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How does Bloomington decide where to place traffic calming projects?

Third Street chicane

Chicane on West Third Street in Bloomington. This traffic calming device was installed in 2012. (Holden Abshier, WFIU/WTIU News)

Traffic calming devices can be controversial in Bloomington. Opinions vary, whether it’s the serpentine-shaped chicane on West Third Street, traffic circles on West Seventh Street, neighborhood speed bumps – or now the back-in angle parking spaces on South Lincoln Street.

Where do these infrastructure changes come from? It’s important to note there are two types of traffic calming projects: resident-led and city staff-led. 

Projects on busy streets such as West Third and West Seventh result from planning and transportation staff. However, residents can have their voice heard on a smaller scale through projects such as speed bumps and speed cushions on neighborhood streets.

The city is accepting new proposals for resident-led projects through February. It is dedicating another $50,000 to the initiative.

City planners say the goal of all traffic calming solutions is to reduce vehicle speed and improve bicycle and pedestrian safety. 

“Illegal speeding is an issue of public safety,” bicycle and pedestrian coordinator Mallory Rickbeil said. “Not only does it increase the severity of crashes, but it also increases the likelihood that there will be crashes.”

She said resident-led projects were created as a part of the new Traffic Calming and Greenways Program policy approved by city council in October 2020. In 2021 the city allocated $50,000, and approved one project costing $43,600 in the Crestmont neighborhood.

“I have no delusions that traffic calming is popular with everyone,” Rickbeil said. “Yet, there is significant evidence that traffic calming devices are the most effective and most cost-efficient way to reduce speeds.”

Traffic calming device map
Map of traffic calming solutions around Bloomington. (Courtesy: City of Bloomington)

On the next round of resident-led projects, residents must collect signatures from at least 30 percent of affected housing units or 24 people, whichever is smaller, before filing an application. Affected housing units are those properties within 300 feet of a proposed project.  The application must include three letters of support, with one from a city council representative. 

In 2021 the process required a majority of residents to approve the project at two separate times: the application period and the final design. The city council lowered the threshold last year. 

“We did find with the last process was that it was too complicated of a process for areas where there isn't an organized neighborhood group,” Rickbeil said. “Or you have people who perhaps are renters and aren't likely to engage in a process that requires a signature, and then a series of meetings and then a ballot.” 

She said the second ballot was the “kiss of death” for a lot of projects because the city did not manage to get 51 percent of ballots returned despite a successful first round, noted speeding “is a behavior that shouldn't put the burden of popularity on something that we know will reduce the likelihood of harm." 

Resident-led traffic calming
Flow chart of the resident-led traffic calming process. (Courtesy: City of Bloomington)

After receiving applications, planning and transportation staff members begin compiling data for each neighborhood area. They look at speed data and crash reports in the last five years, as well as how many children, elderly, disabled and poor people live in an area.

Each project is scored and ranked, with the top-scoring project moving forward. After notifying residents, the bicycle and pedestrian safety commission will hold a public hearing and vote on whether to install the project.

“It's not going to be something where one neighborhood can get more signatures than another,” Rickbeil said. “It is very much based on rubric that is created by the bicycle and pedestrian safety commission and updated every year.”

Count Robert Deppert as an opponent of most traffic calming solutions. He said in the summer of 2018, a 16-year-old driver came speeding over a hill and lost control of his car on the speed bump in front of his house on Countryside Drive, damaging two cars in Deppert’s driveway.  

“I don't think he would have lost control of his car had that speed bump not been there,” he said. “And I've heard the explanations on why these are great things….but all I can think is you're putting a cement barrier in the middle of a road to hopefully slow people down, but what people are going to do is end up running into it.” 

Car damage
One of Robert Deppert's cars shortly after being hit by a 16-year-old who lost control of his vehicle on a speed bump. (Courtesy: Robert Deppert)

Other residents said traffic calming is a matter of life and death for people who walk. Greg Alexander is a pedestrian advocate and said speed bumps are not the most effective, but they are cheap.

“The council said, '...We can't give you enough money to install sidewalks, so how about having just enough to install maybe 10 speed bumps every year,’” Alexander said.

He said with such a small amount of money and a restriction on eligible roads, it is not possible for a small group of residents to try and slow traffic on high-volume streets.

“You can understand why that is because you wouldn't just want like two people living on a street to put up a speed bump that 500 people every hour are going to drive over,” he said.

City staff bases decisions on the high priority network in the transportation plan for larger traffic calming projects such as changes to on-street parking, chicanes, and curb extensions.

Staff-led traffic calming flow chart
Flow chart of the staff-led traffic calming process. (Courtesy: City of Bloomington)

For staff-led projects, the first step is notifying affected residents, followed by at least two public meetings. Then, the city accepts feedback for at least four weeks before the bicycle and pedestrian safety commission holds a public hearing. 

Staff-led projects are installed by default unless 75 percent of the commission objects.  

As for the back-in angle parking near the Boys and Girls Club on South Lincoln Street, planning and transportation staff said they not only encourage slower traffic but also prevent children from running into the street when getting out of a car. They are the first of their kind in the city.   

Back-in angle parking
Graphic showing how to back-in angle park. (Courtesy: City of Bloomington)

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