A conversation between an engineer and a home-owner – Part 3/7

Most people seem to want to progress. They show up at public meetings and demand all of the conveniences that come with driving. They want it, that is, until it impacts them directly. Then progress must be stopped. Then they all turn into environmentalists. Iʼve seen it many times. She seemed to fit the profile, especially with her next question.

Resident: So, you are going to remove the trees from the clear zone to improve safety?
Eng.: Yes. Exactly.
Resident: How big is the clear zone?

I took a deep breath and looked down.

Eng.: The clear zone is 25 feet on each side of the street.
Resident: Twenty-five feet! That is my entire front yard!

I wasnʼt going to compromise on safety. I had a code of ethics demanding that I put the welfare of the general public ahead of concerns like this. I had worked years to get my licence, and I wasnʼt about to risk it by not following the design standard.

Plus, the firm that I work for high professional liability insurance, which I knew was expensive. We live in a litigious society. There was no way that I was going to be bullied into doing something irresponsible – something that threatened my client or my firm, let alone the people who would drive along this road.

Eng.: Iʼm sorry, but the standard requires that for the road to be safe, all obstacles must be removed from the clear zone.
Resident: Do you understand that my children play in this clear zone?
Eng.: I would not recommend that. It would not be safe.
Resident: But it is safe today. I thought you were doing this project to improve safety. How is the street safer if my children canʼt go outside?

I was having a conversation with this woman at the request of the mayor. She was one of his constituents. I knew that my job was to listen her and answer her questions, but it was also to demonstrate that the city had performed due diligence on the project. If she showed up at a future council meeting complaining about her kids not being able to go outside to play, she was less likely to be taken seriously if everyone knew that I had personally met with her, answered her questions, and seen her property firsthand. Iʼm the professional and, after being on site and meeting with her, I can confidently say that nothing unique is happening with her property, regardless of what she might suggest at a public hearing.

Eng.: Building the street to meet the standard will enhance safety by allowing cars to flow more smoothly.
Resident: More smoothly. The cars will just drive faster, will they not?

By statute in my state, the city is not able to enforce any speed limit lower than thirty 30 mph (50 k/hr). There are exceptions, but those require extensive studies and proof that there is some unique circumstance justifying the lower speed limit. We werenʼt going through that effort here. The city didnʼt have the budget for such a study and, even if they did, there were no special circumstances that would justify doing so.

Once the street was built, if there was a reason to believe that 30 mph (50 k/hr) was the wrong speed, I could do a speed study and make that determination. Such a study would involve monitoring the speed that traffic was naturally flowing, which my experience suggested was unlikely to be less than 30 mph (50 k/hr). She should be careful what she wishes because a speed study is more likely to result in a higher speed limit than a lower one.

Eng.: We will post a speed limit after we do a speed study and determine the same speed for the street.
Resident: But cars drive slow now. Slow is the safe speed through my neighbourhood where my children are playing in my yard. How does it improve safety to have a drag strip out my front door?
Eng.: It will increase safety because traffic will flow more smoothly. That is the standard.

At this point, the two of us had cycled through all of the typical objections that people bring up to oppose such projects. We had started with a friendly line of inquiry and eventually proceeded all the way to unresolvable acrimony. I had done everything that had been asked of me, and I was thinking it was time to move on.

She was not ready to let things go, however, and I started to sense this conversation would get very emotional before we were done. Her next words reinforced my uneasiness.

Resident: I am not aware of anyone being killed in an accident on the street, and I have lived here for thirty years. Are you aware of anyone being killed?
Eng.: No, Iʼm not.

I tried not to roll my eyes or sound like the teenager I was just a few years earlier.

Resident: I am not even aware of any accidents that have occurred on this street. Are you aware of any accidents?
Eng.: No, Iʼm not.
Resident: Then why do you say that the street is not safe today?

To be continued …

Report an error, or send a question or comment by e-mail to:
newcharlottetownproject @ eastlink.ca

Author: New Charlottetown Project

Barbara Dylla has lived in Charlottetown since 2017. The aim of this blog is to inspire and encourage Charlottetowners to be more aware of municipal affairs, to participate as engaged citizens, to support an issue close to their heart, so that together we create a sense of the larger community we live in. And, along the way, become a united community passionate about making Charlottetown the best it can be.

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