A weak justification

Published 5:59 pm Saturday, July 11, 2015

When the chicanes were added to the 200 block of Pinner Street in 2008, the raised and landscaped islands on alternating sides of the road were seen as a way of calming the traffic on a street many used as a shortcut between Bank Street and Finney Avenue. Residents say the two-way road that had existed before the chicanes was dangerous because of people driving at high speeds in the residential area.

Since then, traffic has had to take the road slowly, weaving in and out of the traffic islands. There have been problems — a moped rider died when he hit one of the curbs, and other vehicles have been severely damaged when drivers didn’t notice the islands and ran into the curbs. And city officials say there have been complaints from citizens about the inconvenience of the one-way road and its chicanes.

But the installation of the islands took place following a traffic study that showed they would do just the thing they’ve accomplished — reduce the number of vehicle crashes, slow down vehicles using the road and reduce congestion in the neighborhood.

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No such study appears to have preceded city officials’ recent decision to remove the chicanes and reintroduce two-way traffic on that part of Pinner Street. Residents along the block were not informed of the change that was to take place this week, and even the City Council representative for the area, Donald Goldberg, was not notified before it happened.

Suffolk spokeswoman Diana Klink stated in an email that the chicanes were temporarily removed and two-way traffic restored while street repairs were being conducted. During that period, she added, “(t)he city began to receive calls thanking us for removing the chicane,” and a handwritten note of thanks was given to Public Works Director Eric Nielsen.

Suffolk Traffic Engineering officials have made a number of suggestions for slowing traffic there. Among those considerations: a high-fine speed zone, additional traffic signs and alternating on-street parking.

But those are all solutions looking for a problem that may or may not have existed, and it’s questionable whether restoring two-way traffic to the 200 block of Pinner Street was the best solution, even if there were problems.

Prior to permanently removing the chicanes, Suffolk’s traffic engineers could have tried adding speed bumps, flashing lights, better signs or even cobblestone strips to warn inattentive drivers. At the very least, they could have conducted a survey of the community to learn the preferences of all who live there, not just the few who chose to complain about the chicanes.

A city that wants to be responsive to its citizens must first give those citizens a chance to be heard. Clearly, it shouldn’t be necessary to poll citizens every time Suffolk wants to erect a new traffic sign, but a change as significant as the one that was made on Pinner Street this week surely deserves a better justification than the one Suffolk officials have offered.