A Little Relief For (and From) Charlotte Motorists
In praise of the humble speed hump
Driving in Charlotte grinds the enamel off your teeth. I’ve driven in other cities, crossed swords and Nissan Sentras with the bumper-to-bumper hell runs of Los Angeles and Houston; the driving-while-impaired Shangri-La of New Orleans; the concrete convection oven of Atlanta; the surrealist rat’s-nest nightmares of Boston and New York. All are awful in their own special ways. Charlotte is something else entirely.
Things happen here, as if on an alien planet with one-way streets, that I’ve never encountered before. Do people in other cities regularly drive the wrong way on freeway off-ramps? How does that happen? Is there any interchange as grueling as that Brookshire Freeway-12th Street horror next to Alexander Street Park on the northeast side of uptown, the configuration that guides competing streams of cars into each other in an X pattern? Has anyone in any other city—and I’m talking worldwide here—ever run across Charlotte’s most distinctive symptom of traffic psychosis: the habit of its drivers to signal one way, then turn the other, often across multiple lanes of traffic? (I blame NASCAR.)
Lately, it’s gotten completely out of hand in a city growing by 70 people and, oh, six or seven new apartment complexes—all of which apparently require the shutdown or one-laning of busy streets—every day. Add to that the fruits of the dockless mobility revolution: scooters, scooters, scooters like swarms of gnats, scooters in your lines of sight and rights of way, zipping between cars and trains and telephone poles and anything else you can think of. Not long ago, I made the mistake of driving up Bland Street in South End between South Boulevard and South Tryon Street, a chokepoint of popular bars and transportation modes: foot traffic, bikes, scooters, cars, skateboards. And then the light rail train pulled up. The gates went down. Some guy behind me honked. What was I supposed to do? Where was I, anyway, freakin’ Rangoon?
I may have overreacted, which brings us back to the earlier dental reference. But, in all seriousness, it’s only become clear in recent years just how inadequate Charlotte’s system of roads and modes is to handle the crush of people and their driving, or scooting, habits. The rising rate of pedestrian deaths sounds the loudest alarm, but a growing population isn’t the only culprit there. This is a city with a traffic grid that an urban planning professor this year tagged as one of the messiest and most confusing in the United States. “The core of the city is a neat grid,” wrote Slate, “but it dissolves into a pattern that looks like cacio e pepe served on a bicycle wheel.”
Something had to give, and, thankfully, the City Council on Monday unanimously adopted a new set of traffic-calming measures that should make the streets a little safer. Council members lowered the minimum number of cars required per day on a street to request a speed hump from 1,000 to 600 and the minimum for both a speed hump and stop sign from 2,500 to 1,500. The council also adopted rules to make it easier for residents of distressed neighborhoods to collect signatures on petitions for such measures and for any residents to request a speed limit reduction from 35 mph to 25.
I know of some streets that could use a speed hump or two. I have a specific one in mind: North Brevard Street where it branches off North Davidson Street in NoDa, right by Heist Brewery. Maybe you’re familiar with it. Southbound motorists turning onto Brevard from Davidson apparently think it’s an extra-short track; they whip around what I’ve come to call “the Curve of Doom” and gun it like they’re at Daytona, endangering pedestrians and construction workers busy erecting multi-family ziggurats on the neighborhood’s high-priced lots. It’s an untenable situation, a genuine threat to public safety, and the fact that I happen to live on that block is, at most, a secondary concern.