The placement of metal barricades in and around a city street in Mobile usually means jubilation is about to commence, but a recent decision by homeowners to try to limit access to Regency Oaks Drive has only brought a parade of criticism from surrounding neighbors.
The Regency Oaks Homeowners Association, by a “near unanimous” vote, recently decided to close off vehicular access to the intersection of Andover Boulevard and Regency Oaks Drive, resident Brent Barkin wrote in an email. The top concern for the neighbors was safety, he wrote.
“The goal of the residents of Regency Oaks is to make the neighborhood safe for pedestrians and cyclists, including those residing within Regency Oaks and our neighbors in the surrounding area,” he wrote. “The high volume of vehicular, cut-through traffic is solely to blame for not achieving this goal. It is a matter of fact that increased vehicular traffic results in an increase in accidents, as well as personal injury and property damage.”
Neighbors in the Malibar Heights subdivision use Andover for access to a light on Grelot Road. Richard Dollison said that’s the only safe way to get to the busy street. He said there is no light on Grelot through the Amberly neighborhood and it’s hard to see at the intersection of Vista Bonita Drive and Knollwood Drive. The other option, taking University Boulevard going north, forces drivers across three lanes of traffic.
“I understand their concerns,” Dollison said. “We feel like no one has recognized the fact we can’t get out of our neighborhood safely.”
Resident Donald Loper said using Regency Oaks Drive is the “easiest, shortest and safest way to get to Grelot.”
Councilman John Williams, who represents the neighborhoods, said he asked Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration to temporarily block the intersection on a trial basis.
“I heard the cries from the neighborhood,” Williams said. “I would do it for any neighborhood.”
Williams stressed that the move is not permanent, adding that any permanent change would require a vote of the council.
As of Friday, Sept. 9, the street was open because the Mobile Police Department was conducting a traffic study in the neighborhood. Williams said the study, which consisted of a machine measuring the speed and number of cars passing through the neighborhood, would help determine next steps.
A number of options could be considered based upon the outcome of the study, Williams said. Only the permanent closure of the street would require City Council action. Williams said the study may result in the installation of another traffic light or a traffic circle. He added he does not think speedbumps would be the answer.
Barkin wrote that the neighborhood hopes the next step is the closing of the street to vehicle traffic through the placement of a brick planter at the intersection. The planter would allow enough space for pedestrians and cyclists to pass.
“The planter would be accompanied by new, widened access paths on each side, and potentially constructed using current pledges from homeowners,” Barkin wrote. “At no time at the meeting was the construction of a wall ever discussed or suggested as an alternative. In fact, at the meeting, consensus was that the presence of more pedestrians and cyclists from surrounding areas would have the added benefit of reducing a recent uptick in criminal activity.”
In addition to the traffic study, the squabble has prompted more than one driver to test how fast a vehicle can travel safely down Regency Oaks Drive. Williams said he did it as a competent driver in a vehicle that handles well.
“At around 22 miles per hour, I looked down at my speedometer, that’s right on the edge of too fast for the neighborhood,” he said. “There are volumes of traffic … traveling at speeds the neighborhood is not designed or built for.”
The other test driver was Loper. He said while he’s heard claims of drivers routinely reaching 50 miles an hour on surface streets in the neighborhood, his attempt to reach 50 wasn’t very successful.
“I took my car and I tried that,” Loper said. “I got up on two wheels on a 90-degree turn. I got up to 30. You can’t maintain 50 miles per hour.”
Loper and Dollison both feel the barricades and the plans for the permanent closure are only happening because Regency Oaks is a more affluent neighborhood than where they live. Malibar doesn’t have a strong community organization like Regency Oaks.
“We feel this is a put-up job, a smokescreen” Loper said. “I don’t know what the smoke is.”
Barkin argues that the closure eliminates only one of nine exits from the other neighborhoods.
“The safety of our pedestrians and cyclists is paramount to what cannot fairly be described as an inconvenience given the number of alternatives remaining available,” Barkin wrote. “The city must take action to reduce vehicular, cut-through traffic in residential subdivisions throughout the city.”
Williams said he regrets more of the surrounding neighborhoods weren’t notified before the barricades went up. He said signs were posted, but he didn’t know how far in advance. Williams added that a notification on nextdoor.com or or a door-to-door campaign might have helped ease some of the tension.