A resident driven process for requesting traffic calming measures has resulted in the start of making a dangerous road in Boiling Springs, South Carolina, safer. McMillan Boulevard, located in an area that saw high growth through the 1990s, passes by one of Spartanburg County’s large parks, along with the entrance and exit for all student drivers at Boiling Springs High School. The road, which had a tremendous increase in traffic as the unincorporated area expanded, does not meet the current needs. As with many roads in such areas, it is narrow and winding. With the additional traffic, the edges are crumbling, cracks have widened and potholes prevail. The result has been many accidents caused primarily by drivers driving “too fast for conditions,” according to the South Carolina Department of Highway Safety. Recent speed collection data shows why: average speeds are well above the posted 30-mile-per-hour speed limit.
In an effort to facilitate walking and biking to the park, Partners for Active Living, with funding from the Healthy Kids Healthy Communities grant program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, initiated a traffic calming process centered around “A Resident’s Guide to Traffic Calming.” The guide is intended to bring traffic calming principles to average citizens, and to institute a process through which citizens gather to identify and propose particular changes. After three one-hour meetings over a period of six weeks, the group generated several proposals ranging from painted crosswalks to roundabouts. The meetings were attended by homeowners on the road or nearby the park (more than 1000 residents live within a ten-minute walk of the front gate), parks departments representatives and MPO staff. The proposals were broken down by relative cost, describing an awareness of the long process most Departments of Transportation require for roadway changes, and reflecting a sense of the “economic environment” most state budgets operate in. MPO staff drew up the most basic of the proposals, a set of signs on the road and accompanying crosswalks.
With proposals in hand, we set up a meeting with a representative of the South Carolina Department of Transportation and the County Council representative for the area, along with many of the residents, the MPO staff, County Parks Department staff, the local assistant fire chief, and Partners for Active Living staff. After a quick review of the problem area, residents took time to tell their stories: two said they were afraid to play with their children or grandchildren in the front yard, and one family has tire tracks in their yard from a driver over-correcting. Others would like to walk to the park, but would never do it under current conditions. Others have had to replace mailboxes or been in accidents themselves. The assistant fire chief reminded the group that though high school students (and therefore inexperienced drivers) are involved in a majority of the incidents, culpable drivers have been all ages.
From here the group moved onto the proposals themselves, including a discussion of who pays for the changes: according to the state process, traffic calming changes must be paid for and maintained by the county transportation department requesting the changes. But what about roundabouts or raised crosswalks? These changes require redesigns, which would be paid for by the state DOT. With an awareness that some of the most effective changes will require getting in line on Capital Improvement Plans, the county councilor said he would follow up with the appropriate entities.
So now we come to the new flashing lights. The county councilor approached the local state representative, and requested that the legislator’s set-aside funds be used to make the road safer. With $10,000 promised to install lights at the park entrance, the state DOT committed $10,000 for another set of lights at the entrance/exit to the high school. Though these changes may not have the desired effect, we are hopeful that the awareness and commitment of money to increase safety will be continued through the longer process of redesigning the road.
Some members of our advisory group have committed to continuing to monitor the process to assure that the roadway is in the loop for future changes. Further changes must be made to improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists trying to get to the park. Further speed collection and accident data will tell whether this initial measure has been effective. But the import is that the road received attention because of the committed residents, the process which encourages collaboration, and the education received by all involved about the value of that collaboration.