Council takes steps to slow speedy drivers in East Portland neighborhood, begins wrangling with Hburg’s scooter invasion

By Randi B. Hagi, contributor

The Portland East neighborhood’s roads, which have been plagued with lead-footed drivers, might become a little slower to navigate after the Harrisonburg City Council unanimously adopted a “traffic calming” plan Tuesday evening.

Erin Yancey, the city’s Public Works Planning Manager, presented the plan in response to chronic speeding and stop sign-running in the neighborhood straddling the city and county line east of Port Republic road.

Yancey, with neighborhood residents’ support, began addressing this issue in December 2017 in conjunction with the Harrisonburg Police Department.

Police began increasing stop sign enforcement in the neighborhood, but that wasn’t enough to eliminate the problem, Yancey said. Since then, Yancey’s group has held a neighborhood education campaign and hosted a local community meeting.

In May, they conducted a study which determined that the traffic violators were evenly split between university students and local residents, many of whom were trying to avoid traffic on nearby Port Republic Road and Reservoir Street.

The new plan will start with painting more barred stop lines in addition to some that already exist. If, after another traffic study, that doesn’t seem to be enough, the next phase will be to install speed bumps. And the final phase, if necessary, would be to build traffic islands at the busiest intersections.

The council, in a brief and sparsely-attended meeting with only 15 people in the audience, also agreed unanimously to hold off on taking action on all items on the consent agenda, which concern rezoning and parking issues, until the December 11 meeting. That will be the last council meeting of 2018 because the December 25 meeting was unanimously suspended in observance of Christmas.

Too many scooters?

In other traffic-related news, Councilman George Hirschmann commented on what he called the “pressing problem” of the electric scooter invasion.

City Attorney Chris Brown said that last week an estimated 700 scooters lined the streets and sidewalks of Harrisonburg, as companies Bird and Lime-S competed for riders.

Brown said he believes the number of scooters has decreased in the last week. He also pointed out that city ordinances bar bicyclists from riding on the sidewalks downtown. The state of Virginia has said that could include the electric scooters should the city classify them in the same category as bicycles.

He also said the city could limit the number of scooters in Harrisonburg by enforcing an ordinance that forbids setting up goods or wares for business on the sidewalks without permission.

The city also is looking into franchise agreements with the companies, which could ensure that the scooters are removed before inclement weather or holiday events. Brown said he will meet with one of the company’s representatives on Wednesday.

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Jennifer Davis Sensenig of Faith in Action discusses the possibility of the city and county hiring a Justice Planner to oversee the local criminal justice system with Vice Mayor Richard Baugh after the council meeting on Tuesday.

Upcoming justice meeting

Jennifer Davis Sensenig, a county resident and president of the local congregations’ coalition Faith in Action, announced during the public comments that Faith in Action members plan to attend the upcoming Community Criminal Justice Board meeting on Dec. 3 to “learn how to shift dynamics in the local criminal justice system” to “reduce recidivism, incarceration costs, and incarceration rates.”

The organization specifically wants to eliminate the $1-per-day- fee charged to local inmates who access the commissary and to increase restorative justice opportunities for juvenile offenders.

Sensenig asked the council to address “where the partnership is” between the city and county on these issues, including whether the city will hire a justice planner next year.

Council member Chris Jones said he would prefer to comment after the city council and Community Criminal Justice Board have more concrete plans.

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