by Jonathan Copsey; Appen Newspapers
April 14, 2010
MILTON - With William and Bryce Pope the latest Milton residents to fall victim to a vehicular crash, many residents are calling on the city to take action by lowering speed limits, increase policing or installing traffic calming devices. So far eight resident have perished when their vehicles crashed on Milton's roads. One teenager died the very night Milton held its first election and was born.
However, the city has few options to deal with the perceived problem.
Pope, 45, and his young son, Bryce, were both killed two weeks ago when their car swerved from the road and hit a tree. Another young boy survived.
Tim Enloe, operator of popular Web site Access Milton, has his own crusade. He knows firsthand the loss of a loved one in a motor vehicle accident; his brother was killed in a crash on his birthday. Enloe has been a strong and vocal advocate for better safety on Milton's roadways, going so far as to host his own safety forum last year outlining simple, low-cost ideas to the city such as stop signs and lower speed limits.
"I had hoped that those in charge would utilize some of my suggestions," Enloe said. "To date, not one idea has been implemented."
Enloe has become even more critical of the city since it began discussing traffic safety improvements to subdivisions, but no talk about open roads, where a large portion of Milton still lives.
"Not one fatality has happened in a subdivision," Enloe said. "They have all been on the open roads, in the open road neighborhoods."
Milton prides itself on its rural nature and, being rural, there are often trees standing very close to the winding roadways, so even a slight deviation from the road can result in hitting one. The accident report of Pope's crash notes that, despite driving at "very excessive speeds," he was neither on the phone nor had any alcohol in his system; he just had an accident.
Resident Patti Silva contacted city officials shortly after Pope's crash expressing her dismay at yet another fatality on the roads of her young city.
"Our roads are not safe," she said. "Weather gets bad. People speed or talk on the phone. Good drivers mess up... I'm painfully sad over this and so very afraid for our community. Will anyone do something?"
Unfortunately there's little the city can do.
According to City Manager Chris Lagerbloom, while state road speed limits are set by the state, the city certainly has the option of lowering the speed limits on all city streets. But there is a catch.
"We do have the authority to deviate [on the speed limit] on the city streets, but if we deviate on the city streets, the state removes our ability to enforce it."
So the argument goes like this: if drivers refuse to go the posted speed limit as it is currently set, knowing the threat of police action, why would drivers be more willing to follow the limit knowing they would not be ticketed? If anything, speeding would become more of a hazard.
"The state completely regulates our ability to enforce," Lagerbloom said. "And they set the speed limit they will allow us to enforce. I would rather have a speed limit with teeth than a mere sign."
Traffic calming can only come about with the combination of enforcement and engineering. First is the simple engineering aspect – striping and signage which are designed to notify a driver of hazards, such as winding roads. The more intense engineering aspect is controlling lane width, adding medians and speed bumps. Despite the attraction of adding speed bumps on the main roads, such as Highway 9, it is impractical and dangerous, since the speed limit is 45. Intersection improvements can also be considered. One of the city's most dangerous intersections – Birmingham Highway and Providence Road – is currently in the design phase with GDOT to be straightened out. Unfortunately, GDOT is backed up with projects years into the future and it is unlikely the intersection would be fixed anytime soon. It is optimistically scheduled to be completed by the end of 2013.
Increased enforcement by the police is unlikely due to the city's tight budget, which calls for four officers on the road at any given time, covering the entirety of Milton, which, in terms of area is one of Georgia's largest towns. Despite an agreement with Alpharetta allowing Milton and Alpharetta officers to patrol each other's streets, this still leaves a large portion of the city without police nearby.
So the solution is still far off. Some people will always speed and most will do so without ever getting into an accident, but roads are only as safe as the drivers who travel them.