The Mobile City Council might soon have guidelines in place for street closures, as one neighborhood prepares to move forward on a request to permanently barricade cut-through traffic.
Councilman Fred Richardson, who is against the permanent closure of public streets, said he expects to see an ordinance pertaining to the action on the council’s agenda in the coming weeks. While it’s unclear exactly what language the ordinance will include, Richardson said he would like to see provisions that allow the closure of public streets only for maintenance, emergencies or other limited reasons.
“That should be the only criteria we use,” he said. “I’m not for using crime statistics or traffic, because that’s everywhere.”
Furthermore, Richardson said cut-through traffic can’t exist on a street paid for by taxpayer money.
“Citizens can’t cut through on their own streets,” he said. “A citizen, as long as they’re on a public street, can go any route you want to.”
A few requests have been made of the council over the last couple of years to permanently close some public streets in order to limit traffic access points to various communities. Residents have been split on the issue, as have council members, but Richardson wanted to give both clear guidelines on what to do.
The most recent issue, which hasn’t yet been presented as a formal request to the council, involves residents of the Regency Oaks neighborhood requesting access to Regency Oaks Drive be limited for traffic and safety reasons. The city placed parade barricades at the intersection of Andover Boulevard and Regency Oaks Drive at the request of Councilman John Williams to allow the Mobile Police Department to conduct a traffic study in the neighborhood.
The results of the study were mixed and “flawed,” according to Regency Oaks Homeowners Association president Brent Barkin, but ultimately indicated drivers were moving too fast down the residential street.
While the report indicates very few vehicles were traveling more than 9 miles per hour over the speed limit — which would show a need for increased enforcement — about 40 percent of the vehicles were traveling faster than the 25-mile-per-hour posted limit on Regency Oaks Drive, Barkin said.
“I first opened the study up and said ‘this doesn’t help us much,’” Barkin said. “It does reinforce for us that the police won’t do anything to stop it.”
The MPD study didn’t find a need for enforcement along Regency Oaks Drive, as only 3 percent of vehicles were traveling at a rate of speed of 34 miles per hour or more. In fact, the average rate of speed for vehicles along Regency Oaks Drive during the five-day study from Sept. 13 to Sept. 18 was 24 miles per hour.
Barkin said the study was flawed for a number of reasons. First, he said he does not believe the 9-mile-per-hour threshold should be applied on a residential street.
“On an interstate that makes sense, but at 25 miles per hour, that’s a staggering variance … without issuing a ticket.”
In addition, he said closing the street for weeks and reopening it just prior to the study altered the flow of traffic. The study recorded 3,785 vehicles along Regency Oaks Drive during a five-day period. Barkin said it would have been higher had they not closed the street first or warned travelers of the study taking place.
“We had substantially less traffic,” he said. “It changed traffic patterns.”
Also, Barkin said a week before the study was conducted MPD posted a patrol officer in the neighborhood.
Despite his complaints, Barkin said the neighborhood association is in the process of collecting enough signatures to present the plan to close the street to the council in the near future. While the plans call for closing the street to vehicular traffic, it would remain open to pedestrians and bicyclists.
Residents in Ridgefield Place have discussed placing a gate where East Drive enters the neighborhood. At least one neighbor, John Adams, told councilors he has concerns over cutting off segments of the street in the ethnically diverse neighborhood. He pointed specifically to the Islamic Society of Mobile’s school, which is near the neighborhood on East Drive.
Richardson said he believes many of these requests are coming from neighborhoods that are becoming more ethnically diverse.
“When a community is ethnically diverse, people start looking out their windows saying ‘what’s going on …,’” Richardson said. “They try to stop certain people from coming into the neighborhood.”
Rich said she supports the placement of security gates on public streets and views them as a planning tool to help restore the character of neighborhoods. Gates are not a permanent closure, she said, but they could help alter traffic patterns that have changed due to an influx of commercial properties. She said the gates are a way the city can make up for a lack of long-term planning.
In other business, Moody’s Investors Service has removed the negative outlook designation from the city’s credit rating, which now stands at “Aa2 stable.”
Executive Director of Finance Paul Wesch said Moody’s cited the city’s fiscal responsibility and reserves as reasons for the upgrade.
“Our debt is still … high, but they were satisfied by the way things look financially,” Wesch told councilors.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson said the improved rating could have a positive impact as the city prepares to refinance its debt.
“The change could impact the outcome of that,” he said. “The timing is perfect.”
In a statement, Moody’s said the new rating reflects “the city’s sizable tax base that acts as an economic hub for the larger metropolitan area, improving financial position due to new budgeting practices, maintenance of sizable reserves held outside of the general fund that provide additional financial flexibility, and an above average but manageable debt burden.”
However, the debt burden is still “above average,” the statement read. Additionally, the city’s fixed costs are “elevated” and it has a “relatively weak wealth position” when compared to the rest of the country.
The city was revised to an Aa2 rating with a negative outlook following a review in April 2014. The review and subsequent revision initially came from concerns over budgeting in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, Moody’s wrote at the time.