The speed of traffic in Los Alamos County neighborhoods poses problem. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
It looks like Los Alamos County residents can expect to see Los Alamos Police Department patrol units engaged in more traffic enforcement on neighborhood streets in the County particularly in the areas of the Trinity-Sandia loop, Urban Street area and along 6th Street where diversions due to the construction of the roundabout are causing increased traffic. Roads near the crosswalks on Meadow Lane and the Grand Canyon Drive areas of White Rock are also expected to be heavily patrolled.
Last week, LAPD Cmdr. Oliver Morris issued an Aug. 5 press release addressing the issue of speeding concerns in the County.
Cmdr. Morris also spoke during Thursday’s virtual meeting of the Los Alamos County Transportation Board saying he has noticed an uptick in concern specifically neighborhood speeding. He noted that speeding citations are down but the number is not as low as one might expect and sits at two-thirds of the normal number.
“I will be honest and say that in March and April before we knew more about COVID and had all the PPE out to the officers, we were not writing as many citations. We still were writing citations, but as soon as we got more of a handle on how we wanted to approach traffic stops, we started to get back to normal. I would say this month we’re probably on par for what normal is,” Cmdr. Morris said.
He noted that although there has been a reduction in the number of vehicles throughout the County due to closures, it doesn’t mean that speeding is not happening. He said the almost thinks the speeding issue can be worse sometimes when there are fewer cars.
“I take traffic enforcement very seriously. We had a young boy get hit by a car right by my house this last year and it wasn’t even necessarily a speeding issue which is why I highlighted the basic speed rule in my press release. Just because a speed limit is there does not mean that’s the safe speed, especially when you have people that are walking more because there are a lot of people out and about and trying to get exercise because they’re not traveling as much,” Cmdr. Morris said.
He said LAPD is working with the Traffic Division to deploy speed monitors and officers are also making stops. If a speeding issue comes to his attention, he said he directs his teams to go conduct enforcement in that area for a period of time.
“So the more complaints I get, the more we address those complaints, but we also need to work with the community in a partnership to reduce speed,” Cmdr. Morris said.
For example, he noted, LAPD sent letters to an entire neighborhood telling residents that 25 mph might not be the safe speed for that neighborhood.
Transportation board chair Kyle Wheeler asked Cmdr. Morris if the citation statistics could be broken down into how many were written in neighborhoods versus the number on collector or arterial streets. She noted that she sees a lot of officer presence on Diamond Drive, for example, but wondered about the neighborhood streets. Cmdr. Morris said he would compile the data for Wheeler and that he would venture to say that she is probably correct – that most of the citations are going to be on some of the major roadways.
“Another way to measure how we’re doing is how many hours we’re spending in a neighborhood. A lot of neighborhoods may not have someone going over the speed limit, but 25 mph may not be safe. It’s sometimes more difficult to run traffic in the neighborhoods but the mere presence of the officer is a good deterrent and shows the public that we’re there,” Morris said.
He noted that he has been communicating to his sergeants them in places like the Truck Route and more time in the neighborhoods because that is where the issues need to be addressed right now.
Morris addressed the Basic Speed Rule which reads as follows:
No person shall drive a vehicle at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing. Consistent with the foregoing, every person shall drive at a safe and appropriate speed when approaching and crossing an intersection, when approaching and going around a curve, when approaching a hill crest, when traveling upon any narrow or winding street, and when special hazards exist with respect to pedestrians or other traffic or by reason of weather or highway conditions.
“The Basic Speed Rule basically says that an officer can write a citation for a vehicle even if they’re not exceeding the speed limit. If you live on a road that has a curve or a grade and I were to clock you at 25 mph but can make an argument that it was too fast, I could win that citation,” Cmdr. Morris said. “Someone made a comment about my article that they had gotten pulled over for doing five over on Central Avenue. Well, Central Avenue is a 25 mph zone but if you’re doing 30 mph down Central during the day when people are crossing the road by Starbucks, I could make the argument – it may seem nitpicky – that that’s too fast for Central. I have had that conversation with our local judges and they will support that citation.”
Board members discussed the pros and cons of various engineering speed control options with Morris, County Engineer Eric Martinez and Traffic & Streets Division Manager Juan Rael, including additional stop signs, striping, pedestrian lighting buttons, speed bumps or humps and speed monitoring devices.
Local attorney Phil Dabney expressed concern about the number of speeders in the Western Area, noting that usually going to work or coming home from work from 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. at 45 to 50 mph or returning home from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the same rate of speed. He recalled someone passing him on Trinity Drive as if he was standing still. He said the only way to deter speeders in the area is to have patrol cars present before and after work to stop them.
“It’s very likely that most of the speeders are people who live in the neighborhood. They don’t seem to have any regard for the safety of the other people who live in the neighborhood. They’re all in a hurry to get to work, they’re all in a hurry to get home and they just don’t seem to care,” Dabney said. “The side streets are too narrow and they don’t really go anywhere so it’s the main drags that are difficult in the Western area. Something needs to be done before somebody gets killed.”
Former Transportation Board member Julie Bennett said she has been fighting the issue of speeding on Urban for four years and that the problem is getting worse all the time. She said when a police car is present, the traffic runs at 25 mph but when there is no patrol car present, it averages between 35 and 45 mph.
“There’s a few cars that have like a mission to get to the top of Urban as quickly as they can so it’s probably 50 plus. It’s not just downhill traffic, it’s uphill as well. And it’s not just the people who live here. There’s a huge amount of traffic including FedEx and UPS trucks that are just flying through these roads,” Bennett said.
Another person mentioned 6th Street which was recently impacted by commuter traffic that went down that street during a diversion from Central Avenue due to little signage being placed.
An interesting fact that emerged at the end of the discussion was that people can turn license plate numbers in to LAPD for repeat speeding offenders and LAPD will respond.
“I think a couple of things can happen. I think we could go talk to those people at their houses and explain to them that they’ve been reported speeding x amount of times and what’s the issue and see if that has any effect,” Cmdr. Morris said. “The other thing is we can look for those vehicles or watch for those vehicles specifically from LAPD or if it was egregious enough, and you could identify the driver it could warrant some type of safety summons but that’s going to be difficult to do because you have to identify the driver.”