One of the chicanes on Broadway Street in the Parkcrest neighborhood near Mann Elementary School. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

Of Springfield’s 35 neighborhoods, the southwest dominion of Parkcrest ranks first in voicing complaints about fast cars.

In engineer Mandy Buettgen’s 20 years of working for the city of Springfield, Parkcrest rates No. 1 in being a squeaky wheel in speeding complaints. No neighborhood is louder than Parkcrest when it comes to contacting the Springfield Department of Public Works about speeders.

“We hear from the Parkcrest neighborhood a lot, and so we’ve done some studies, and we’ve confirmed that, as well,” Buettgen said.

As the result of some efforts to calm speeds on and between Campbell Avenue, Republic Road, South Broadway Avenue and West Westview Street, a new breed of complainer emerged. People called to complain that they weren’t going to cut through the neighborhood ever again. While Buettgen said the engineers stayed polite on the telephone, they celebrated upon hanging up the calls.

People complained that traffic chicanes are hard to maneuver, which is exactly the desired result.

What is a chicane? A serpentine curve in a road, added by man-made design rather than dictated by geography.

A one-lane chicane designed for ‘traffic calming’ in Seattle, Washington. (Photo: Richard Drdul, WikiCommons)

“It works by inconveniencing people,” Springfield Traffic Engineer Brett Foster said.

The response to speeders in Parkcrest is likely to influence traffic in other parts of Springfield. Engineers gave a presentation on traffic calming to the Springfield City Council Jan. 17, outlining efforts to reduce speeds, and thereby reduce accidents. It fits with the “quality of place” mission found throughout the pages of Forward SGF, Springfield’s comprehensive plan for growth and development over the next 20 years.

Part of the plan calls for neighborhoods to be made more livable and cohesive by making streets more walkable for pedestrians. In order for streets to be walkable, they must be safe. Foster explained the three E’s of public safety: engineering, education and enforcement. 

“One thing to note is it takes all three of these in national research to really be effective; not one can stand on its own,” Foster said.

Pilot study in Parkcrest

Traffic engineers held neighborhood meetings with people from Parkcrest in May and August of 2021. Upon gathering input from concerned residents, they came up with plans to put four chicanes at problem speed spots, and traffic Islands at key entry points to the neighborhood.

“The islands not only narrow the streets down,” Buettgen said. “Folks are less likely to speed when the lanes are narrow. And then also, it also changes the character of the neighborhood.”

Traffic engineers found a relatively cheap and modifiable solution for the pilot study, rubber curbs that are bolted to the pavement. The curbs were bolted down in Parkcrest on April 22, 2022.

“When the project is done, we can take those curbs and use them somewhere else to simulate another design that we want to try,” Buettgen said. “That gives us an opportunity to collect data and decide it works before we put a lot of money into a permanent project.”

Buettgen told the City Council that the feedback the engineers received in person differed strongly from the feedback people shared on Facebook, which was a “totally different animal.”

“For months, we had a lot of support, and then when we actually got within two weeks of actually installing this, that’s when a lot of opposition became apparent,” Buettgen said. 

The city of Springfield held a public test driving event, where the spots for chicanes were marked with cones and lines on the road. They also brought emergency vehicles and a school bus to pass through the mocked-up chicanes.

Why care?

“We care because these are the citizens that use our streets,” Foster said, looking at a photograph of people who attended a public gathering in the Parkcrest neighborhood. “They are the people that use our neighborhoods, they are people that walk, bike, ride, generally spend their day-to-day lives in our neighborhoods throughout our town.”

Foster shared a statistic that 1 in 10 pedestrians struck by vehicles going 20 miles per hour are killed. When the speed increased to 40 miles per hour, the death ratio jumped up to 9 out of 10.

“At the lower speed, you have a much greater likelihood of being able to slow down and avoid that accident altogether,” Foster said. “Stopping distance is not linear, it’s exponential. As your speed increases, it takes you more time to react and stop.”

After the rubber curbs were installed, researchers from University of Missouri S&T collected data on Parkcrest driving. They reported a 50-percent overall reduction in speeding through the neighborhood. On Broadway Avenue, the rate of speeding dropped from 51 percent to 26 percent.

