Call it the law of unintended consequences.
Or maybe the balloon theory of traffic enforcement: Squeeze the speed limit on one road, and the traffic pops out someplace else.
Whatever you call it, folks on the east side of Main Street just north of the Scajaquada Expressway say it’s happening in their neighborhood, and some say it has gotten a lot worse since the 30 mph speed limit was imposed on the former expressway.
"It’s like a racetrack," said Charley H. Fisher III, president of the Trinidad Neighborhood Association, a coalition of 15 block clubs, referring to traffic on streets like Montecello Place where drivers get off the Scajaquada and cut through the neighborhood.
But unlike the vocal constituencies on the west side of Main, closer to Delaware Park, Trinidad residents on the East Side say they’ve been ignored.
"We have been left out of the conversation," said Larry Williams, a former block club president.
Last year, in the wake of complaints about speeders and the lack of traffic enforcement, the city announced new measures including speed humps and electronic signs with flashing digits on streets like Amherst and Niagara.
The Trinidad folks don’t begrudge other neighborhoods. But pointing to accidents in their neighborhood and the potential danger to children, they just want the same consideration.
"There’s no regard for the black community; it’s all about Olmsted and Parkside," said Fisher, a former Common Council member, referring to the organizations that pushed the downgrading of the Scajaquada and resultant traffic enforcement on the West Side. "Nobody’s heard us."
But that may be because they haven’t called the city’s 311 complaint line, which Brown administration officials say is the best and fairest way to have concerns addressed.
"No one is going to be left out," said administration spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge,
"Don’t just tell somebody, call 311. That’s the best way to do it," added Public Works Commissioner Steve Stepniak.
DeGeorge said a check of 311 records over the past year indicate no calls from the Trinidad area about such problems.
Fisher disputes that, but said he will get at least 10 Trinidad members to call "out of respect for their process." But the group is going further. At a meeting this week, it decided to collect complaints and use them as a basis for a letter to city and state agencies outlining their concerns and to have them addressed by the Common Council. They also want a community meeting in their neighborhood with city officials.
"You know that old saying, ‘If it’s not in writing, it doesn’t count,’ " Fisher said of the planned letter as opposed to just calling 311.
They want enforcement on residential streets like Montecello, which cars exiting the Scajaquada at the Main Street exit use as a pass-through during rush hour.
In one half-hour stretch starting at 4 p.m. on the normally quiet street, 22 cars exited the expressway and navigated the bend in the road before high-tailing it up the block and turning north to reach other parts of the city.
"People are trying to bypass the 198 when they can, because sometimes it’s impassable," Fisher said, referring to the Scajaquada by its route number and talking about traffic jams he said are exacerbated by the lower speed limit.
While those of us who long for the old 50 mph speed limit have been ignored, residents complaining about speeding and other traffic issues on side streets have gotten the city’s attention. DeGeorge said such complaints topped the list when Mayor Byron W. Brown and other city officials held meetings last year with block clubs and community groups.
To deal with the concerns, the city ordered six of the electronic signs – the last of which will be delivered in the next couple of weeks, Stepniak said – and 10 of the speed humps, which will be deployed when snow plows are done for the season. The Police Department also will dramatically increase the number of officers assigned to the traffic unit, said Capt. Jeff Rinaldo, who noted that complaints are coming from all parts of the city.
Trinidad Association residents just want to make sure theirs get heard this time.
If they call 311, maybe they and the city won’t be talking past one another as the cars whiz by – and then we’ll see what happens.