Drivers traveling Staring Lane will have to ease up on the accelerator following the Baton Rouge Metro Council’s decision Wednesday to reduce the speed limit from 40 mph to 35 mph along the newly revamped thoroughfare.
The council’s 8-1 vote was the relief homeowners living on the street have been looking for since the road was widened from two lanes to four — including a grassy median and other improvements — under the city-parish’s Green Light Plan.
Since the road’s $28 million expansion, Staring Lane residents have complained they are afraid to let their children play in their front yards because of their closer proximity now to the roadway.
Staring Lane now encroaches upon many homeowner’s yards, which some say have lowered property values.
Gwynn Shamlin, president of the Staring Lane Community Association, said residents also having trouble sleeping from the noise of the speeding traffic and the residents were getting harassed by drivers as they checked their mailboxes or pulled their trash cans from the roadside.
“This has been a difficult situation since it opened up; people curse us out and they’ll throw trash at you,” Shamlin said.
He said the current speed limit also made it dangerous to enter and exit the driveways of Staring Lane’s 65 homes and six churches.
Shamlin’s arguments were backed up by a bevy of neighbors who expressed similar concerns, citing an accident last month involving an SUV that lost control and flipped on its side into a homeowner’s front yard as proof the 40 mph speed limit was too high.
Bryan Harmon, interim director of the city-parish Department of Public Works, said the street was redesigned for at least a 45 mph speed limit.
Officials previously said that the limit was set at 40 mph as a compromise to earlier criticism from residents.
William Daniel, Mayor Kip Holden’s chief administrative officer, argued that lowering the speed limit could actually increase the potential for more accidents.
“You’re going to have people attempting to obey the speed limit and others who will go faster because the road allows it,” Daniels said.
Councilman John Delgado, who proposed the ordinance to reduce the speed limit, stressed to the council that they should be focused on the concerns of the residents instead of the city engineers.
Councilmen Trae Welch, Ronnie Edwards, Donna Collins-Lewis, C. Denise Marcelle, Chandler Loupe, Buddy Amoroso and Tara Wicker voted with Delgado in support of the measure. Scott Wilson cast the lone dissenting vote. Chauna Banks-Daniel did not vote on the measure and councilmen Ryan Heck and Joel Boé were absent from the meeting.
In an unrelated item, the Metro Council postponed its vote on a proposed ordinance that would restrict where new payday lenders could set up within the city limits.
Collins-Lewis and Edwards had hoped to ban the businesses from opening within 1,000 feet of existing payday loan stores, pawn shops, churches, libraries, schools, public parks, businesses that sell alcohol, casinos and residential neighborhoods.
Their proposed ordinance, which would affect only payday lenders opening after Sept. 1, also would limit the businesses’ operating hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and require the businesses to post information about local nonprofit agencies that provide financial education and training programs.
The proposed measure comes after failed attempts at the Legislature to limit the amount of interest that can be charged and the number of payday loans consumers could take out annually.
Jan Moller, director of research for the advocacy group Louisiana Budget Project, told the council that the average payday consumer will take out nine to 13 loans a year.
Moller also claimed payday businesses outnumber McDonald’s restaurants in the state by a 4-to-1 margin.
Edwards called the payday lending industry “financial slavery” in need of regulation given the abusive effects it has on customers who are mostly underserved and disenfranchised people.
Collins-Lewis shared her daughter’s personal struggle to get out of debt with payday lenders. The councilwoman said it took her daughter several years to break the cycle.
“It’s robbery; it doesn’t get you ahead,” she said. “I don’t care what payday lenders say, they don’t care about people.”
But Amoroso defended the payday industry and expressed concerns the location stipulations in the proposed ordinance would create a moratorium on the businesses.
“I believe in competition. This keeps competition out,” he said of the proposed ordinance. “People should be free to choose. We need to teach financial management in school and churches. We don’t need this type of legislation.”
The council is expected to revisit the issue at its next meeting on Sept. 24.
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