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Written by Frank Rollason -- BT Contributor   
May 2013

Why are drivers in Belle Meade in such a hurry?

SPix_FrankRollason_5-13o the other day I was out doing a little yard work when a neighbor driving by stopped and started a conversation concerning last month’s column on climate change and rising sea levels. Her comment was most profound: “You write that we should ‘think globally but act locally.’ When are you going to write something locally about Belle Meade?”

I told her my column this month would be on the current hot-button issue in our neighborhood: traffic calming.

Lately there has been an increasing awareness of the driving habits of some of our neighbors, as well as some visitors to our lovely enclave. It seems that certain individuals believe driving the speed limit or stopping at stop signs is beneath them. It’s the old “the world revolves around me and the rest of you simpletons can take a hike” syndrome that eventually will result in a serious accident on our usually quiet streets.

So pressure is building to do something. I’m not quite sure what that something will ultimately be, but rest assured the natives are restless and it won’t be long before the torches and pitchforks are brought out of the barn. Our homeowners association, not being oblivious to the issue, has reached out to residents to get their input on how they would like to proceed. And here is where the fun begins.

A neighborhood meeting was held on Saturday, April 6, in the neighborhood park, at the request of several residents who find it difficult to attend an evening meeting during the week owing to parenting duties on the home front. We did not receive a huge turnout, but there were some fresh faces, most notably young parents voicing their concerns over traffic scofflaws and the increasing dangers to pedestrians.

What is most troublesome is that we have this (mostly) self-inflicted problem to begin with. While it is true some of our service providers -- lawn-care companies and Fed Ex and UPS delivery trucks, for example -- contribute to the condition, most of the offenders are residents of the mainland community and Belle Meade Island, which includes about 53 homes, all of them waterfront. As Pogo said many moons ago: “We have met the enemy and he is us!”

(Right now some of you are probably asking, “Who the hell is Pogo?” To which I respond, “What exactly is a Lady Gaga?”)

Anyway, the point is that it is way too sad that we have to have these meetings to come up with a plan to address the jerks who have no consideration for the rest of us. Living on a corner home with adjacent stop signs, I see all too well the number of residents who, during their daily commutes, hardly slow down for the stop signs, much less actually, you know, stop.

And then there are those who think NE 76th Street is the Indianapolis Speedway. They rev up heading east with a blast through the NE 7th Avenue stop sign, increase their speed as they approach 8th Avenue, then blast through that stop sign and continue to gain speed until they have to slow down to either make the left onto the island or continue east around the bend to reach home.

As I wrote in an earlier column, I once did a test run in my car from the guard house to the farthest points on the island and the mainland -- one at the speed limit, stopping dead for each stop sign encountered, and one as fast as I could safely travel while cruising through every stop sign. The time differential on the trips to the island and the mainland was 20 seconds. Yep, 20 seconds -- hardly worth the accompanying jeopardy, but a jackass is never known for critical thinking skills or considering the potential outcomes of his actions.

So what’s next? Well, several alternatives were discussed at that April 6 meeting.

For one, there is the possibility of having a traffic circle of some design installed at the intersection of NE 8th Avenue and 76th Street. Some favor that idea while others oppose it.

There is also the option of lowering the neighborhood speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph. One individual vociferously pushed for 20 mph. Recognizing that this alternative would require an extreme level of police enforcement, which is unlikely, he suggested the streets need to be redesigned in such a way that a car simply couldn’t do more than 20 mph. I don’t think there is community support for such a drastic measure (or the money to finance it).

Yet another option is to privately pay for an off-duty officer to ticket drivers who commit speeding and stop-sign violations. The cost to residents would be $105 for three hours of the officer’s time. I, for one, like this option and stated I would be willing to “opt for a cop” every once in a while to get the attention of a jackass or two.

Perhaps some other residents would consider doing the same. Sometimes a little enforcement is the only appropriate medicine for those who simply cannot be convinced in a more civil manner.

Another possibility is to have existing crosswalks enhanced with what is called stamped asphalt. This is a process whereby a hot die is applied to the existing asphalt surface between the two white stripes of the crosswalk. Then a surface treatment is applied, with the end result resembling a brick crosswalk. Just this little improvement has a positive effect on a driver’s ability to more easily recognize a crosswalk.

The City of Miami’s Office of Capital Improvements previously approved this process and, I was told, Commissioner Marc Sarnoff approved funding. The homeowners association is currently following up on the status of this installation, which was supposed to take place once our storm-water project was completed. That was about two and a half years ago.

It was the consensus of the group that gathered in the park to pursue the traffic circle on NE 8th Avenue and 76th Street, along with the crosswalk enhancements. Further outreach to our elected officials and administrative personnel is under way, and the results will be presented at our next homeowners association meeting, to be held Tuesday, May 14, at 7:00 p.m. at the Legion Park community center.

In the meantime, obey the speed limits and stop signs in the neighborhood -- or keep a wary eye out for the man.

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