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City plans better speed enforcement on South Maple St.

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on Tuesday supported Police Chief George Merkel’s plan for more aggressive enforcement in response to an August petition from South Maple Street residents requesting the city to address what they say is persistent speeding in their neighborhood.
The August petition, signed by 34 residents, asked the city “take a more aggressive role” in slowing traffic on South Maple Street and stated that “excessive speed” is “a danger and has become totally out of hand” on the side street, posted at 25 mph. 
The petition suggested the council consider measures that include a new stop sign, installation of speed tables, “Watch for Children” signs, and a flashing sign showing motorists their speed.
Aldermen last month ruled out stop signs, which they said are illegal when used solely to regulate speed, and speed tables, which were unpopular when the city put them in place a decade ago in response to the same issue.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Merkel said police presence is the best tactic to combat the problem.
“I think the most effective way to curtail speed is enforcement,” Merkel said.
He said police would set up shop during “problem time periods … and sit there and write tickets.”
Merkel said during his years working with Middlebury police a similar issue cropped up, and a similar solution worked.
“We had a problem on South Street, leading to the hospital,” he said. “Aggressive enforcement solved the problem … Word spread fast.”
Merkel promised action.
“After two or three months … we’ll do another speed survey and see how we’re doing,” he said.
But petition organizer Bill Harrington was skeptical.
“As soon as their back is turned, it’s back to the same-old, same-old,” Harrington said. “I see it. It’s the same cars every day.”
Harrington said he and others are concerned about children, the elderly and handicapped residents.
“I’ve seen the result of a 4-year-old being hit by a car. If you see that, it’s something you’ll never forget,” Harrington said. “And I don’t want to see that on my street.”
Merkel provided city officials with an Explorers Club survey of 663 vehicles traveling on the street. Conducted at two different times over two days, it showed the average speed was 25.5 on one day and 22.6 on the other.
But on one day, about 18 percent of vehicles were going faster than 30 mph, and on the other 13.4 percent exceeded 30 mph. And between the two days, 19 cars were recorded traveling between 35 and 39 mph.
City Manager Mel Hawley said some of those numbers were unacceptable.
“I did think more people are driving faster than 30 mph than we would like,” he said.
Hawley said many have learned to use South Maple Street and other side roads as shortcuts to dodge downtown traffic lights. He said he hoped to send them a different message.
“We need to teach them with a ticket they’re not saving any time when there’s a blue light behind their car,” Hawley said. 
Aldermen pledged the data would be checked to see if Merkel’s approach was effective.
Mayor Bill Benton said the council is taking the issue seriously.
“I think we’re all on the same page,” Benton said. “Let us take this first step, and if it doesn’t work, let us know.”
Harrington said he and other South Maple Street residents would wait and see.
“I suppose that we’ll have to have faith in the city and the department,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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