Flint, MI– Along Dexter Street, near the back entrance of a McDonald’s, Kate Cole has fearfully watched people bike, children run, and mothers push baby strollers.
That’s because she’s also seen cars barrel down the road going more than 50 miles per hour– double the Michigan speed limit for residential neighborhoods.
Cole, 78, has lived in many places throughout her life, including Chicago, where she went to school for computer science. Flint has the worst speeding problem she says she’s ever seen.
So she decided to do something about it.
Now, Cole heads the Flint Taming Traffic Task Force under the guidance of Flint Neighborhoods United. The group received a grant to purchase a radar sign to track speeds of cars driving through different areas, and has been collecting traffic data in multiple locations over two years in hopes of sparking change.
“People who hear us talking about speeding think oh, we have nothing better to do with our lives, or we’re getting excited about nothing. But now we have the data,” she said.
The project started during one of the monthly FNU meetings Cole regularly attended. She shared with the group about the speeding she had witnessed in her neighborhood.
“The room just lit up,” Cole said. “Everybody had a story to tell.”
There was Welton Lewis whose wife is now afraid to drive after witnessing an older woman cross the street and nearly get run down by a truck going through a red light. Lewis had gotten her the car only months earlier–she hadn’t even gotten a thousand miles on it yet.
He said he hopes “that someone will get involved with the project where we can get this speeding down before a lot of people get hurt.”
Dennis Cannon, a Vietnam war veteran, said he makes sure to teach his eight grandchildren how to safely cross the streets any time he goes out with them, after witnessing cars flying down the streets going 60 or 70 mph in his neighborhood.
“As a grandparent, I’m concerned about any child crossing any street in the city of Flint,” Cannon said.
Others had personal car accidents and injuries to recount. So a task force with about twenty members, who are mostly older and retired, was formed.
The Crim Fitness Foundation and the Neighborhood Engagement Hub have supported the task force financially and with meeting space, although now the group’s meetings are all online.
The first step was to apply for a grant to purchase a radar sign, the same kind used at Kettering University. The Community Foundation provided a grant which helped purchase one sign that has been moved to six different locations over the years.
After being trained on how to use the sign, change the 20-pound batteries, and run the data reports, the radar sign went up in front of Cole’s house on Dexter Street. According to the data collected from the sign, 20% of the East side traffic was going over the speed limit.
Other members applied to have the sign put in their neighborhoods, where they thought the most dangerous speeds were. Cole said the process takes time. They have to examine the area to see if they’d be able to get good readings there, and then get the city’s approval. Once they get approval from the city, they have to go to MISS DIG, since a post would need to be dug into the ground.
Once the sign is up, it stays up for eight weeks on one side of the road and eight weeks on the other side so it can measure traffic going both directions. Half of the time the sign is in display mode, meaning it shows the speeds of the incoming cars. The other half of the time it is in covert mode, so nothing appears.
Cole said there hasn’t been much of a difference in the way people drive with the two modes.
So far, the radar sign has been on El Dorado, University Park, Pengally Rd, North Grand Traverse and now, Miller Rd.
Cole shared some of the statistics from the previous locations:
- El Dorado: 35% of traffic over the speed limit
- University Park: 46% of traffic over the speed limit
- Pengally Road: 53% of traffic over the speed limit
- North Grand Traverse: 70% of traffic over the speed limit
In addition to measuring traffic over the speed limit, Cole and the rest of the task force created parameters to determine whether cars were traveling at medium or high risk speed.
When a car is going five miles over the speed limit, it’s a medium risk. Ten miles over the speed limit is a high risk.
On Pengally Rd, there were 39 vehicles a day traveling at high risk speeds. On North Grand Traverse, there were 345 vehicles a day traveling at high risk speeds.
Data collected over the last eight days shows that on Miller Rd, only 18% of vehicles have been compliant with the 35 mph speed limit. 52% have been traveling at medium to high risk speeds, and 21% have been traveling at high risk speeds.
In the last 30 days, 25 vehicles have traveled 75+ miles per hour, 18 have traveled 80+ miles per hour, and eight vehicles have traveled 90+ miles per hour.
“Most of the very high speeding is at night but sometimes it will happen at 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m.,” Cole said. “The later it is, the higher the speed generally.”
Kip Darcy, who is in charge of the sign on Miller Rd, says you can find high speeds at any time of the day.
“You’ll see it at 3, 4, 5 in the morning, but you’ll see people going over 75 on occasion during the day,” he said. “But let’s be realistic. None of it is appropriate at any point during the day.”
He recalls the group deciding to set up email alerts any time a car goes past 55 mph.
“Well all of our phones started blowing up, so we had to set it to 75,” he said.
Darcy moved to Flint from San Francisco eight and a half years ago to work for Kettering University, where he saw how the implementation of radar signs, islands, a three-lane road, and crosswalks on Chevrolet Avenue, impacted traffic.
“I’ve definitely seen traffic calming,” he said. “The infrastructure there captures people’s attention and makes them aware that community members are wandering around…and the flashing signs definitely create awareness around speed.”
Darcy got involved with the task force after the pandemic and the desire to work on removing an old fence at his house got him staying at home more. He started observing major speeding on Miller Rd, and thought the pandemic might have people driving faster.
“I was chatting with friends, baffled as to why there was no enforcement…there are a thousand different reasons for that but nonetheless, as an individual resident, you’re wondering, where’s the enforcement?” he said.
Darcy tried calling the traffic desk of the Flint Police Department but nobody answered the phone. When he called the city Ombudsperson, she recommended he check out the Flint Taming Traffic Task Force.
He signed up to get involved and have a sign put where he lives, and hopes the data they find can be used in the plans for the renovation of Miller Rd.
Cole said she hopes the findings of the task force will create change at three levels: the city, the police, and eventually the state.
She said Councilman Allan Griggs has been helpful with the project, sharing their findings and alerts on social media. Cole said they are working on getting the project on the agenda for a future city council meeting to present their findings to all of council.
But connecting with the city has been challenging.
“We shared our findings with Mayor Neeley at a meeting, and he connected us with Former Police Chief Phil Hart at the time,” she said. “But then he left and we got no feedback.”
Cole said they’ve had difficulty trying to get connected with Chief Terence Green, but she said she understands “he’s got a lot on his plate.”
“I know the police are very understaffed…but I’ve never seen the police monitoring traffic,” Cole said.
Members have different ideas for solutions to speeding. Installing cameras to give warnings, or tickets, adding islands, roundabouts, and even potentially using self-driving cars.
“These volunteers have the same heart,” Cole said. “We want to stop speeding not just in our own neighborhood, but all over. Our goal is for residents to respect the law, and respect life.”
To see about getting involved with Traffic Taming Task Force, and potentially getting a radar sign in your neighborhood, you can contact Cole at email@example.com.