Nightmare on Pinecrest

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For those who are just tuning in, I need to relate a sad chapter in neighborhood history. I call it "Nightmare on Pinecrest."

Nightmare on Pinecrest, Episode I: The Humps of Doom

Several years ago, the city announced that it had looked at various alternatives for "calming" traffic, and side streets such as ours could get speed humps installed. Several streets in the area, including the 100 blocks of Pinecrest, quickly circulated and signed a petition to get humped.

The city engineers measured our traffic, estimated the average speed to be way too fast, and started busily measuring and marking the exact locations of the humps.

However, there were a few souls on the street who were adamantly opposed to the speed humps. Some hated the way they looked, and with good reason: The first humps the city installed were garishly painted, and each was accompanied by signs on each side that said HUMP. The signs were rumored to be prized by teenaged vandals, who enjoyed the sexy overtones of the word.

Others opposed the humps for a variety of reasons, which included damage to their cars' suspensions, noise from screeching brakes and scraping undercarriages, the risk of lawsuits from speeders who careered into our yards, and slower response time from emergency vehicles.

Still others were willing to put up with the humps, but only in front of somebody else's house.

There was a neighborhood meeting to hash it all out. The pro-humpers made impassioned speeches about the dangers of speeding, lamented the pets who had already been run over, and worried about the real possibility of losing a child to the through traffic. The anti-humpers were equally impassioned, saying that seconds counted in an emergency, and humps would slow down emergency vehicles. Since Pinecrest was one of the few local streets with sidewalks, they argued, parents ought to be able to keep their kids out of the street. And, of course, the humps would ruin the beauty of the neighborhood.

The meeting ended with an agreement to meet with the city and with individual householders, so that humps would only be placed in front of houses whose owners were willing. If no such plan could be worked out, the project would be cancelled.

Before the newly constituted committee could even meet, however, the anti-humpers launched their own petition drive. Using a combination of rhetoric and histrionics (one resident told me how a petitioner stood in his yard, weeping, until he was embarrassed into signing), they collected enough signatures to overturn the earlier petition. The pro-humpers who were still trying to work out a compromise saw this as an act of treachery, and mistrust lingers between the two camps nearly a decade later.

Nightmare on Pinecrest, Episode II: The Humps Rise Again

As you may know, we also have to sign a petition every year to close the street for the block party. After the unpleasantness with the humps, a few anti-humpers went so far as to decline to sign the block party petition. They reasoned that closing the street might be taken as a sign that they acknowledged the speeding problem. We have sidewalks, and that is good enough. Shocking, I know, but I carried the block party petition that year and heard it myself.

The city of Durham, for its part, saw our squabbles as a sign that Pinecrest was just trouble waiting to happen, and they let us know that even if we somehow changed our minds again, they would install humps here only after they had done all the more harmonious neighborhoods first--which is to say, never.

Still, a few years later, the pro-humpers again tried to circulate a petition. They argued that the city had improved the appearance of the speed humps. No longer were they painted with huge arrows. The offensive HUMP signs were gone, and the overall number of signs was smaller. The pro-humpers pointed out that neighboring streets had suffered none of the ugly side effects that people had feared.

Another petition made the rounds. This time, however, they failed to get the needed majority, failing (as I recall) by a single household.

The city by this time had run out of money for the speed hump initiative. This was generally agreed to be the end of the matter. There was a tacit agreement along the street that if we parked more cars on the curb, it would have a calming effect on traffic, and that would have to be good enough.

Nightmare on Pinecrest, Episode III: The No-Parking Menace

Some people darkly predicted that if Pinecrest were the only side street without humps, more and more traffic would funnel through here, until we became a de facto thoroughfare. When the Fire Department complained in 2005 about the cars parked on the street, the whole traffic issue raised itself from the grave like a bad horror movie sequel. The city sent out notices that they were about to erect No Parking signs along the north side of the street. This raised the prospect of exactly what the pro-humpers had feared: that Pinecrest was about to become a throughway. What's more, they fretted, once we became a prime route for fire trucks, all hope of passive speed reduction was lost. Pinecrest residents quickly organized a meeting with city fire and traffic officials. We challenged them to explain why, after 70 years, they suddenly had decided that on-street parking was a problem. The Fire Department explained that Pinecrest was not a throughway, but occasionally they do get a call that would lead them down Pinecrest to, say, New Duke Forest. On one such call, the fire truck, which is very wide, had gotten halfway down our street when it found its way blocked by parked vehicles. A fire truck does not turn around gracefully in a confined space. Important minutes were lost backing out and finding another route. They filed a routine complaint with the city, and the city automatically responded with No Parking signs.

Faced with the one thing that city officials fear most, a room full of angry voters, all of whom are prosperous and politically connected enough to push back, the city relented. They agreed that parking had never been a problem before, and that passenger cars were generally not the problem. Construction and delivery trucks often do business here, and they are much wider than a typical car. If the residents of Pinecrest Road would agree not to park abreast, and would tell service vehicle drivers to do the same, the city would retract the order to erect No-Parking signs.

Nightmare on Pinecrest, Episode IV: Attack of the Killer Pumpkins

Speeding, of course, remained a major problem, and during the No Parking episode the city again measured the average speed of traffic and found it much higher than the posted 25 MPH. Without as many cars parked on the street, Pinecrest again became an easy shortcut. There were a number of petty thefts, too, which made the residents feel exposed and vulnerable.

On Halloween, 2006, and in the week that followed, two mailboxes were run down and smashed by vandals. A street-number post was vandalized as well. Then, in mid-November someone went down the street with pumpkins, smashing them against fixed objects like parked cars. Two cars had broken tail lights and other damage. It’s surprising how many dollars worth of damage you can do with a vegetable.

On the neighborhood e-mail loop, people began to talk about humps again, this time as a deterrent to vandals and criminals. Perhaps humps would offer a psychological barrier to keep intruders out, or at least hamper the getaway cars, which might encourage vandals and thieves to look for softer targets elsewhere.

Since the last speed hump petition, there had been some turnover in residents and also-rarity of rarities – some new construction. Again, the petitions came out, and it remains to be seen whether the pro-hump or anti-hump forces prevail. It is also an open question whether the city has forgiven us for our earlier indecision, whether there is any money in Durham’s hump budget, and whether we can locate the individual humps in such a way as to placate the not-in-my-front-yard folks.