Petitioners seek action against speeders on city street

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen agreed at their Tuesday meeting to research the speed of traffic on South Maple Street, a decision made in response to a petition filed by residents asking the city to act on what they see as too much fast driving on the street.
The petition, signed by 34 residents, requests the city “take a more aggressive role” in slowing traffic on South Maple Street, states that the “excessive speed” is “a danger and has become totally out of hand,” and claims “it appears that there is very low law enforcement of the posted speed limits.”
The petition suggested the council consider measures that include installation of a new stop sign, speed tables, “Watch for Children” signs, and a flashing sign showing drivers their speed.
But officials said even if the study showed speeding is a problem, they would instead look to greater police presence on a road that residents and council members agree serves many commuters coming from Waltham and points south.
“It comes down to enforcement,” said City Manager Mel Hawley. “There should be very little tolerance in any of our 25 mph zones.”
Aldermen ruled out a stop sign, something they said should not be used to slow down speeders, according to federal standards.
“Stop signs are not speed control devices,” said Alderman Renny Perry.
Hawley said the requested stop sign — on South Maple Street at its intersection with King Street, a smaller side street — would not meet a standard that requires a secondary street to have at least 30 percent as much traffic as a main street before a stop sign may be placed on the main street.
“They have to meet the 70-30 threshold,” he said.
As for speed tables, Perry recalled his tenure as city manager, when about a decade ago speed bumps were briefly installed in the area and residents complained about the noise of cars accelerating away from the bumps and the thumps of vehicles going over them — and the inconvenience the bumps posed.
Alderman Joe Klopfenstein did suggest the council look at an indicator sign that notifies motorists of their speed. Perry said such signs were too expensive a decade ago, but might be more affordable now, and aldermen said they would consider that option.
The council will consider several ways of checking speed on South Maple Street. Hawley said the Addison County Regional Planning Commission offers counters that measure speed and time as well as volume of traffic, but because they are in high demand there is no guarantee they would be available soon. Police or possibly members of the department’s Police Explorers Club could also measure speed, officials said.
Whatever method is used, aldermen are not convinced it will uncover as much of a problem as residents perceive.
Perry said results might be different now, but when he served as city manager a study showed almost all drivers were responsible.
“At that time … speeds weren’t as fast as people thought,” Perry said. “But that was then.”
Alderman Randy Ouellette and Alderwoman Lynn Donnelly also wondered if reality wasn’t as problematic as perception.
“I do not think the speed is as bad as people think it is,” Donnelly said.
Regardless, aldermen said they and city police would base their decision on the study, not on their or residents’ opinions.
“It seems like we do have a consensus,” said Mayor Bill Benton. “We need to do some research.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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