Council member's traffic calming try riles neighbors

Like all Baton Rouge Metro Council members, Tara Wicker is fighting for neighborhood traffic calming in her district — but some of her constituents have taken issue with the fact that the latest fruits of her efforts benefited a single block in front of her house.

On April 14, large orange signs and sandbags were placed at the corner of Florida Boulevard and North 25th Street, blocking access to the street from the busy state highway. On Monday, the signage and blockades were removed, after city-parish staff say they determined the area was not in need of traffic-calming instruments.

But the removal of the blockades could have been a response to a petition signed by more than 250 people in the neighborhood who said they were inconvenienced by the closure. Some of the people who signed the petition said Wicker was receiving special treatment from the city-parish staff because of her office, at the expense of their convenience.

“It’s not fair, I have nine grandchildren and I would want it to be one-way right in front of my house, but that wouldn’t be fair to my neighbors in my area,” said Sharon Edwards, who lives a block away from Wicker. “But (Wicker) made it a one-way street because of the fact that she wants privacy and doesn’t want traffic for her children, and that is an abuse of her power.”

Wicker, a mother of six who lives in the 300 block of North 25th Street, said there have been complaints for years about people speeding through her street because it is a north-south connector from North Boulevard all the way to North Street.

“I’ve been asked by several of my neighbors because kids have almost been killed by the vehicles,” Wicker said. “So we were trying to slow it down so that it would not be able to have that easy access.”

Public Works Traffic Engineer Ingolf Partenheimer said the block was converted to a one-way street as part of a traffic study that was requested by Wicker. Ultimately, the test revealed that it was unnecessary to close the street to through traffic, so it was reopened.

Outgoing DPW Director David Guillory said adjusting speed limits and one-way streets in neighborhoods are low-cost methods of traffic calming being tested in areas across the parish.

Asked why the trial was only done on a single block in Wicker’s district, Guillory said, “It was a good candidate for the trial. That’s all it was, a trial.”

“There’s a lot of places we could have done it, but it was a good trial,” Guillory added. “And the result of the trial showed that it didn’t warrant it there.”

Wicker said her neighbors signed a petition requesting the one-way street. But the petition only had four signatures, because she said it only required the consent of people directly impacted on the block.

She said later 25 other residents from the surrounding neighborhoods signed a petition to support the one-way street.

Opponents of the closure collected more than 250 signatures from people on the surrounding streets and submitted the petition to the Mayor’s Office and to DPW.

The petition said the change was causing the neighbors “inconvenience and economic distress,” but it said they would be supportive of speed bumps, reduced speed limits or “Child at play” signs.

Terry Smith, who has a house on Main Street, said he can’t turn left to access his street when he’s coming home from downtown anymore.

“Nobody wanted this,” he said. “We never had any meetings about this.”

Carla Davis, who has lived in her Laurel Street home a block away from Wicker for 20 years, said she doesn’t think traffic through North 25th Street was very bad. Davis said she felt like Wicker was just protecting her own children who frequently play basketball in street in front of their home.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate,” Davis said. “Everyone in the neighborhood has kids. What sets your kids apart? Basically she’s diverting the traffic into the other neighborhoods, while you’re traffic free, and I don’t think that’s a necessity. There’s a whole lot more in this neighborhood that you could be doing.”

Wicker said the benefits of the traffic calming were to protect all of the kids in the neighborhood.

“But at the end of the day, in addition to being a city councilwoman, I’m also a tax-paying citizen as well as a mama,” Wicker said. “I’m not trying to do anything personal that is only benefiting me; I’m doing something that the people asked for, and I responded to that.”

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz.