WOODLAND HEIGHTS TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT

The WHCA has compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions regarding the traffic management program and verified the answers with the City’s Department of Public Works and Engineering.

Click to enlarge map.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

BACKGROUND

DATA & DEFINITIONS

THE PLAN

ALTERNATIVES

MEASURING EFFECTIVENESS

INSTALLATION & MAINTENANCE

MISCELLANEOUS


Q. What is the NTMP?

A. The Neighborhood Traffic Management Program is a City initiative to solve traffic issues. This approach addresses the neighborhood as a whole rather than individual streets. The intent is to ensure that traffic is not ‘shifted’ to other neighborhood streets.

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Q. When did Woodland Heights begin its participation in NTMP?

A. On January 12th 2011, with support of the WHCA, an application was made by a group of residents for Woodland Heights to participate in a traffic management program. On June 12th 2013, another group of residents, concerned about mounting traffic issues, submitted a separate petition to the City asking the Woodland Heights be considered for a traffic management program. On July 9th 2013, residents addressed City Council regarding traffic and speeding in Woodland Heights. Mayor Parker informed the WHCA of the NTMP program. On October 31st 2013, residents met with Director Weatherford from PWE, who advised that the neighborhood’s only option for reducing traffic speeds and volumes was to enroll in the NTMP program. On January 13th 2015, the City held a public meeting at Hogg Middle School to announce the start of the NTMP project for Woodland Heights and explain the process. Prior to the meeting, the City mailed out a notice of the meeting to the 2,484 residential addresses the City identified within the study area of Woodland Heights (the area bounded by Pecore, White Oak, Houston Ave and Studewood).

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Q. Is there really a traffic problem in Woodland Heights? How did we qualify for the NTMP?

A. During the first half of 2015, the City conducted an initial traffic study throughout Woodland Heights using automatic traffic logging counters on the streets. According to the study, the typical Woodland Height ‘local’ street sees an average of 320 car transits (in either direction) in a 24-hour period on a typical school day. The streets which stood out in the study were:

  • Pecore 6,951 vehicles (34.2mph 85th percentile speed)
  • Beauchamp north of Bayland 1,917 vehicles (27.9mph 85th percentile speed)
  • Beauchamp south of Bayland 1,062 vehicles (29.8mph 85th percentile speed)
  • Section of Watson north of Bayland 3,417 vehicles (32.0mph 85th percentile speed)
  • Section of Watson south of Bayland 4,541 vehicles (29.7mph 85th percentile speed)
  • Bayland east of Watson 1,823 vehicles (30.2mph 85th percentile speed)
  • Bayland west of Watson 1,575 vehicles (29.7mph 85th percentile speed)

According to the City of Houston Municipal codes [§45‐373 (Ord. No. 2015‐587, §2(Exh. A), 6‐17‐ 2015)], a neighborhood qualifies for the NTMP if, “the estimated percentage of cut‐through traffic on a street is equal to or greater than 20% of the observed daily traffic volume, or the observed daily volume is equal to or greater than 750 vehicles per day“ or “at least 15% of observed vehicle speeds on a street are equal to or in excess of the posted speed limit plus three miles per hour...” Note that all of these streets are subjected to volumes far greater than the minimum 750 vehicles per day as stated by municipal code. That alone gave the neighborhood its qualification for NTMP. During the study, the traffic devices on several streets recorded vehicles traveling in excess of 70mph.

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Q. A neighbor told me that the neighborhood doesn’t qualify for traffic management. Is this true?

A. No. The neighborhood qualified on traffic volumes alone. With respect to speed, the traffic study revealed the following:

  • 15% of traffic volume on Pecore travelled at a speed of at least 34.2mph, or equivalent to 3,206 cars exceeding the speed limit on a daily basis.
  • 15% of traffic volume on Watson north of Bayland travelled at a speed of at least 32mph, that’s 913 cars exceeding the speed limit on a daily basis.
  • 15% of traffic volume on Bayland east of Watson travelled at a speed of at least 30.2mph, that’s 296 cars exceeding the speed limit on a daily basis.

Clearly, the neighborhood may not have technically qualified through speed in addition to volume, but that doesn’t mean to say that our neighborhood doesn’t have a speeding problem.

