Woodward Heights Traffic

Traffic on Woodward Heights has been a topic of dicussion lately. The following is a summary of the issue and what the City has and is doing about it:

Daily Traffic Volume

Woodward Heights is one of the busier streets in town being a half mile road and one of our collector streets, along with Ridge and Oakland Park. Following are traffic counts that we have collected for our busier streets:

Ridge (south of Cambridge): 4,700 VPD (33 large vehicles)
Ridge (south of Oakland Park): 3,600 VPD (24 large vehicles)
Woodward Heights: 3,350 VPD (45-55 large vehicles)
Oakland Park: 2,200 VPD (25 large vehicles)

Other streets in town not listed above generally carry between 500 and 1,200 vehicles per day, and 10-20 large vehicles per day.

The above data was collected by the City using a Houston Radar Armadillo Tracker device, which measures vehicle counts, speed, and vehicle classification (small, medium, large). The data collector classifies any vehicles shorter than 14 feet in length as small, vehicles between 14 and 20 feet in length are medium, and any vehicle longer than 20 feet is a large vehicle. It is important to note that UPS delivery vans, some Amazon delivery vans, and larger pickup trucks like F-250s are longer than 20 feet and classified as “large” vehicles. This means that not every large vehicle measured by the radar is a truck. More on this below.

Large Vehicles

Truck traffic on Woodward Heights is a an issue of concern, and has been for some time.  Trucks have been prohibited on the street since at least 1991. As listed above, Woodward Heights carries more large vehicles each day than other streets in the City. Our segment of Woodward Heights is located between the industrial area in Ferndale and Woodward, so this has been a long-standing issue.

It is important to note that while Woodward Heights carries 45-55 large vehicles each day, not all of those are trucks, as noted above.

Furthermore, not every truck is a prohibited or illegal truck. By State law, only trucks larger than 36,000 GVRW (gross vehicle weight rating) are classified as commercial vehicles, and by City Code, trucks larger than 15,000 GVRW are prohibited. Some box vans and stake trucks are larger than 15,000 pounds GVRW, but some are not.  UPS and Amazon delivery trucks are not larger than 15,000 pounds GVRW. Finally, trucks making local deliveries or working in Pleasant Ridge are not prohibited from using the street.

The bottom line is that many of the 45-55 large vehicles using Woodward Heights each day are not illegally using the street. About 1.5% of the vehicles on Woodward Heights are large vehicles.

What is the City Doing About Trucks?

The police patrol Woodward Heights daily, and twice a day most days. Over 20% of all traffic tickets issued in the City are on Woodward Heights. The police issue are issuing violations to trucks for using the street. While the police patrol Woodward Heights more than any other City street and work to mitigate the issue, they have many other pressures on their time and cannot solve the problem through enforcement.

It has been suggested that the City use traffic cameras to automatically issue tickets to trucks using the street. There are two problems with this: 1) camera enforcement is illegal in Michigan. 2) Even if it was legal, a camera cannot distinguish between a truck that exceeds the weight limit vs one that does not, nor can a camera distinguish between a truck that is delivering to or working at a Pleasant Ridge destination.

Finally, residents should be aware that ticket revenue is not a windfall for the City. We receive about 20% of the dollar amount of fines and fees on a traffic ticket. The remainder goes to the Court and the State.

Past City Efforts

The City has also proactively worked with Woodward Heights residents to try to calm traffic and discourage cut-through traffic. The City convened a Traffic Calming Town Hall meeting in January, 2019 and discussed a number of test projects that we could implement on Woodward Heights. After discussing the possibilities with Woodward Heights residents, we came up with a series of tests to try. Those tests were conducted in the summer of 2020 (Woodward Heights was under construction in Ferndale the summer of 2019).

After trying out the tests, the City conducted a follow-up survey to gain input and evaluated the results with residents at the September, 2020 City Commission meeting.

Coming Improvements

After consulting with the residents, the only tested element that will be made permanent is the bump out on the south side of the street just east of the Woodward Alley, in the current parking lane. This improvement is not expected to affect traffic, but will be an aesthetic improvement entering the neighborhood from Woodward. This project will be done in conjunction with a larger project to save costs.

The City is also arranging for the edge striping on Woodward Heights to be redone this summer. The edge stripes visually narrow the street and slow traffic down.

Other Possible Actions

The City is always willing to work with residents on further improvements. By policy in our traffic calming manual, we ask residents to first prepare a petition signed by a reasonably large number of residents on the street to ensure that requested improvements have neighborhood support. We are happy to work with Woodward Heights residents on this issue, but we need the residents on the street to talk to each other and identify what changes they would like to see, and then bring that request to us.

We often hear requests for speed bumps on streets, but these are divisive, and must be placed every 400-600 feet to be effective. We tested out a temporary speed bump at the east end of Woodward Heights during the 2020 traffic calming tests, but residents who lived near the speed bump did not like it and wanted it removed.

Another possibility would be to move the stop sign from Bermuda where it is now, to Bermuda south by the Heights Market. Trucks stopping and starting at stop signs create a lot of noise pollution, exacerbating their impact. The residents on the street wanted the stop signs restored at Bermuda where they are now after the test projects last summer, but it is possible to move the signs to the other Bermuda upon petition from Woodward Heights residents. This would not solve the truck problem, but it would move some of the impact of stop/start noise towards a part of Woodward Heights where there are fewer homes.

Other suggestions like closing the street to traffic are complicated by the fact that this will push traffic to other Pleasant Ridge streets, creating winners and losers. Making such a major change would impact all residents, not just Woodward Heights residents and would require a robust community discussion before implementing it. Without evidence of broad community support, the City is not going to dramatically change long-standing circulation patterns.

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