The first time a speeding motorist whacked the side of Shawn Latour’s garage, an apple tree slowed the vehicle’s momentum.
Damage was minor.
But the structure didn’t survive the second time when a driver hurtling down Norwood Avenue hit a neighbor’s lawn and caught air.
“It’s like a ramp,” Latour said. “It took out the whole side of the garage.”
While insurance led to its replacement, tensions remain.
Pat Smith recalled two crashes in as many days earlier this summer that left debris strewn across the street.
“I put a fence up last year and I’d like to keep this one up,” Smith said.
Lead-footed motorists causing property damage isn’t the only concern.
“What we’re really concerned about is that had someone been walking on the sidewalk, they wouldn’t have had a chance,” Smith said.
While speeding is a chronic issue citywide, along with complaints about potholes, Norwood Avenue in the city’s Mont Pleasant neighborhood has been particularly vexing for residents as cars exit Interstate 890 and pick up speed as they rocket towards Mont Pleasant Middle School.
Rob Carney watched as cars streaked past on Tuesday.
“Way too fast,” he said.
Lawmakers have been getting an earful from constituents across the city, from the Bellevue neighborhood to the GE Realty Plot.
Now the City Council is summoning a representative from the city police’s Traffic Division in for a grilling on Oct. 5.
“This has been an ongoing problem and it’s certainly getting worse,” said Councilwoman Marion Porterfield on Monday, citing three crashes on Paige Street in Hamilton Hill — including a car that struck a house.
“All of us have heard from residents throughout the city about excessive speeding on many, many city streets,” Porterfield said.
Chief Eric Clifford acknowledged the quality of driving by Electric City motorists can be abysmal — and it’s not just limited to speeding, but also running red lights and other traffic violations.
“It’s really become apparent to anyone paying attention that driving in the city is getting worse,” Clifford said on Tuesday. “We’re doing our best as the Schenectady Police Department when it comes to enforcement.”
While police are committed, some elements are out of their control.
Poor motorist habits is one element.
Another is COVID-19. To avoid layoffs amid a sharp decrease in revenue, Mayor Gary McCarthy ordered all departments to reduce overtime.
That means the four cops once dedicated solely to traffic enforcement have been filtered into regular rotation.
“Due to COVID and our need to save money in our budget, what we’ve done is modified our schedules daily to include traffic enforcement officers in our minimum staffing count,” Clifford said. “Instead of being specialized like they were, they have to be pulled out to be more generalist.”
Funding is another factor.
Amid the early days of the pandemic, City Council voted in April to delay issuing $2 million in bonds for previously-approved capital projects.
The impact on the city’s Smart Cities initiative, including continued deployment of the city’s Wi-Fi network, generated the lion’s share of discussion.
Yet suspending the bond also impacted several police requests, including freezing the purchase of new patrol cars and interrupting installation of the electronic speed signs lawmakers themselves previously approved last November during the annual budget process.
Also contained within the broader Smart Cities package were funds for optical sensors that would allow the city to monitor speeding hotspots and deploy resources accordingly.
“When we notify police to do the actual enforcement, they’ll be going into locations where we have a clear indication of where there are large numbers of drivers making poor choices,” said McCarthy, who unsuccessfully asked lawmakers to allocate the funding.
City police on Tuesday were not able to immediately provide data on the number of speeding citations issued this year to date compared to last year.
Clifford suspects a decrease in the numbers because, like other localities, officers reduced enforcement during the early days of the pandemic in order to limit contact with motorists.
“We’ve since gotten back to our regular traffic stop strategies,” Clifford said. “We just don’t have the ability to increase enforcement any more than we’ve already done.”
Porterfield asked the city to consider speed bumps.
“You really don’t want to speed over those speed bumps if you really want your car,” Porterfield said.
Speed bumps aren’t ideal because they would impede plowing, said McCarthy.
City Hall, he said, will explore suggestions offered by lawmakers.
Tom Carey, president of Schenectady United Neighborhoods, raised speeding with police brass last week, noting the issue is a concern shared by many of the city’s neighborhood associations.
The standard speed limit on city streets is 30 m.p.h., a number Carey believes should be reduced to 25 m.p.h. in conjunction with other traffic calming and design measures consistent with what’s known as “Vision Zero” policies designed to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries that many other cities and some states have adopted.
“Enforcement is part of the solution but isn’t enough as long as our streets are designed to encourage speeding,” Carey said.
The city, Carey said, should also consider building on the Complete Streets pilot that was done last year in the Craig-Main corridor.
That project, which was approved by lawmakers but not yet launched, includes numerous streetscape improvements to promote pedestrian safety along the corridor connecting Mont Pleasant and Hamilton Hill.
Smith, who serves as president of the Mont Pleasant Neighborhood Association, suggested the city install a pair of new stop signs along Norwood Avenue to slow traffic.
Latour acknowledged speed bumps are an unlikely option, citing the street’s role as a thoroughfare offering easy access to I-890 for first responders.
But flashing speed signs may help, he said.
The ongoing debate, the mayor said, is somewhat ironic.
“Usually we get complaints about streets that are in terrible condition, that they need to be paved,” McCarthy said. “Then we’ll pave them and the following year, we get complaints on that street about people speeding.”