A little over year ago residents along Bowmanville Avenue began asking their alderman, Pat O'Connor of the 40th Ward, to put in speed humps to slow traffic. According to Betty Redmond, who lives on the street, "he said he'd look into it."
She and other residents say that in the past year there've been eight accidents on Bowmanville, and three dogs and a cat have been run over. But they still don't have the humps. "At this point it's beyond ludicrous," says Redmond. "It's not like speed humps are such a revolutionary idea--you see them all over town. But we keep asking O'Connor, and he keeps turning us down."
Bowmanville runs diagonally along the southern end of Rosehill Cemetery, starting at Damen and merging with Berwyn a half block east of Western. Years ago it was a relatively sleepy street, congested only when shifts changed at the nearby factories. But in the past few years town houses and condos have been built in the neighborhood, increasing traffic. In addition, more drivers are coming down the street looking for a fast way out of traffic jams on the main arteries. "I think even the sanest driver gets frustrated with bumper-to-bumper traffic," she says. "All of our major streets are crowded. Foster Avenue's nearly impassable at rush hour. Western Avenue gets jammed."
Anne Boyle, who also lives on Bowmanville, says she's even heard people at parties talk about shooting down her street: "You know how people talk--they swap traffic routes. 'I've got this fast way--this great shortcut--to get from Western to Damen.'"
And they don't just slip down Bowmanville. "You've got cars going 40 to 50 miles an hour," says Redmond. "People blow through stop signs, or they do the 'California stops'--where they slow but don't come to a full stop. We call it the Bowmanville Expressway."
The three-way intersection of Balmoral, Leavitt, and Bowmanville may be the most dangerous spot. "I've seen cars swing out to pass each other at that intersection," says Boyle. "People get really frustrated, and they just want to get out of traffic. It's madness."
The traffic problem got worse in December 2002, when the city started allowing cars to turn east onto Berwyn from Western, giving them easy access to Bowmanville. "It used to be that you couldn't get to Bowmanville from Western," says Redmond. "Now you have all that eastbound traffic."
Residents say O'Connor told them he agreed to let cars turn there to make it easier for police and other city service vehicles to get back and forth between the ward's east and west sides. "I don't know exactly why O'Connor made traffic two-way, but I know he must have moved heaven and earth to get it done," says Boyle. "He had a big tree cut down. He had the street widened. He had a light pole moved. Do you know how many different city departments are needed to do all those things?"
People who live on Bowmanville have been asking O'Connor to do something about the traffic for a long time. "We came to him as long ago as 1995," says Redmond. Back then they weren't specific about what they wanted, but they were when they went to see him in 2002. "We wanted speed humps," she says. "He said, 'If you want speed humps I'll put them in--but we need a neighborhood consensus.' He said, 'If you get 75 percent of residents to approve, I'll put in speed humps.' He told us he had no objections and that the police didn't care about humps either."
So early in 2003 Redmond and several neighbors went door-to-door collecting signatures on petitions asking the city to install the humps. "We went to over 100 households, and only two households said they opposed the humps," she says. "Some other people said they didn't want them in front of their house, but it was overwhelming support." They eventually gave O'Connor's office more than 200 signatures.
In May the residents held a meeting on the matter. O'Connor didn't attend, though he sent an aide. "We thought we'd get the humps, but no, that wasn't the case," says Redmond. "The aide says, 'Let's do another meeting.' We had already had meetings. We'd already circulated the petitions. We'd already discussed this. Tempers were hot. People wanted something done."
Two months passed. Residents say they called O'Connor but he didn't return the calls. On July 13 Rick Kogan wrote about the matter in the Tribune's Sunday magazine. Three weeks later O'Connor met with residents.
"He said he wasn't going to install the humps," says Redmond. "He said the police don't want them--which contradicted what he had told us in the winter."
People were angry. "We told him about the accidents and the increased traffic," says Redmond. "He told us that, in fact, traffic had actually decreased on Bowmanville since they'd opened it up to traffic from Western. Now, go figure. How can that be? How can traffic go down if you allow more of it? We see the traffic. We see it lined up. It's not just one car here and then another one a minute later--it's a steady stream."
O'Connor told the residents he'd have the city paint pedestrian crosswalks on Bowmanville. He also said he'd have speed reduced from 30 to 25 miles per hour. "They installed the 25-miles-per-hour signs," says Redmond, "but things have not improved." On November 2, she says, there was a three-car accident on the 5300 block. "Cars were pushed onto the curb, and one of the new 25-miles-per-hour signs got pushed over."
After that, a Department of Transportation crew painted a yellow dashed line down the center of Bowmanville. Redmond says, "I guess they thought that would help drivers stay on their side of the road."
Two more accidents happened, one in the last week of November and one the first week of December. "On December 6 a car drove up over the sidewalk and into our community garden," says Redmond. "He knocked over another 25-miles-per-hour sign. It's still lying on the ground."
Residents repeatedly called the city asking for the humps. "It's a joke--if it wasn't so scary I'd be laughing," says Redmond. "You call the city and they give us different answers all the time. Sometimes they circle around and give you the same old answer--traffic's gone down, we're putting up new signs, we're painting crosswalks, etc. They even announced they're going to put humps on [a nearby stretch of] Leavitt. No one over there even asked for them. Isn't that something? People here are begging for humps, but we can't get them. But they're going to give them to Leavitt. You figure it out."
According to Brian Steele, spokesman for the transportation department, the city has installed about 900 speed humps in 39 different wards since 1998. Alderman Mary Ann Smith's 48th Ward, just east of the 40th, has more than any other ward. The city almost always puts in speed humps when an alderman asks for them. "If we're not getting them," says Boyle, "it's because Alderman O'Connor doesn't want them." O'Connor didn't return calls for comment.
"Street humps are just one of many traffic-calming devices we have," says Steele, and he cautions that humps aren't always the best way to control traffic. "Two of our engineers who are familiar with Bowmanville have pointed out that in that small community there are many ideas of ways to address traffic issues. No one agrees that every idea is the best solution. Our goal has been to come up with some consensus to reach our ultimate goal--safety on Bowmanville."
Redmond and her neighbors contend that there's never complete agreement on installing any traffic-slowing device. "If the city waited for a complete consensus on speed humps they would never install any," she says. "People have different attitudes about them, depending on where they live." She says people who live near but not on Bowmanville might well want a clear straightaway. "I understand the desire to drive straight without any bumps or humps. I know what it's like to get frustrated from sitting in traffic. But you have to ask yourself, what's more important--a straightaway or safe streets? I think the city should always go for safe streets, even if some people don't want speed humps."
The neighbors say they're not sure why O'Connor would say that local police oppose the humps. "As far as I know, the police have never made any public comment about this," says Redmond. "We hear anecdotes. A neighbor who is a policeman says the police don't care. It's never been mentioned at CAPS meetings. Why would they care? The humps only add a few seconds to travel time." Police spokesman David Bayless didn't return calls for comment.
In any event, traffic is still heavy. In ten minutes on a relatively quiet Tuesday afternoon two days before Christmas, I counted 47 cars going through the intersection of Bowmanville and Oakley. Only 20 bothered to come to a complete stop. The worst offender was a city garbage truck, which barreled through the intersection without even braking.
Boyle says she can't understand why O'Connor doesn't want the speed humps. "It's beyond unbelievable," she says. "They'll say anything just to get us out of their faces. Whatever the reason, I know it's not for the good of the community."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jon Randolph.