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Q. A neighbor told me that the City’s data is unreliable and contains errors. Is it?

A. Of the many traffic monitors which were placed around neighborhood, two of them indicated anomalies. One located on east Bayland had malfunctioned on some of the days and the City indicated this in the data. Another in the west of the neighborhood had its internal clock set 12-hours out. As daily traffic patterns are cyclical in nature, a sampling of any 24-hour section of the data would be representative of a 24-hour period.

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Q. What about TxDoT’s plans for I‐45?

A. The I‐45 coalition has been following the development of Texas Dept of Transport’s plans for the I‐45 expansion closely. Within the next 5 years, the interchange between I‐10 and I‐45 will be closed down for an extended period of time. It is expected that Woodland Heights will be exposed to a substantial increase in cut‐through traffic unless a suitable deterrent is put in place.

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Q. What's the difference between a speed hump and a traffic calming cushion?

A. A speed hump is device which presents an abrupt ‘hump’ the full width of the street and is uncomfortable to navigate at any speed.

A speed cushion is much longer (in the direction of travel) so provides a soft transition for those traveling at or below the speed limit, but is unforgiving at high speeds. In addition, they are slotted so that vehicles with wider wheel bases, such as emergency vehicles and buses, can pass through them and not over them.

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Q. What's the difference between a roundabout and a traffic circle?

A. A roundabout is a large device with a one‐way (and typically multi‐lane) road running anti‐clockwise around it. An example of a roundabout can be found at the westward end of Washington.

A traffic circle is a small (8‐10 feet diameter) construction located in the middle of an existing intersection. Its purpose is to cause drivers to pay attention to the intersection and to slow down to navigate around. Stop signs are seen by some drivers as ‘optional’, traffic circles create a physical condition whereby the driver must be alert and slow‐down to navigate around.

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Q. So what’s the plan?

A. The initial plan involves placing temporary devices throughout the neighborhood, followed by a second traffic survey (school day) such that the before and after effect of the devices can be determined. A map is appended to this document.

The City’s plan will most likely review the condition of the existing speed ‘humps’ in the neighborhood and replace them with speed cushions as necessary. A traffic circle will be placed at the intersection of Sledge and Watson, and four sets of speed cushions placed south of Bayland. Watson (north of Bayland) will have two sets of speed cushions installed. Pecore will have four sets of speed cushions installed between Michaux and Beauchamp. Bayland will have two sets of speed cushions installed between Studewood and Watson, and one set placed on the 400 block. In addition, traffic circles will be placed at the intersections of Bayland and Helen, and Bayland and Morrison, to protect the 20mph school zone crossings on Bayland which are used by parents and children of Travis Elementary. Michaux will have two new sets of speed cushions to the south of Bayland. Beauchamp will have four sets of speed cushions placed along its length, each of two sets either side of Bayland. Euclid will have two sets placed west of Watson. In all, nineteen sets of new speed cushions and three traffic circles will be installed throughout the neighborhood.

Once these temporary devices are installed, a new traffic survey will be conducted to determine the effectiveness of the plan. If the new survey indicates any perceivable shift of traffic onto other neighborhood roads, the plan will be revised, the devices rearranged, and a new study performed ‐ continuing until the arrangement and number of devices has been objectively proven to have had a positive effect on the overall neighborhood without adversely affecting any individual neighborhood streets.

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Q. A neighbor told me that the City didn’t design this plan, but neighbors did. Is this true?

A. No. An initial plan was drafted by a sizable contingent of neighbors who had been formed into a traffic committee by the City at the first public meeting. The initial plan placed devices over many streets in Woodland Heights, including individual streets based upon the individual concerns of residents. This plan was devised at a meeting of the committee which was proctored by the City’s engineers. The City engineers revised the plan. That revision removed many of the original devices proposed by residents. The City revised the plan again based upon feedback from some of the residents, and more devices were removed from the plan.

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Q. A neighbor told me that there’s no logic to the plan and that it doesn’t address the traffic issues. Is this true?

A. No. As indicated by the traffic study, Pecore, Watson, Bayland and Beauchamp all exhibit a significant traffic volume issue. So the City’s plan has predominantly placed devices upon Pecore, Watson, Bayland and Beauchamp.

