The Kenwood Press
News: 08/01/2013

County will do speed survey on Warm Springs

Sarah C. Phelps

Efforts by some residents in Kenwood to get the County to take notice of prolific speeding along Warm Springs Road have resulted in the County of Sonoma Transportation and Public Works department agreeing to do a speed zone analysis survey, scheduled for an unspecified date in the fall.

Under California law, speed limits are considered to be the safe driving speed “under normal conditions.” However, speed limits are also established on the basis of, and can be affected by, the results of traffic engineering surveys. These surveys include analysis of things like road conditions, accident records, and a sampling of the prevailing speed of traffic, also called a speed zone survey. According to California law, a speed zone survey involves measuring the speeds of at least 100 passing cars over a given amount of time during non-weekend, non-peak hours. The speed at which 85 percent of the cars are traveling becomes the recommended speed limit for that area.

Deputy Director of Road Maintenance and Engineering for the Public Works department, Tom O’Kane, said he cannot predict the outcome of the survey scheduled for the fall, but “from a logic standpoint” expects the results to at least be similar to an informal survey done in 2011. That survey, performed at the urging of concerned resident Don MacNair, resulted in a recommendation to raise the speed limit to 35 miles per hour, making it enforceable by radar.

MacNair thinks the speed zone survey is missing the point. “They will find what they already know – that people aren’t on the street and that cars are going fast,” he said. MacNair pointed out that the planned installation of a gazebo in Plaza Park in the near future will raise park use and pedestrian traffic on the road dramatically, and making the road safe for those users is very important. Since March, MacNair has headed a petition to get the Board of Supervisors to add two sets of stop signs along Warm Springs Road between Highway 12 and Mound Ave., including one at the intersection of Warm Springs and Los Guilicos Ave. [“Speeders on Warm Springs spur petition effort”, March 1, 2013]. It also calls for the installation of two permanent radar speed limit signs along the road. MacNair said that he feels, out of all the options he has researched – including narrowing the lanes or installing a roundabout – that this combination will be the least expensive and most effective option to control traffic speed. He currently has more than 200 signatures.

First District Supervisor Susan Gorin said that she has met with MacNair and other residents of Warm Springs Road, in both Kenwood and Glen Ellen, and understands their concerns. “I want people going and coming from the park to be safe when crossing,” said Gorin.

However, Gorin said she has also met with Greg Tracey, captain at California Highway Patrol (CHP), and O’Kane from Public Works, and that from a legal standpoint, the County has to demonstrate a need for traffic changes before any can be made. “Without demonstrating it, if we do it arbitrarily, CHP can’t enforce it,” said Gorin, illustrating the fact that without the proper “warrants” to change traffic conditions, any citations given by CHP as a result of those changes could have no legal standing in court. “The purpose of traffic [analysis study] is to see if a change is warranted.”

“If it is not warranted, we are exploring possibility of radar signs,” continued Gorin. She said research shows people respond to them, but their maintenance, especially for those with solar panels, can be costly and challenging. From June 3 through 26, CHP placed a temporary radar sign trailer along Warm Springs Road and residents reported a dramatic drop in speeding with its presence.

However, MacNair said he is skeptical that radar signs, without the stop sign or signs in place, will be effective at slowing speeding over the longterm. In the meantime, MacNair is still working to collect more petition signatures in hopes that volume will put pressure the Board of Supervisors.

However, whether the number of signatures will hold any sway with the Supervisors is uncertain, especially when the question of legal liability comes in to play.

“Don has been very effective in generating community conversation around the high speeds on Warm Springs Road. The number of signatures on his petition validates that many in Kenwood feel that this is an important issue,” wrote Gorin in an email. However, she continued, “It is not productive for the County to simply erect a stop sign or install speed bumps whenever a neighborhood proposes them – first, because they may not be the best solutions to address the problem of speeding traffic.”

“The Board can put a stop sign in where it doesn’t meet criteria,” said O’Kane, “but they put the County in a liability situation.” O’Kane said his office has been accused of being unresponsive, “but we are protecting the taxpayers, your money, that’s why we have standards. The County has to be very careful when they put anything in – not just stop signs – guardrails, striping, etc. – as it is a potential liability for the county, and for the public.”

O’Kane said the results of the fall speed analysis survey will take at least a few weeks to analyze. Gorin said the options will become more clear after that. “Once we have the additional documentation in the fall, I will discuss with Mr. O’Kane the next steps. A public informational meeting may be helpful to answer all traffic-related questions in the Kenwood and Glen Ellen area,” said Gorin.

“We have validated what has been reported: that cars go very fast there. The action we will want to consider will be one that is a reminder to people that this is a neighborhood.”