Slow burn: New traffic project doesn’t calm all concerns

Paul Reynolds has tracked the speed of more than 700,000 vehicles on Locust Avenue since the beginning of the year. They’re not slowing down. Photo by Martyn Kyle Paul Reynolds has tracked the speed of more than 700,000 vehicles on Locust Avenue since the beginning of the year. They’re not slowing down. Photo by Martyn Kyle

Last month, the city announced the initiation of a traffic calming project on Locust Avenue, where locals have been concerned about the influx of cars whizzing up and down the street for some time. But a resident who has persistently tracked the traffic himself says the project has had “no apparent benefit.”

After a 12-year-old pedestrian was hit on Locust last October, UVA emeritus professor of computer science Paul Reynolds, who lives on the same street, began filming the cars passing his house and created a software program to monitor their speed. The software is now being used in China.

“Speeding on Locust and, to some extent, irresponsible driving, was really getting out of hand,” says Reynolds, who adds that an older woman was hit just weeks later while walking her dog in a crosswalk. “It was difficult to get across the street.”

The $6,500 traffic calming project, which was implemented in the last 10 days of July, consists of new road markings that more clearly define travel and parking lines on the street, as well as additional space for cyclists in the southbound lane and making crosswalks more visible.

When the project was first implemented, Reynolds says about 40 percent of cars traveling south in the 800 block of Locust were at or under the 25mph speed limit, which was a significant improvement from the 25 percent that were routinely compliant before. But by August 5, he found that southbound speed compliance had reverted to its norm before the traffic calming went into effect,  and “northbound compliance is actually a little worse,” he says. And on the weekends, he has tracked more cars going over 35mph than those following the speed limit.

Reynolds has monitored more than 700,000 cars since the beginning of the year, and, on average, found that 7,500 cars travel Locust during daylight hours, which equals about 10 cars per minute. Every 12th car drives at speeds between 35 and 50mph.

But it’s not all bad news. In February, he told City Council that city buses and school buses were passing his house at speeds between 30 and 40mph on average. Four months later, 95 percent of city buses were obeying the speed limit, he says.

As expected, driving too fast isn’t just an issue on Locust. One city resident acknowledges the issues with speeding across town, but says he shouldn’t have to pay to fix it.

“I think it’s absurd that taxpayers have to now pay for street modification to slow traffic when taxes already pay the police department to enforce traffic laws,” Frank Jesionowski wrote in an e-mail to C-VILLE. “People speed because it appears the police don’t care.”

Charlottesville Police spokesperson Steve Upman declined to comment, but provided information that shows patrol officers issued 91 speeding tickets on Locust in 2015, an increase from 25 issued in 2014 and 45 issued the year before. Thirty-four tickets have been issued so far this year.

But Jesionowski is not convinced. “If the town develops a reputation for enforcing the speed limit, people start obeying the law,” he says.