Thursday, June 24, 2021

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Council approves ‘speed humps’ to slow traffic along Fountain Place

Things are literally about to get a bit bumpy for drivers who tend to use Fountain Place as a short cut between some of the city’s busiest thoroughfares.

In response to repeated requests from Fountain Place residents, Burlington’s city council has agreed to install “speed humps” along a stretch of this scenic byway that passes through the city’s primary historic district off of West Davis Street.

The council ultimately approved these gentler, less jolting alternatives to speed bumps as part of a “consent agenda” of putatively routine items that its members adopted en bloc during a regularly-scheduled meeting on Tuesday. The council nevertheless had plenty to say about the proposed speed humps when they were originally described to its members at a monthly work session on the previous evening.

During Monday’s work session, Brian Tennent, the city’s transportation engineering and operations manager, presented the speed humps to the council with a unanimous recommendation from the city’s transportation commission. Tennent told the council that the commission endorsed these proposed installations after the city received a petition signed by 85 percent of the homeowners along the affected section of Fountain Place. The neighborhood’s request was then vetted and approved by various city departments before it went on to traffic commission, which heard nary an objection when it considered the proposal in March.

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The proposal that the traffic commission ultimately sent to the council calls for the installation of three speed humps along a section of Fountain Place that runs between West Davis and Kime streets. This area, which is located within Burlington’s largest historic district, features some elaborate streetscaping, like tree-studded medians and the street’s eponymous fountain. It is also home to decorative lampposts, shade trees, and other aesthetic touches that have, at times, wound up in the grills of fast-moving vehicles.

The plan which the council approved would place two of the proposed speed humps on either side of a median that runs between Davis Street and the aforementioned fountain. The other hump would appear along a straightway on the other side of the fountain.

The city would also install signs to alert motorists about the speed humps near the road’s intersections with Davis and Kime streets. All told, these modifications are expected to cost the city about $15,000.

Tennent went on to inform the council that the proposed speed humps were evaluated in compliance with a “traffic calming” policy, which requires the city to consider less drastic measures like stop signs, speed-limit reductions, and ramped-up enforcement before modifying the actual roadway to lower vehicle speeds.

Councilman Jim Butler, who served on the traffic commission before he joined the council, recalled that this policy originally arose in response to the previous pleas of Fountain Place residents for speed bumps and other traffic obstructions.

“It’s been talked about for 16 years,” Butler told the rest of the council. “When we wrote the traffic calming policy, it was surrounding conversation that came from this area.”

The city council initially addressed the neighborhood’s requests in 2008 when it agreed to install the all-way stop signs that still overlook the intersection with Kime Street. A year later, the city rolled out its traffic calming policy to offer alternatives to speed bumps or humps in areas where speeding has been a persistent gripe.

The policy’s intermediary measures nevertheless failed put the brakes on some of the vehicles that zip along Fountain Place. The break-neck speeds of these cars not only continued to draw protests but they’ve also resulted in several accidents, according to the city’s police department. One particularly horrific wreck occurred in December when a vehicle careened out of control after it rounded the fountain, killing a passenger and leaving the driver hospitalized.

[Story continues below photos.]

Burlington’s city council has approved the installation of several ‘speed humps’ along a stretch of Fountain Place where speeding-related accidents have inspired residents to put up their own placards and signs that appeal to the better angels of drivers.

Since this fatal accident, residents of Fountain Place have put up signs, including one shaped like the silhouette of a toddler, that warn of “children at play” or urge motorists to “drive like your kids live here.”

In the meantime, however, Fountain Place has continued to attract more and more traffic – a trend that councilman Harold Owen cited to justify the proposed speed humps on Monday.

“With the community changing in terms of the number of kids along this street and the development of the arboretum down at Willowbrook [Park], I think this makes sense,” the councilman added.

Kathy Hykes, the city’s mayor pro tem, also addressed the road’s relatively high use among motorists who want to travel quickly between Church Street and destinations on the north side of town.

“I pick up a friend between Kime Street and Church, and it’s pretty terrifying to back out of her driveway because of the speeding cars that come around from Church Street,” she recalled. “People are really taking terrible risks in the speeds they’re going Fountain Place.”

Hykes also noted the absence of other north-south connections – a problem that other members of the council seemed equally keen to address.

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