, which required the installation of nearly 500 new speed limit signs. The expedited installation of the signs cost more than $70,000, money that would typically have been spent on traffic calming projects.

City Traffic Engineer Lee White said the new policy is intended to establish a more streamlined and responsive process that should result in the city making more informed decisions about how to spend its money.

That starts with clarifying the obligations of residents concerned about vehicles speeding in their neighborhood. Under the current traffic calming policy, a request must come with a petition signed by at least 10 residents of the affected neighborhood, a requirement that White said is often forgotten and will be continued.

Under the new policy, city engineers would confirm a request was legitimate before working with residents of the neighborhood to select initial solutions, which might include installing high-visibility signs or gathering more data through the radar gun loan program. White said the city would probably require a radar gun deposit, initially estimated at $200.

White said the radar guns aren't merely intended to collect more data. They're also meant to be a visible reminder to motorists to slow down and to help residents have a more empirical view about the speed of traffic on their streets by giving them instant feedback.

"If people are just sitting on their porch watching cars go by, then they might be surprised at how inaccurate they are," White said. He also said seeing someone with a radar gun would encourage drivers to slow down.

Supervising Traffic Engineer Richard Stone said the policy is also designed to create a more uniform and efficient way to address neighborhood traffic issues.

Under the current policy, the Public Works Department is required to submit a report to the Columbia City Council for each request throughout the year, and the council votes on each request.

In the new process, the Public Works Department would submit a single annual report on the status of all outstanding traffic calming requests, and the council would vote on which ones to fund.

The new approach would let the city respond "in a more timely fashion," Stone said, "and potentially be able to do some things that will be lower costs and really give somebody the sense that something has been done to make some improvement on their street."

The Public Works Department is expected to submit its new policy to the City Council in November for approval.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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