Whether to change the speed limit in one Keene neighborhood was a hot topic at Thursday’s City Council meeting.
After a half hour of contentious debate and two failed amendments, councilors voted 12-2 to lower the limit from 30 to 25 mph on Stonehouse Lane, Skyline Drive and Summit Ridge Drive, residential roads behind the Keene Family YMCA.
All city-owned streets carry a speed limit of 30 mph unless specified otherwise in the charter.
Councilors Gary P. Lamoureux and Robert B. Sutherland opposed the measure, as they did at the Aug. 28 meeting of the municipal services, facilities and infrastructure committee. Councilor Stephen L. Hooper was absent Thursday night.
With the council’s vote, the next step is for city staff to draft an ordinance lowering the speed limit, which will come back to the council for review and approval.
The discussion was prompted when resident Robert H. Malay sent a letter to Councilors Philip M. Jones and Thomas F. Powers, both of whom represent Ward 5, with a petition of 28 signatures from 21 homes in the neighborhood. Citing a lack of posted signage, the presence of children playing outdoors, a prevalence of speeding vehicles and a recent crash on Skyline Drive, the petition requested the lowered speed limit and/or traffic-calming measures, such as seasonal speed humps.
Malay, who works as the superintendent of N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 but pursued this matter as a private citizen, sent the letter in mid-July, but with the City Council’s summer break and the need for staff to research the matter, the proposal didn’t reach the municipal services committee until late last month.
City staff presented their findings to committee members Aug. 28, explaining that a device measured 1,953 vehicle trips on Skyline Drive from July 29 through Aug. 2 and found that the average speed was 15.2 mph.
Because of the data, Public Works Director Kurt D. Blomquist and City Engineer Donald Lussier told the committee they didn’t see a reason from a traffic-analysis standpoint to lower the speed limit.
But Councilor Randy L. Filiault, a committee member who lives on Stonehouse Lane, agreed there’s a traffic problem and disputed Blomquist’s assertion that the data prove otherwise.
“Unless somebody can show me that reducing it to 25 miles per hour actually creates a hazard, I don’t buy any of it, but thank you very much for your comments,” Filiault said.
Blomquist addressed other suggestions from the petitioners, such as installing signs indicating there are kids at play. But he said studies have shown that those tactics tend not to change driver habits and instead give residents a false sense of security.
At Thursday’s meeting, councilors debated the data presented at the committee level and whether the anecdotal evidence was enough to warrant a lower speed limit. Filiault delivered more than one impassioned speech, quipping that it’s “not rocket science, but we’re gonna try our damnedest to make it rocket science, aren’t we?”
Two amendments were presented and failed. Councilor Jones offered the first, which would’ve installed three-way stop signs as traffic-calming devices, rather than lowering the speed limit. It was voted down 13-1, with only Jones in favor.
Then Sutherland suggested amending the motion to send the measure back to the municipal services, facilities and infrastructure committee to give city staff more time to work with the neighbors. He noted that more research might find data to support the residents’ claims if staff placed the collection units in specific areas of complaint — such as at the top or bottom of a hill in the neighborhood — or other traffic-calming measures might be discovered.
But the amendment failed 10-4, with Councilors Kate M. Bosley, Bettina A. Chadbourne and Lamoureux voting in favor with Sutherland.
After the meeting, some of the residents told The Sentinel they were relieved with the result. Todd Dombrowski said the concern of cars driving through the neighborhood has persisted since his family moved to Skyline Drive in 2012. He has two kids, 7 and 8.
“I have to stay outside and in the middle of the road when my kids are playing,” he said.
Dombrowski agreed with comments by some of the councilors that other streets might have similar complaints. But he argued his neighborhood is unique because there aren’t sidewalks, there’s added pedestrian traffic from the Y, and there’s been an influx of families with young children.
Another resident, Rob Johnson, said he’s seen small children playing outdoors and felt concerned for their safety.
“If we make it known that the speed limit is lower, maybe [drivers will] subconsciously think about that as they’re coming down the hill,” Johnson said. “I mean, an accident is an accident; it might happen. But if we can do anything to prevent it, we need to do it.”
Malay lives on Morgan Lane, a private road off of Skyline Drive. He acknowledged that the data collected by city staff do not indicate a speeding problem, but suggested this could be because the sample comprised mostly the driving habits of neighbors. The concern is people who live elsewhere speeding down those streets because of a lack of signage, Malay said.
“… They come in fast,” he said, “and like everyone’s already said, there are a lot of little kids around, and it’s important that we are protecting our young kids.”