Monday at the Township Hall

Monday evening I attended a joint meeting of the Texas Township Trustees and the Kalamazoo County Road Commission.

The citizens of Texas Township have concerns that traffic speeds on Q Avenue (Centre Street) are too high, and asked the Kalamazoo County Road Commission (hereafter referred to KCRC, the legal entity responsible for the road) to check it out and do something about it.

KCRC commissioned a speed study from the state, performed by the Michigan State Police. A speed study works like this: laser speed detection is set up on the piece of road to be tested, not too close to intersections and not during rush hour, when traffic would be irregularly high. The speed of every car is noted for some period of time, until a reasonable sample size is achieved, maybe fifteen to thirty minutes. Once the data is collected, it is analyzed and the 85th percentile speed of all traffic is determined. The State Police informed us that this 85th percentile speed is the safest number to put on the sign. It keeps speed variance low and takes a lot of hostility out of driving.

For me, the big takeaway from the meeting was this: the safest speed on a road is the 85th percentile speed of all traffic. We were informed that the number on the speed limit sign has nothing to do with the speeds actually driven and that prevailing conditions — roundabouts, road width, number of houses and intersections, etc. — determine traffic speed. Speed limits are set at prevailing traffic speeds in an effort to keep everyone moving the same speed and keep things safe.

This news, that the speed limits along Q Avenue was essentially correct, caused consternation from many attendees. Many in the audience simply could not believe that the number on the sign did not influence the speed of traffic. Many felt that the state and the KCRC and maybe even the township didn’t care, and I have to say that I can see their point, but maybe not in the exact same way. Here’s the way I see it:
– Citizens were (and are) concerned about high speed and asked the Township to do something about it.
– The Township asked KCRC to do something about speeds on Q Avenue

At this point, in my very humble and largely uninformed opinion, KCRC should have known enough to tell the township, “We can do a speed study, but the odds are that traffic speeds will not change. If you want to slow things down, we need to talk about infrastructure changes. Infrastructure is very expensive and it sure as heck doesn’t happen overnight.” In short, slowing down traffic is a long, expensive process.

Instead, it appears that KCRC commissioned a speed study from the State, and the State looked like the bad guy in the meeting because the officers talked about statistics and human behavior. Township residents wanted to hear about their safety and security.

But maybe it all worked out in the end. I felt like a lot of attendees came away with the same conclusion as me, that infrastructure changes were required and that it was a long, slow road. If I’m right and everybody got the basic gist, it wasn’t a particularly attractive process, but perhaps it worked.

A friend and I talked after the meeting and decided that maybe communities and high traffic flow aren’t good bedfellows. Or maybe they aren’t easy bedfellows.