Few options are available to the city to remedy a speeding problem on Fowler Road east of Mitchell Road but the best solution could be a new stop sign at Lunar Drive.
The Ceres City Council spent the bulk of a 90-minute study session time on Monday to hear about traffic problems on Fowler Road and other parts of the city.
Members were in agreement with neighbors that something needs to be done to curb a dangerous condition with speeding drivers on a road that serves 5,000 cars per day, many of which are transporting children to and from Sam Vaughn Elementary School and Mae Hensley Junior High School.
The street segment, which runs from Rite Aid on Mitchell Road to Marie Neil Park on Boothe Road, is a primary collector street slicing through a residential area. The street serves as a main route to link Mitchell Road with Eastgate, a major east side housing development.
City officials met with the neighborhood on Dec. 20 and heard of concerns and launched an enforcement campaign. Police issued 52 traffic citations during a 40-day period, with all drivers being cited for traveling at least 10 mph faster than the 35 mph speed limit, said City Engineer Toby Wells.
Derek Cowell petitioned the city to place speed bumps on the street in 2009 at Lunar and Fowler but a study concluded that the stop was not warranted. Wells also said the stretch of Fowler Road fails to meet three of nine criteria's for the justification of speed bumps.
Wells suggested that traffic calming devices could be employed to reduce speeds on Fowler Road, such as narrowing street width, adding center medians, planter bulbs or stripping the pavement to appear narrower. Wells said that bulbs would cost some residents the loss of street parking and driveways would limit bulb placement. The only place that makes sense for a bulb, he said, is near Lunar Drive.
Wells also mentioned that the planned construction of a north-south bike path at the TID canal later this year presents the city with an opportunity to add traffic calming by necking the roadway.
Vice Mayor Ken Lane inquired about a roundabout to slow down motorists but Wells said a 40-foot circle in the road would push traffic closer to sidewalks and could be less safe for pedestrians.
The council shied away from the idea of speed bumps, remembering how Glasgow Drive residents clamored for them and later had them removed after realizing they were causing too many disruptions and noise.
When Mayor Vierra tossed out the idea of closing off Fowler at the canal, Wells recoiled, saying it would be a circulation "nightmare" that would push more traffic onto Boothe Road, Hatch Road and Whitmore Avenue.
Councilman Bret Durosette said the city should be more proactive about tackling the speed problem given that many families use the stretch to access Sam Vaughn Elementary and all of Eastgate.
Continued enforcement as a solution is limited, said Wells, because of the limited size of the traffic unit and focuses on other problem areas in Ceres, such as speeding on Hackett Road.
Cowell told the council that the problem is great because "so many kids are going back and forth in that area. We see how day in and day out how dangerous this road is." After hearing the city has difficulty meeting traffic warrants, Cowell said "it's so maddening that we are talking about myopic rules and very, very imperfect criteria."
There is no significant history of accidents along the stretch, said Wells, but Ed Cowell, a resident on the street since 1972, said the city should consider any accident of great importance.
"We already had a fatality a couple of years ago on Fowler and we don't need another," said Cowell. The accident he referred to occurred on a section of Fowler west of Mitchell Road. Cowell urged a new study, saying things that have changed include the new Rite Aid and fire station. He also said that a bike lane would be the equivalent of throwing riders in a shark tank.
When Cowell suggested that he wouldn't mind seeing a three-way stop at Lunar Drive, Vierra said traffic backups created by a new stop sign might prompt him to "be careful what you wish for."
A resident on Fowler Road since 1973, Rocky Fisher said it's tough getting out onto Fowler Road, but he would put up with delays caused by a new stop sign at Lunar Drive.
"I'm really for doing something," said Fisher.
Despite Wells saying that stop signs are not generally used for speed control, and the city can be sued for installing impediments to traffics without meeting traffic warrants, the council decided to go with a stop sign.
Vierra said if the council orders a new stop sign at Fowler and Lunar, he wants the city to re-evaluate it later to see if unintended consequences occur.
Councilman Eric Ingwerson said the stop sign seems like the best solution and has less impacts than speed bumps on emergency vehicles.
Wells said the city will lay road counters to survey the speeds again before the stop sign order is brought back in April.
The rest of the study session looked at progress being made to improve the flow of traffic, make Ceres safer for those riding in traffic and walking around town and enforce speed laws.
The council received an overview of improvements made since the fall of 2011, the last time the council focused on traffic safety. Projects completed include new traffic signals at Mitchell and Don Pedro, and at Central and Don Pedro; road widening on Mitchell Road north of Whitmore Avenue; and sidewalk improvements in front of City Hall and the Ceres Library and on Fourth, Fifth and Ninth streets and Don Pedro and Roeding roads. The city has also improved the flow of traffic by better timing of traffic signals.
The city is also out to bid on federally funded improvements on Central Avenue between Whitmore Avenue and Hatch Road under the "Safe Routes to School" program. Design is being worked on a similar safe schools route for the Moffet corridor with construction this summer. Work is also being done to finish the Hatch Road bicycle trail that links Boothe Road to the frontage road.
The city and Ceres Unified School District are partnering to better educate students and parents on student safety in the aftermath of the tragic accident that took the life of a Mae Hensley Junior High School student.
The goal, said Wells, is to have students "find safe ways to get to school and really encourage that activity." He noted that there are a lot of traffic problems near the schools during peak hours.
Wells said speed is the primary problem on city streets and noted that the traffic unit of the Ceres Police Department operates primarily on a complaint basis. The council learned that in addition to Fowler Road, Hackett Avenue is another street where speeding is an issue. There police issued 16 citations for speeding during a recent 90-minute enforcement.
Vierra suggested that any new neighborhoods be constructed in a way to avoid long straight streets that foster speeding.