In Baton Rouge’s Goodwood neighborhood, residents for months have been at odds over a heated vote — one that has nothing to do with who will be the state’s next governor or represent the area in the Legislature.
A vote, exclusive to some Goodwood residents, was conducted via mail in recent weeks on whether to impose new traffic calming measures on the neighborhood streets to reduce cut-through traffic and slow vehicles barreling down residential thoroughfares. The proposals included additional stop signs and speed humps, as well as changing some two-way streets to one-way streets.
Speeding cars is a common complaint, and the Goodwood neighborhood initiative, which has spanned more than a year, marked the first time East Baton Rouge Parish residents took it upon themselves to design a large-scale neighborhood traffic plan to ease congestion. It also was the first time a vote has been conducted in this manner to determine whether the city-parish would move forward with the changes.
But the tallied votes show this pioneering plan didn’t result in unity. Instead, Goodwood was split. Residents in the section of the neighborhood north of Government Street approved the traffic changes, while those in the areas south of Government rejected them. The city-parish will make the final call, but the changes are expected to be implemented in the area that approved them.
Last year, the Goodwood Property Owners Association, one of the largest and most active civic associations in the parish, appointed a committee of residents to identify traffic calming strategies.
The committee included three licensed engineers who volunteered their skills to propose a safety plan for the area, which includes roughly 2,000 homes.
Many of the narrow residential roads in the Goodwood area carry more than 1,000 cars a day, according to traffic counts done by the city. Audubon Avenue, which connects Government Street to Jefferson Highway, gets more than 2,000 cars a day.
The committee outlined a comprehensive proposal, assuming an estimated budget of about $100,000. The proposal was implemented on a trial basis from November to February .
At that point, some residents in the neighborhood took issue with the fact that the changes were displacing some of the traffic onto their streets.
“ ‘Traffic calming’ is a misnomer. The phrase sounds good on paper, but neighbors quickly realized what it means in reality,” said Goodwood resident John Shortess, who said he voted against the proposal. He said during the trial period, “more streets saw negative effects instead of positive effects, including increases in volume.”
“One-way streets were not a good thing for the neighborhood, and now, following the vote that has taken place, (the city-parish) should not entertain anymore requests for one-way streets in Old Goodwood,” he said.
Laurence Lambert, a resident who served on the traffic committee that developed the plan, said the city-parish worked with the civic association to develop a process to vote on the new measures. Typically, when residents propose changes for their streets to curb traffic and speeding, they ask for things for one street at a time. Because these proposed changes would affect the entire neighborhood, the city-parish created the voting criteria specifically for Goodwood.
Public Works Department officials identified all the properties considered to be directly affected by the changes and that only roughly 800 households could vote. The neighborhood was divided into three districts, ballots were mailed out, and it required 65 percent positive votes in each district for passage.
But if residents didn’t mail their ballots in, they counted as no votes. Some proponents of the measure cried foul on a civic association Facebook page over the high threshold for passage of the proposal, compounded by problems with mail delivery in the neighborhood.
“Sixty-five percent was a challenge. It included rental properties and vacant properties,” Lambert said. “It was a very, very high bar to reach.”
But Lambert said he understands that the city-parish wanted to ensure that changes would be representative of the “vast majority of people, not just 50 percent plus one.”
The neighborhood association, which oversaw the vote, announced the results last month. However, association President Dennis Vidrine said it’s up to the city-parish to decide how to proceed with the vote results.
North of Government Street, 116 households, making up 67 percent of the area, voted in favor of the changes. But in the areas south of Government Street, which was split into Districts 2 and 3, only 24 and 45 percent of residents voted yes respectively. Those two districts did not receive enough yes votes to implement the changes.
In both of those districts, the returned yes ballots outweighed the no votes that came in. But because many respondents didn’t mail in a ballot at all, those unanswered ballots counted as no responses.
Ingolf Partenheimer, the city-parish’s chief traffic engineer, said he has not yet verified the information collected by the civic association’s vote. But he said, ultimately, the results will go to the East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President’s Office and Metro Council if funds are required for implementation.
Lambert said he felt the changes would have been positive for the neighborhood, but, ultimately, he respected the will of the neighborhood vote. He said it’s possible the city-parish could decide to individually implement some changes on specific streets in the districts where it failed.
Vidrine said in a Facebook post that in his six years as president of the association, “there has been no tougher and more divisive subject than traffic and traffic calming,”
“Now that the votes are counted, I am hoping that our neighborhood can move on and join as neighbors to work towards making Old Goodwood the best place to live,” Vidrine said.