Plans to 'calm' traffic on Kalamazoo's North Side are facing a (speed) bump in the road

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Northside series.

Representatives of the City of Kalamazoo are set to meet with community leaders Thursday, Aug. 27, to discuss measures to stop rampant speeding in Kalamazoo’s North Side Neighborhood.
“We’re planning to install speed bumps and we’re working to get a meeting together with a smaller group so we can interact a little bit easier – due to (considering) COVID rules and everything else,” says James Baker, public services director for the City of Kalamazoo.
Feedback that city officials received during a July 30 public meeting at LaCrone Park indicated “there wasn’t a lot of support for the chicanes so we paused on that,” Baker says.
Chicanes are physical roadway barriers that the city had intended to install on several streets before the end of the summer to “calm” traffic. Flexible vertical posts are installed in marked off areas that extend from curbs, usually requiring motorists to slow down to navigate around them. Studies indicate they lower traffic speeds and reduce traffic crashes. And the city touted them as a cost-effective measure to attack the problem. 
A car travels over a speed hump on Kalamazoo's West Side, similar to what is being proposed as a solution to speeding in other neighborhoods.But North Side residents have said they think they need stronger measurers to stop cars from recklessly speeding through 25-mph residential streets at better than 40 mph.
A motorist speeding at 48 mph through the one chicane that had been installed started off the July 30 meeting at LaCrone Park. It included a radar speed monitor. That was on Williams Street, along the southern border of the park, in full view of city officials and community members. The meeting continued with area residents asking for speed bumps.
At a recent digital meeting of the Kalamazoo City Commission, Wendy Fields, president of the Metropolitan Kalamazoo Branch of the NAACP and a North Side resident said, “The thing on Williams Street is a joke. We need to have something useful for the high taxes we pay.”
Speaking of the chicanes, Baker says, “We heard loud and clear that the community wasn’t in support of that. So we need to make adjustments.”
A sign marking a a speed hump on Kalamazoo's West Side, similar to what is being proposed as a solution to speeding in other neighborhoods.Chicanes were to be installed on North Side streets that have seen big increases in traffic. Those include Staples Avenue, Woodward Avenue, Cobb Avenue, William Street, Elizabeth Street, Mabel Street, Florence Street, Ada Street, North Burdick Street, Edwards Street, Bosket Avenue, Prouty Street, and a location near the intersection of Cadillac and Hawley street. 

Baker says fewer streets will have street bumps installed this year. He says that if approved, they are to be installed by city crews already slowed by measures to address COVID-19 and the speed bumps will be installed as crews do other maintenance and repair work that was previously scheduled.
City officials have said the cost of installing hard plastic speedbumps like one that has been on Paterson Avenue for the past three years is high – more than $70,000 each. The cost of the flexible chicanes project was about $30,000 in total. Baker says the cost of installing asphalt speedbumps would be comparable to that of the chicane project. But he is not yet certain how many speedbumps that will cover.
At Thursday’s meeting, he and city officials will discuss the potential of installing the asphalt speed bumps, on which streets they may be installed, and such things as the process neighbors can use to have their street considered.
Kalamazoo City Planner Christina Anderson says Thursday’s meeting is not open to the general public. “It was meant to be kind of a smaller, focused discussion to figure out our next steps,” she says.

Normally the Department of Public Works would meet in-person with community members to discuss issues more easily. But taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 resulted in the outdoor meeting at LaCrone Park, and it has made scheduling this in-person meeting difficult, Baker says.
“This year is a hard year for communication I think. It’s a hard year for communities to come together and move things that they want to move from projects and from service and support,” Baker adds.

“It’s certainly our goal to listen to neighborhoods.”
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Al Jones.

Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.