A Metro Council member is proposing an ordinance to reduce the speed limit on Staring Lane from 40 to 35 mph, but residents say they are skeptical it will cut rampant speeding on the newly revamped roadway.
Councilman John Delgado said he was proposing the ordinance, set for a vote on Wednesday, because residents are too scared to let their children play in their front yards because of how close they are now to the roadway.
“They are purposefully putting people’s lives at risk for no gain,” Delgado said of the Department of Public Works, which sets the speed limits for the city.
The proposal is the latest turn of events since a $28 million project, completed last month, widened what had been a two-lane road to four lanes with a grassy median and other improvements.
The new road cut deeply into many homeowners’ yards, which lowered property values and left their houses several feet closer to approaching cars. It left the residents who were affected with bitter feelings.
Delgado said the speed limit proposal is also a response to concerns after an SUV lost control last month and flipped on its side into a Staring Lane homeowner’s front yard. The incident, he said, “scared the hell out of me.”
“I think we owe them a duty to make sure the property in front of their house is safe,” he said.
Baton Rouge Department of Public Works’ Chief Traffic Engineer Ingolf Partenheimer said the 40 mph speed limit was a compromise. He said DPW determined the speed limit could have safely been higher, as high as 50, but compromised to 40 in the wake of criticism.
Lowering it any more, he said, could actually cause more of a problem. He said national studies have shown cars going unusually slowly could find themselves rear-ended by other cars traveling as fast as the drivers feel comfortable driving.
“I don’t begrudge him wanting him to make 35,” Partenheimer said of Delgado. “I just don’t believe he’ll attain the goal that he wants, which is a major reduction in accidents.”
Delgado said of the claim of increased risk, “I think that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Whatever the final speed limit might be, residents say they’ve seen their share of speeders careening down the improved road.
“It’s like a racetrack,” said Kathy Raby, owner of Nails ‘N’ Nails on Staring Lane. “They’re flying.”
Staring Lane resident Milton Kleinpeter says he has to approach the mailbox at the edge of his front yard from behind, rather than from the sidewalk, because the box is so close to oncoming traffic. He said cars have honked at him several times just in the last few weeks as he slowed down to pull into his driveway.
“They drive really fast in this town,” Kleinpeter said, gesturing at the cars from alongside the mailbox on Sunday, as a public transit bus barreled down one of the lanes within a few yards of where he stood. “This is all day long.”
But when it comes to reducing the speed limit itself, residents have mixed opinions.
“Why bother?” asked former Metro Councilman Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois, a vocal critic of the Staring development project who owns a George’s restaurant on Staring and Highland Road. “There’s so many important issues in City Council, and 5 miles an hour isn’t going to make a difference.
“The damage has been done already. It’s just a wide open highway now.”
Raby also said he didn’t think that a speed limit reduction would make much of a difference. “People don’t respect the speed limit anyway,” she said.
Another Staring Lane resident, Anthony Kumse, didn’t mind the current speed limit, calling it “very fair.” He said 35 mph just feels too slow.
Kleinpeter said Staring Lane has always had trouble with drivers speeding through, even in its two-lane days. He said he filed a petition with the local postal service in 1972 because the mail was delivered to only one side of the street for efficiency, which meant residents had to dodge speeding cars while crossing the road every morning to get their mail.
The postal service began delivering to both sides soon after his petition.
“People have always gone fast,” he said.