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Q. Why don't we just install more "stop" signs?

A. The devices which are at the NTMP’s disposal are speed cushions, flexible curbing (chicanes) and traffic circles. Flexible curbing would eliminate the on‐street parking in the locations where they would be placed. The City strictly follows warrant criteria, as described in the Texas Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, before they can authorize the installation of stop signs. Moreover, an all‐way stop‐control is not a traffic calming device and research studies have shown that an unwarranted all‐way stop‐ control can result in an unsafe intersection.

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Q. Why don't we just change the speed limit to 25mph?

A. The City is permitted (§ 545.356 Texas Transportation Code) to lower the speed limit of a street if the City determines that the prima facie speed limit is “unreasonable or unsafe”. In order to determine whether the speed limit is unsafe for a certain street, the City would have to conduct a traffic study and, if warranted, post new speed limit signs along that street. The City had previously explored this option and deemed it financially impractical to conduct traffic studies for all residential streets citywide (For social justice reasons, the City chose not to conduct traffic studies for individual streets or neighborhoods.) The City currently pursues legislative change to lower the prima facie speed limit to 25 mph. This option will not require the City to expend additional resources (e.g. traffic studies, signing, enforcement).

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Q. Why don't we just install a few cushions at the entrance to the neighborhood?

A. If devices are only located at either end of the streets which were shown to have a traffic volume issue, then I‐10/I‐45 cut‐through traffic is more likely to speed up between the devices to make up the time required to slow for them.

National studies of the placement of traffic cushions have shown that an interval of 300’‐500’ is optimum (PBOT, Sec. 6, “Relationships between speed bumps and speeds, volumes and crashes.”) to avoid the “brake, accelerate, brake” cycle which is synonymous with such devices.

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Q. How will we know if the traffic calming devices worked?

A. Once these temporary devices are installed, a new traffic study will be conducted such that the effectiveness of the plan is determined. That way, before and after data will have been collected to determine what effect, if any, the devices had on volumes and speeds within Woodland Heights.

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Q. What if traffic gets shifted onto side‐streets which don't have traffic calming measures in place?

A. If the post‐installation study indicates any perceivable increase of traffic volumes on other neighborhood roads, then the plan will be revised, the devices rearranged, and a new study period organized. This will continue until the arrangement and number of devices has been objectively proven to have had a positive effect on the overall neighborhood without adversely affecting any individual neighborhood streets.

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Q. What if the traffic calming measures are shown not to work?

A. If the result of the traffic studies show that the arrangement of temporary devices has had no demonstrable effect on reducing traffic speeds and/or volumes, then they will be removed.

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Q. A neighbor told me that traffic circles will shift trucks out of the center of the street which will cause damage to trees. Is this true?

A. If vehicles are traveling in the opposite direction, then trucks cannot drive in the middle of the road anyway. The greatest danger to our neighborhood trees comes after heavy rains, when the weight of the branches themselves cause sagging – the result is that branches is in the middle of the street are lower. At those times, passing trucks tend to damage the lowest branches anyway. There is no objective information available to indicate that the traffic circles would exacerbate this effect.

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Q. A neighbor told me that traffic circles are ugly and that they'll ruin the neighborhood. Is that true? How will they look?

A. The temporary traffic circles will be constructed out of temporary curbing which is bolted down onto the asphalt (and can be removed). The permanent circles will be constructed of permanent ‘roll‐over’ curbing, and provide an area for planting (trees shrubs) in the center of the circles. There is no reason why the circles need to be ugly, as they have the opportunity to be as aesthetically pleasing as the entrance islands and esplanades.

The WHCA plans to facilitate a neighborhood‐wide traffic circle design competition to provide a way for residents to have input into how the traffic circles could look (if they’re installed) while giving the WHCA the opportunity to base budgets around the competition design winner.

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Q. A neighbor told me that Bayland was designed as a thoroughfare, why not just leave the traffic there?

A. Bayland was never designed as a thoroughfare. Woodland Heights was laid down in 1907, when a single‐vehicle entrance gate was built on the Houston Ave end of Bayland.

