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An Echo Press Editorial: A dangerous problem on Voyager Drive

By the Echo Press Editorial Board

Editorial Speeders 2808.jpg
A sign on Voyager Drive in Alexandria warns drivers to slow down by Voyager Elementary School when children are present but there have been several complaints of speeders who are ignoring the speed limit.
Al Edenloff / Alexandria Echo Press

It’s hard being an elected official.

Trying to please all your constituents is no easy task and solutions are often far from simple.

Consider what happened at Monday’s Alexandria City Council meeting. Frustration bubbled to the surface over what seems like a simple problem – getting drivers to slow down as they speed through the school zone on Voyager Drive.

The city’s highway committee came up with an idea that seemed promising: Installing a solar-activated speed limit sign for $7,521. The sign would be programmable like the one by Alexandria Area High School and would indicate the lower speed limit, 25 miles per hour, during school hours.

Ward 1 council member Bill Franzen made a motion to approve the purchase. He’s received calls from constituents near the school who are fed up with the speeders.

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Before voting on the issue, the council asked City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven whether such signs are effective.

Schoonhoven, to his credit, didn’t sugarcoat his answer. He said studies have shown they’re not very effective and would only have a marginal impact at best. He added that having a crosswalk and crossing guards was the “gold standard” for getting traffic to slow down.

The trouble with that, Franzen pointed out, was that they tried having crossing guards by the school but had two close calls where the guards had to pull back the children trying to cross because they were in danger of getting hit.

Another possible solution – having police cars monitor the traffic – was also tried but that didn’t work either, Franzen said.

The council talked about putting up a flashing light or beacon by the school areas but Schoonhoven explained that it only takes a short time before the lights don’t stand out anymore. They blend into the landscape and in effect, turn invisible. He said the flashing lights at the pedestrian crossing at Noonan Park, for example, isn’t causing drivers to watch for pedestrians or even slow down.

So, Franzen asked, if crossing guards, flashing lights, programmable signs and extra police presence won’t work, what can be done?

Schoonhoven said it boils down to changing a driver’s perception of the road, such as altering the configuration of the road or making it narrower.

The council also talked about looking into installing traffic-calming islands or testing a demonstration project in the school zone sometime this spring.

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But constituents, of course, want quicker solutions.

The council ultimately approved the new solar sign. Schoonhoven pointed out that there’s no harm in trying the idea.

All of the council’s discussion, plus behind-the-scenes communications with the county engineer, school leaders, a county commissioner and the highway committee show that, at least in this instance, elected officials are doing their homework and are trying hard to address the concerns of their constituents.

But the public needs to play a part too. Mayor Bobbie Osterberg summed up the Voyager Drive problem by saying, "Ultimately, it's up to drivers to slow down."

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