Traffic woes pose Catch-22 for Riverside

Posted: Thursday, October 12, 2000

Neighbors of Mendenhall River Community School are looking for ways to slow down speeding drivers in an area where many children walk to school. But they've learned that what slows down traffic on one road may only add to traffic on other roads.

Speed humps on the north end of Riverside Drive near the school have diverted traffic onto side streets such as Pinedale, Firndale, Cloverdale and Rosedale, residents said at a meeting with city officials Wednesday night at the school.

Amy Seils, who lives on Rosedale, said the speed humps, previously called speed bumps, have hurt her neighborhood. "It's increasing the speed on my street," she said.

"It used to be you looked up and waved because it was someone in your neighborhood," said Paul Arnoldt, who lives on Cloverdale. "Now it's car after car after car."

In the past, Riverside neighbors have held up speed-limit signs, given the police a list of speeding vehicles, videotaped speeders, and got the city to make the school-zone lights more noticeable and paint the speed limit on the street, said resident Larry Buzzell.

None of it helped until the city put in the speed humps three years ago and those don't slow down everyone, Buzzell said. Some motorists even drive over the sidewalk to avoid them, he said.

Arnoldt said he wouldn't remove the speed humps. The bigger problem, he said, is traffic control throughout Juneau. He suggested the use of photo-radar to ticket speeders.

Because of staff size, the police department's "ability to do speed enforcement is minimal to none. We go from call to call," said Police Chief Mel Personett, who lives on what he called the Riverside International Raceway. Photo-radar works but it can be a politically hot issue and would need support from a vocal majority, he said.

About 1,700 vehicles a day use Riverside near the school, compared with 9,000 to 11,000 vehicles that pass by Riverbend Elementary farther south on Riverside, said city Public Works Director Ernie Mueller.

Those figures reflect the varied character of Riverside Drive that's part of the problem. On its southern stretch, Riverside connects to Egan Drive and leads to a mall, grocery store, business park, school and sports park. But between Melvin Park and the north end it's a neighborhood street with driveways backing into it.

But Riverside and the "dale" streets eventually lead to Back Loop Road, which makes them an alternative to the heavily used Mendenhall Loop Road. Neighborhood residents are concerned that problem will only increase once a proposed high school is built at Dimond Park.

Meanwhile, the city's draft transportation plan also alarms some residents because it includes the option of punching Riverside directly through to Back Loop Road.

The real solution is to get traffic off Riverside Drive, said Roger Allington, a traffic engineer on the Juneau Planning Commission. One answer is to improve Mendenhall Loop Road so more people would use it, he said.

The city has applied for a $67,000 state grant to study Riverside Drive's function within the valley's road system. It could be 10 years before a real solution is constructed, city officials said. But the city's Public Works and Facilities Committee might discuss short-term fixes at its Oct. 25 meeting.

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