“That is huge, and so we’re really excited about that,” Buettgen said.

Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams said before the pilot study, Broadway Avenue was a regular source for complaints about speeding.

“We would do enforcement, and it would eliminate the speeding, and then a week or two later, we would quit enforcement and the complaints would come back in,” Williams said. “Since this implementation of traffic calming, we’ve had zero complaints of speeding from anybody living up and down Broadway.”

More than MPH to consider

General traffic of South Campbell and James River Freeway. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

Long-term decisions on traffic calming are as financial as they are philosophical. The city of Springfield has about $800,000 budgeted for traffic calming and speed reduction measures for the next four years.

Some chicanes will stay in place, as the Missouri Department of Transportation oversees a project to widen Republic Road to five lanes and add turn lanes to the intersection of Republic Road and South Campbell.

The final completion date for the $5.36 million project is Nov. 1, 2024. It’s a long time for drivers who regularly travel through the area to seek alternate routes — and possibly go fast on side streets as they cut through.

“As the last phase of the Republic Road widening project is going to come, there might be a lot of traffic that is displaced onto Broadway,” Buettgen said. “In the future, there is the potential for some time that there will be a whole lot of cut through traffic.”

Speeding is a top concern citizens of Springfield express to their city government, and so Buettgen said she hopes traffic calming measures will become “more mainstream” and more accepted as ways to address concerns with speeding.

Addressing concerns comes at a cost. The curbs in Parkcrest will run about six figures.

“These are not cheap, I am not going to lie,” Buettgen said. “We’re talking about $80,000 to $120,000 just for a couple of streets of traffic calming, which is a big portion out of our budget, so we want to make sure this is something people really want. We want to make sure it’s needed.”

What is traffic calming?

Republic Road and South Campbell Avenue (Illustrated map by the Missouri Department of Transportation)

Engineer Grady Porter explained the two types of traffic calming devices: horizontal and vertical. Horizontal devices cause drivers to turn their steering wheels to negotiate an obstacle. They include chicanes, roundabouts, curb extensions or bulbouts and “chokers.”

“They narrow the roadway using curb extensions or islands,” Porter said. “These are also beneficial, they can bring more awareness to pedestrians where there is a crosswalk at the location.”

Vertical traffic calming devices include speedbumps, speed humps or cushions, dips, and speed tables.

“They can be hard on vehicles and drivers,” Porter said. “Fire trucks and ambulances have to slow down for these, as well.”

Cherry Street has both speed tables and chokers at its intersections with Pickwick Avenue.

“Done correctly, I think it actually adds to the appeal,” Councilman Richard Ollis said of the speed tables and pedestrian crossings at Cherry and Pickwick. “People are more courteous when they’re driving, and they’re stopping and allowing you to cross.”

The traffic calming devices at Cherry and Pickwick are viewed as a big success story for the Springfield Department of Public Works.

Neighborhood efforts don’t always work to calm traffic

Some complaints about speeding are very obvious, like when drivers go more than double the speed limit and do so at night or in busy areas, like at Mann Elementary School.

“In some cases, people are going 70 miles an hour — never mind that there’s an elementary school there on Broadway,” Buettgen said.

When people complain about speeding, one of the most common requests they make is for more stop signs to be placed along the street in question. Foster says this can lead to stop signs being used in places where they probably should not be, which leads drivers to run or roll through stop signs they deem to be unnecessary.

Complainers also contact the Springfield Police Department or the Springfield Department of Public Works and ask for law enforcement officers to patrol the neighborhood more. Foster said enforcement works, but it’s also not possible to put a cop on every problem street at all times.

“We also understand that there is a practical issue of having enough officers to do enforcement,” Foster said.

A six-day study of Broadway Avenue conducted in June 2022 found that an average of 2,561 vehicles go up and down the street each day. That number is expected to climb as work progresses on Republic Road and Campbell Avenue. The stretch of Republic Road between Broadway and Campbell took an average of more than 18,000 vehicles per day in a study in March 2022.

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger