Speeding is nothing new, but is it worse? Mayor Petty pointed out that a traffic speed monitoring program completed after numerous speeding complaints, showed that speed wasn’t really an issue. The study measuring speed found most vehicles operating about the speed limit. Increasing traffic enforcement wouldn’t have much affect under these circumstances as most vehicles are not speeding. However, more and more vehicles are using neighborhood streets as cut-through roads to avoid traffic and are driving aggressively across the City.
It would be easy and truthful to say that lowing the speed limit would have little effect on the speed of drivers where we don’t have enough police to enforce a lower speed limit, but instead, let’s explore the cause of speeding, so we can better deal with speeding.
A major problem that the City has is a complete lack of traffic design resulting in unsequenced lighting throughout the City. A simple drive down every one of our major streets: Southbridge Street, Chandler Street, Main Street, Major Taylor Boulevard, Salisbury Street, Lincoln Street, etc. will result in a stop at nearly every light. Now, I’ve heard the argument against sequencing lights on Park Ave is that there are too many side streets, but the fact is improvement to traffic flow could still be made by sequencing the lights there and similar streets.
While I’m not making the argument that light sequencing will cure everything, I am making the argument that it will cure at least half of the complaints.
I’ve made observations in all my travels concerning light sequencing (and parking, but I’ll discuss that another time). While in Tampa, FL, I video tapped a more than ten block expanse of road with proper light sequencing. As the vehicles proceeded down the avenue, the lights turned from red to green in conjunction with the speed limit. If a drive chose to speed from one light to the next, they simply found themselves at a red light. It had the direct effect of limiting speeding and cutting down the aggressive driving associated with constant red lights.
In Worcester, without exaggeration, a simple drive down Major Taylor Boulevard on a traffic free Saturday morning will result in a minimum of four stops due to traffic lights. Not because another vehicle was entering from a side street causing the light to activate; rather, the timers on each light is set to cause the stoppage. It seems as if the installer on each light didn’t talking to anyone at all and just randomly set the timer. The result is drivers that attempt to beat the next red light and aggressive driving.
Poor light sequencing also results in the very dangerous and most complained of issue in the City, cut-through roads. A prime example is the lights on Main Street that push traffic over to Linden Street and Harvard Street. Another example is Lincoln Street, where traffic flows over to Paine Street and even up to Uxbridge Street. These are back streets where children will be found playing basketball from a temporary hoop on the side of the street and are not designed for the increased traffic. Drivers use these and many other roads to avoid the horrible traffic congestion mostly caused by poor design.
Poor light sequencing also adds to the expense and inefficiency of our public transportation system. If cars are stopped, so are our buses. It is quite possible that if we were able to reduce the amount of time for a bus to transverse the city, we could reduce costs and thus have more funds available for increased services. Increased services might bring more riders and thus increasing efficiency.
Poor light sequencing also means that you can’t get there from here in a reasonable amount of time. It has the effect of cutting off one side of the city from the other as drivers simply choose to shop and eat at the easier places to get to. This is not an economic driver for all our neighborhoods. Businesses in the heart of the City shouldn’t have an additional burden of poor traffic flow as a competitive disadvantage.
Worcester drivers are ranked amongst the worst in the country, right alongside of Boston drivers. While the argument is that our cities arose before modern city planning and thus our streets aren’t laid out on a grid, it certainly is not helpful to have so many impediments to getting around the city that influence a driver’s ability to get from one place to another. I’ve seen enough bad drivers outside of Massachusetts to say that there is little difference in overall driving behaviors.
Unfortunately, people that drive the many cars on our roads seem to be less courteous to others and less respectful of residential neighborhoods, to include their own. Lowering the speed limit without the ability to enforce the same would have a marginal benefit, but is a great election year ploy!
The good news is that Council has sent the idea as an item to the City Manager as there seems to be some willingness to consider improving our traffic flow and light sequencing.