Lexington's speed humps are controversial traffic fix

A vehicle navigated over one of six speed humps on Northwood Dr. in Lexington, Ky., on Sept. 16, 2013. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
A vehicle navigated over one of six speed humps on Northwood Dr. in Lexington, Ky., on Sept. 16, 2013. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff Lexington Herald-Leader

Northwood Drive runs between Bryan Station Road and Old Paris Pike. But perhaps "runs" is not the correct word for how this particular stretch of pavement works.

Over Northwood's half-mile stretch, there are six speed humps that have been in place seven years, ensuring that the only thing running down Northwood is someone wearing Nikes.

Northwood holds the distinction of being one of the city's most heavily speed-humped stretches of residential road. But are all those humps helping with the traffic? Not really, some residents say.

Willis Kanatzer, who has lived in the Northwood area for 40 years, said that a neighborhood motorcycle makes a sport of driving over the humps and the goal of slowing vehicles isn't necessarily working.

In Lexington, the heyday for speed hump installation was between five and 10 years ago. The neighborhood traffic management program that helped create "traffic-calming" devices such as speed humps was created by the Urban County Council in 2000, said Jim Woods, acting director of Lexington's traffic engineering program.

"It stems from traffic going in neighborhoods speeding and using cut-throughs," Woods said.

Sixth district council member Kevin Stinnett — whose district includes Northwood — said that speed humps "are usually the last resort" for neighborhoods seeking to slow down racing cars after looking at options including increased signage and using paint to make the road look smaller.

Another heavily speed-humped neighborhood is The Woods, off Alumni Drive. The Shillito Park area has more speed humps with 12, but the humps are spread over a greater area and slow traffic to 10 to 20 miles per hour.

Bill Voit, former president of The Woods neighborhood association, said that the humps "are questionable as to the value. The younger guys driving the BMWs, they'll hit those things anyway."

The streets in The Woods used to be private, but are now maintained by the city.

"I think we've got a sign that says 25 miles per hour," Voit said. "The guys that hit them (the humps) pretty good don't seem to be too worried about anything. The people that observe them are kind of the older, slower folks anyway."

Voit has his own method for approaching the humps: "I generally try to get two wheels off to the side."

How and why do some neighborhoods have speed humps? The city's traffic engineering department takes complaints on speeding through neighborhoods and can mail citizens a petition for speed calming devices on their streets; Lexington police routinely address neighborhood requests for traffic surveying and speed traps. But at least 65 percent of area residents would have to say they want a traffic-calming device in order to get a study performed.

Speed humps are also expensive, costing $4,500 each. Residents must agree to kick in some money, based on property values, for their construction.

Besides expense, some neighborhoods don't want speed humps because — except for some temporary rubber ones on Deerhaven Lane — they are permanent, said Stinnett. That may slow down traffic on the street, but it also means that school buses will not drive on the street, nor will snow plows.

Research published by the Institute of Transportation Engineers suggests that homeowners living on streets with speed humps tend to perceive the humps as potentially depressing their property values, ugly and an impediment to smooth travel on neighborhood streets.

The traffic engineers conclude, however, that while residents may fear speed humps, their presence does not affect property values in any predictable way. Regardless, that has contributed to dampening the appeal of permanent speed humps nationwide.

Alvin Cook, traffic grants coordinator for the Lexington police department, said that speed humps work well once other options for neighborhood traffic control have been exhausted — first an unseen "speed spy" device that monitors neighborhood speeds, followed by a radar trailer that shows motorists how fast they are travelling, then with police ticketing speeders.

Speed humps, he said, "largely eliminate the problem. They tend to be more of an inconvenience to motorists."

"Normally the speed limit signs don't do much for you, because a lot of people don't take the time to read the signs. They're like, 'I need to get from point A to point B, and this is how fast I need to go.'"

Kristin Ingwell Goode, former president of the Kenwick Neighborhood Association, said that during her former neighborhood's debate on street humps, it faced multiple problems: many points of access to the neighborhood; many street blocks that wanted the humps and limited means to pay for them; the city's inability after street hump installation to provide services such as snow scraping; and the humps' slowing of fire and ambulance service.

Kenwick wound up forgoing speed humps.

"I hated the speeding as much as anyone," Goode said. "... People felt very strongly about traffic in Kenwick for good reasons."

In 2006, residents of Bell Court split on whether to allow 16 speed humps as a means of slowing traffic through that small downtown neighborhood. Residents overwhelmingly voted against it, though the neighborhood still has three that were already installed and repaired.

Bettina Morrish, a Bell Court neighborhood resident, said that the speed humps were and are still controversial in the neighborhood.

However, Morrish said that the speed humps made a difference and she's glad the humps are there. The neighborhood also looked at alternative ways to calm traffic, including street islands and curb bump-outs, which slow traffic by making the street appear more narrow.

"I think they've been moderately effective," she said of the speed humps. "(But) I don't know that anyone wants to go back to a discussion of whether to add more. ... I wish the city would embrace some alternative, because they're worth thinking about. There's got to be something prettier and nicer than speed humps."

Bell Court: 121 Forest Ave., 539 Russell Ave., 617 Boonesboro Ave.

Blueberry Hills: 308 Harvard Dr., 321 Harvard Dr., 341 Harvard Dr.

Bryan Station: Northwood Drive — 126, 150, 170, 308, 336, 360

Cave Hill: Cave Hill Lane — 2080, 2120, 2178, 2194

Deer Haven: Deer Haven Lane — 1128, 1152, 1176

Harrods Hill: Snaffle Road — 3399, 3403, 3439, 3451

Henry Clay: 909 East Loudon Ave., Lindy Lane — 1552, 1572, 1588

Lansdowne: Thistleton Drive — 3407, 3423

Martin Luther King: Templeman Alley — 118, 146

Shillito Park: Shillito Park Road/Brunswick Road — 12

Southland Park: Hill N Dale Road — 667, 679, 691

Stoney Brook: Stoneybrook Dr. — 313, 327; Greenlawn Dr., 3428, 3440, 3480, 3532

The Colony: 1228 Colonial Dr., John Alden Lane — 4013, 4021

The Woods: Woodmont Dr. — 2105, 2129; The Woods Lane — 2312, 2325, 2341, 2353, 2373

Transylvania Park: Transylvania Park — 318, 325, 352, 357

Speed humps are gradual changes in the roadway surface usually 12-14 feet long and 4 inches high, and can be effective on local residential streets but are not recommended for higher capacity roadways. They generally slow cars to 10-20 mph.

Speed bumps are more aggressive. They are taller, shorter in length, and placed primarily in parking lots. They generally slow cars to 5-10 mph.

Source: Lexington division of traffic engineering