About 140 signatures on an unofficial petition prompted the Seward City Council to authorize the removal of a speed bump that has been in place less than a year on East Seward Street.
Nearly 40 people attended the council’s March 7 meeting. Some were there to show support for the speed bump to stay, while others asked that it be removed.
The bump was put in place last spring at the corner of East Seward Street and Lindell Avenue after Seward Street resident Marcia Karel spearheaded an effort to help slow and reduce traffic on the street.
This second round of signatories asked for the opposite.
“We don’t have a formal petition process. It doesn’t automatically trigger anything like it would at the state level,” Mayor Josh Eickmeier said.
City Administrator Greg Butcher said the term “petition” was being used lightly and was simply a show of support or a request from the approximately 140 people who signed. Most of them live in the Ridge Run neighborhood east of the speed bump, and a few live just outside city limits but take Seward Street into town.
Two people spoke to the council asking that the speed bump be removed. Six others voiced their support for keeping it in place, and one more didn’t take sides but said the speed bump was part of a larger problem related to the condition of the road itself.
Doug Theobald lives on Goldenrod Lane, a few blocks east of the speed bump. He spoke representing the Ridge Run Homeowners Association.
Theobald said the bump sets a precedent for other residents to request speed bumps wherever they want and that it creates traffic jams when the narrow road gets icy.
He cited other reasons listed on the signature page, which said the bump “inconsistently identifies exactly one block in Seward as more dangerous to residents than any other street,” that the “structure is aggressive and potentially a vehicle maintenance hazard” and that “traffic speed should not be regulated by random placement of speed bumps,” but rather by signage and enforcement by the police department.
Fran Swain said he has lived on Ridge Run for two years and believes the bigger issue is the street itself.
“The thing we’re calling a speedbump is not a speedbump, it’s an obstacle,” Swain said, threatening legal action if it wasn’t removed.
Karel spoke in favor of retaining the speed bump.
“It helps regulate speed and serves as a safety measure on our street,” she said.
She said about 800 vehicles use Seward Street each day, turning it into a major thoroughfare.
“Requests for police presence during high-traffic times have repeatedly been made but never offered,” Karel said. “It takes but a few seconds to slow down and cross. If this is such a nuisance, there are other routes available.”
Seward Police Chief Brian Peters said the department has done selective enforcement in that area and no issues stood out.
“It could be that the problem times residents are having are times we couldn’t dedicate a lot of time in that area,” he said, such as during before and after school hours when officers are needed elsewhere.
Joe Mazurek, another resident of East Seward Street, said the bump has greatly reduced the number of people speeding up and down the hill.
“We understand it is very difficult to post law enforcement in that area. No matter how law-abiding people are, there comes that idea that ‘who’s watching, who cares, so I’m going a little bit over.’ With this speed bump in place, it at least makes people think,” Mazurek said. “We are getting results with this, no matter how minor they are, we are getting results.”
Tom and Emily O’Brien live on East Seward with their three young children. Emily said the kids spend much of their time playing outside.
“Prior to the speed bump being in place, letting them play outside was incredibly nerve-wracking,” Emily said. “I’ve literally started screaming ‘slow down’ to speeders, and my children followed suit. We have noticed a drastic change. I am so grateful the speed bump was installed.”
She said those who cross the speed bump once or twice a day but don’t live near it are inconvenienced for only a few seconds.
“We see and experience the benefits of the speed bump our entire day,” she said.
Leann Lowther said the traffic on East Seward has increased significantly in the 23 years she has lived there. A lack of roads that carry traffic north to south means people drive up East Seward to get to North Columbia or Highway 15 – a problem she said will worsen with the new Prairie View housing development east of town.
Lowther said she didn’t understand why the petitioners were concerned about setting a precedent.
“If someone else in the town has a concern on their street, why not consider it? I don’t understand why we don’t want to keep our community safe. It is a more dangerous street than others in the area,” she said, adding it is “unrealistic” to have police monitor the street all the time.
Tom O’Brien agreed.
“Yes, a speed bump sets a precedent, but I think it’s one we want in our community that the safety of our residents and kids is important,” he said. “The speed bump is by far the best use of resources to consistently and reliably control the speed.”
Kim Clark also lives on Goldenrod Lane. She did not state whether she wanted the speed bump to stay or be removed, but rather turned the council’s attention to the street itself.
“The condition of the street really doesn’t allow anyone to drive at the speed limit,” Clark said.
Vehicles parked along the sides of the narrow street and bricks bulging up, she said, prevent drivers from navigating smoothly.
“Is speed really the issue? I think the issue here is traffic. I would like to ask the city and the council to consider burying the power lines and widening that street and even paving it,” Clark said. “It’s a collector street. It needs to be viewed as a collector street.”
City Engineer Mike Oneby said a collector is the second tier in the road classification hierarchy, after local streets that connect houses on a block. Collectors connect neighborhoods with places like business districts and schools. Classifications then go up from there to minor arterials, major arterials and highways.
Other collector streets in Seward are Ash Street, part of South Columbia Avenue, Moffitt Street, Pinewood Avenue and part of Waverly Road.
Oneby said the Federal Association of American Highway Traffic Officials, state and federal governments do not recognize daily traffic counts as a design guideline when making type designations.
“The state makes that determination of a collector street. Local authorities have the ability to appeal,” he said.
Mayor Josh Eickmeier said it’s hard to compare East Seward Street with other collector streets because of when they were built.
“Part of what makes East Seward Street unique is it was the main entrance into town, way back. Those others were designed much, much later. The brick portion of East Seward Street is an anomaly,” Eickmeier said.
Council member John Singleton serves on the Seward Volunteer Fire Department. He said Seward Street is difficult for fire and rescue vehicles to navigate because it’s so narrow.
“If you have parked cars on the side, we can’t get around. We’ve directed everybody not to even go down that street,” unless the emergency is on that block, Singleton said.
Though the agenda item was only for the council’s consideration, not necessarily an action item, council member Karl Miller made a motion to remove the speed bump. Jonathon Wilken seconded.
“To put a speed bump on a collector road does not make any sense,” Miller said. “To me, it comes down to how do we want to set this as policy as a council? I think there is an underlying issue in the width of it.”
The council voted 7-1 to remove the speed bump, with Rich Wergin of Ward 3 voting against.
“I believe the speed bump has been effective in slowing traffic, and I wanted to express that I appreciated everyone’s opinion and their thoughts on why it should be in place or should not be in place,” Wergin said after the meeting. “I think the city council will need to continue to look at this as our population grows.”