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Nerita residents make headway in fight for trucking restrictions

By Staff | Dec 18, 2008

About a dozen residents of the Nerita Street neighborhood appeared before City Council Tuesday for a scheduled public discussion concerning increased commercial trucking in the residential neighborhood.

Residents have petitioned the City Council to address the increasing number of 18-wheel tractor-trailers that frequently use Nerita and surrounding residential streets as a shortcut to beach-front resorts on Middle Gulf Drive, often trespassing upon lawns, the bike path and other lanes of traffic while attempting to navigate four nearly impossible-to-navigate 90-degree turns.

“It’s a dangerous situation,” said Nerita Street resident Mark Hammond, who with his wife Larkin, has spearheaded the effort to close that portion of Nerita to commercial tractor-trailer traffic.

Armed with photographs of an 18-wheeler trying to navigate the tight corners, as well as a photo illustrating the large volume of pedestrian traffic headed to the beach on the narrow lane, Hammond pushed the Council to approve the placement of signs that would prohibit tractor trailer traffic in the neighborhood, instead directing them to use the Donax Street “collector route.”

City Planning Director Bob Duffy summarized the results of a May 2008 Traffic Study in the neighborhood which analyzed data including the existing land use plan, peak and non-peak traffic patterns and a police speed survey.

“This led to two basic staff recommendations,” explained Duffy. “The paving of Junonia and the realignment of the Junonia/Nerita intersection, which has already been accomplished.”

Mayor Mick Denham said that it was important to get the consensus of the community about the proper thing to do in this situation.

“We don’t want to satisfy one group in the community and upset the rest,” he warned.

Duffy told the Council that there were a number of alternatives that had been considered by staff that were not included in the list of formal recommendations. These items were instead listed under options for the Council to consider. Among those options are:

• The installation of signage to direct all off-island traffic away from neighborhood streets

• A four-way stop at the Donax-Junonia intersection

• Closing Nerita Street for all vehicular traffic

• Installation of truck route signage to direct commercial and resort deliveries away from the neighborhood

• Installation of a 25 mph speed limit on Cardium and other neighborhood streets

• Conversion of neighborhood streets to one-way traffic circulation

The Hammonds maintained that they did not want to change Nerita Street in any way.

“In fact, our goal is to keep it the way it was before being used by commercial traffic, tour buses and Segways,” said the Hammonds in a letter to their neighbors.

Mark Hammond told the Council that they have seen a huge increase in commercial truck traffic since they purchased their Nerita Street home five years ago.

“Donax is a collector route by definition and design,” said Hammond. “There are lodgings, businesses, even industry.”

When pressed by the mayor for what Nerita residents actually wanted the Council to do, Larkin Hammond responded that they were seeking signage directing large commercial trucks to the Donax “collector route,” as well as an ordinance forbidding large commercial trucks from using the neighborhood streets as a short-cut to Middle Gulf resorts and businesses.

“I’d like an ordinance with some teeth in it,” said Hammond, “with a large fine that will make people think twice about going down that road.”

Councilman Marty Harrity expressed concern about enacting an ordinance that would suddenly punish delivery drivers for doing something that they’ve been doing for a number of years.

“This takes a little education,” said Harrity. “We should look at it, monitor it. Put signs in without an ordinance.”

City Manager Judie Zimomra told Council that any ordinance passed would carry a penalty such as a fine, but explained that ordinarily, a grace period is attached to allow adaptation to the new rules.

Ultimately, Council directed Zimomra to draft just such an ordinance for presentation to Council at an upcoming meeting.