When is a speed bump not a speed bump? When it's a speed cushion. But don't take the description literally.
The first of these innovative traffic calming devices has been scheduled for installation on South Gordon Street May 1, according to Robert Garbacz, Chief of the Transportation Division, Alexandria's Transportation & Environmental Services [T&ES] Administration.
"What makes these devices so desirable, in comparison to either speed bumps or even speed tables, is that they are slotted to permit emergency vehicles to cross them without having to slow down," said Richard Baier, director of T&ES.
Both speed bumps and speed tables traverse the entire roadway from curb to curb. Speed cushions are installed in three segments to match the chassis width of emergency vehicles, such as fire engines and ambulances, leaving space for their wheels to pass through the openings unencumbered.
"The ones we will be installing look a lot like our speed tables. They are made out of asphalt and have a red brick texture known as a Street Print," Garbacz said. "They will be brick colored to make them more attractive."
EVEN THOUGH THEY are made of asphalt, the coloring is achieved by a special paint that is mixed with concrete allowing for the imprint of bricks, Garbacz pointed out. "Speed bumps often have to be bolted down but these are self adhering. Once they are down, they are down," he assured.
One of the concerns, expressed by some, is that speed bumps, in particular, and even speed tables, could slow the response time of emergency vehicles. These new devices have been endorsed by the Fire Department, according to Baier.
"Although emergency vehicles are able to straddle the center speed cushion, allowing their wheels to pass on each side of it, the wheels of a regular vehicle will be forced to encounter at least one of the speed cushions," Baier said.
Installation of the new speed cushions is a result of the tenacity and perseverance of the Wakefield Tarleton Civic Association and area residents, according to Association President Elizabeth P. Wright.
"One thing we learned in this process was if you want traffic calming devices in your neighborhood it takes a lot of work and don't give up," Wright, a South Ingram Street resident, advised.
"We pursued it because there has been an incredible number of vehicles cutting through our neighborhoods. And there are only 53 homes on South Gordon," she explained.
A TRAFFIC COUNT was done on August 1, 2001. During a 24 hour period, 2,225 vehicles were clocked on South Gordon and 1,316 on North Vermont. The top speed in that survey period was 66 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour speed zone, Wright revealed.
One of the requirements for a neighborhood to be eligible for traffic calming devices is that 65 percent of the property owners must sign on to the concept. "We found out this does not mean residents. It means property owners, renters don't count," Wright clarified.
"As one Vermont St. neighbor stated, he's rented his home for 15 years and he considers himself part of community. When he rented in ParkFairfax he said he was involved also and would have felt slighted if he had been told he didn't count," Wright related.
"The residents of South Gordon and Vermont streets were successful in satisfying the requirement because they just were very tenacious in getting the correct signatures on the petition," she said.
Speed tables were installed recently on Vermont and there has been a marked drop in cut through traffic and speed, Wright reported. Over the past year T&ES has installed speed tables on a variety of thoroughfares throughout the city.
On March 25, 2002, the city published its "Neighborhood Traffic Calming Program Guide." It explains the criteria to install such devices, the process necessary to meet the requirements, and outlines various traffic calming measures.
THE LEAD PARAGRAPH states, "The City of Alexandria's Neighborhood Traffic Calming Program [NTPC] incorporates education, enforcement and engineered street design to protect the quality of life in City neighborhoods."
NTCP's primary purpose, according to the new guide, is "to provide residents with the opportunity to raise neighborhood traffic concerns and to participate in the selection of strategies that promote safe and pleasant conditions for residents, pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists in City neighborhoods."
THERE ARE TWO criteria thresholds for determining if a neighborhood qualifies for NTCP assistance, according to the guide. They are "speeding" and "excessive traffic volume." A neighborhood must meet at least one to qualify.
The guide states, "Defining the problem occurs on two levels. The first level is clearly understanding what the resident's concerns are ...The second level...is the accumulation of data to support the identified problems."
These steps are necessary because, as Baier pointed out, "The funds for all traffic calming devices are coming from our regular budget allotment."
The guide is available to all who are interested.