With the exception of Watson and Pecore (classified by the City as “minor collectors”), all streets within Woodland Heights are classed by the City as local streets. Studewood is classed as a thoroughfare.

“Local Streets are public streets that provide access to individual single‐family residential lots, provide entry and exit to the neighborhood, and provide connectivity to collectors and thoroughfares. In short, all other streets not previously listed are considered local streets that function to provide access from individual properties to the thoroughfare network.” (Source)

“Minor Collectors are public streets that accumulate traffic from local streets for distribution into a Major Thoroughfare or a Major Collector. A Minor Collector typically has residential uses, however it may also serve commercial or mixed uses.” (Source)

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Q. A neighbor/police‐officer/official told me that traffic circles cause more accidents than prevent. Why install them?

A. It is possible that they may have been referring to roundabouts. Traffic circles have been shown to significantly decrease the frequency of accidents on intersections which they’ve been installed on ("Neighborhood Traffic Calming: Seattle's Traffic Circle Program" Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) District 6 Annual Meeting, July 20‐23, 1997, Salt Lake City, UT). Rather than stop signs which may not be respected, a traffic circle forces a driver to pay attention to the intersection and slow down to navigate it.

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Q. A neighbor told me that speed cushions reduce property values. Is this true?

A. Research studies have concluded that the effect of speed humps on the real‐estate value is random and statistically insignificant. In some studies, traffic calming devices have been shown to increase property values within neighborhoods that install them (“Economic Impact of Speed Humps on Housing Values” Journal of the Institute of Transport Engineers. Jan 2000).

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Q. Who installs these devices and how much will they cost the neighborhood?

A. The City will install and maintain the temporary devices for free. If they need to be moved, or removed, the City will also pay for that too. If, at the end of the study period, the devices have been shown to work as intended, then the devices will be made permanent. The City will pay for the permanent cushions. Typically, the City would replace the cushions for exact shape/form versions in asphalt, as asphalt cushions have been shown to require less maintenance on asphalt roads.

The temporary traffic circles will stay in place until the neighborhood decides to ‘upgrade’ them to permanent constructions, which would be regarded as beautification. The neighborhood would pay for the upgrade to the permanent traffic circles. The City has stated that the typical cost of a beautified traffic circle is in the range of $7,000 to $10,000. However, if the neighborhood decided at any time to remove the temporary traffic circles, and not upgrade then the City would remove them for free.

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Q. Who will pay to maintain the speed cushions?

A. The City will maintain the temporary/permanent cushions, at no cost to the neighborhood.

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Q. Who will pay for the permanent traffic circles?

A. The WHCA would work with residents on fund raising initiatives for permanent traffic circles which may include the use of WHCA funds if supported by the neighborhood and voted on by the WHCA board at such time. The City currently has a matching program for permanent traffic circles to match funds raised by the neighborhood dollar for dollar. There is currently $80,000 available within the matching program and funds are allocated on a first come, first served basis.

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Q. Who will pay to maintain the traffic circles?

A. The WHCA would most likely incorporate the upkeep of the permanent traffic circles within the scope of the existing beautification initiative run by the WHCA, which encompasses the existing esplanades and entrance islands.

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Q. Why is the City holding yet another public meeting?

A. Installing the temporary devices and studying the before and after traffic study data is the only way to objectively answer many of the questions posed regarding what would or may happen as a result of the devices.

As part of the NTMP process, a proposed plan to install speed cushions and traffic circles on various streets was developed and presented at the public meeting of 3rd February 2016. Based upon comments from the residents, the plan was subsequently revised. The scheduled public meeting is to present the revised plan and to solicit support from the neighborhood.

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Q. How widely has this effort been publicized to ensure that the whole neighborhood can participate?

A. In addition to two public meetings held by the City and announced by notices sent to all residential addresses within the neighborhood, the WHCA has reached out to all of the residents of Woodland Heights, via email, nextdoor.com, the WHCA website and physical paper mailers sent to each address (newsletter) in the neighborhood.

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Q. I want to be part of the decision to test these devices, how do I get involved?

A. Attend the Public meeting to be held at Hogg Middle School cafeteria at 7pm, June 13th 2016.
Return your comments to the city via the comment card which the city mailed out, or use the online comment card.

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