Are cars really speeding through your neighborhood as they might seem? When does rush hour takes place in your community? How many heavy trucks, or school buses perhaps, roll through that busy intersection your child crosses to get to school?
Perception isn’t always reality. So Charles Town officials are deploying two traffic counting machines around town to get those kinds of answers, the true quantitative answers.
“I think we can actually start to making, or continue to make, data-driven decisions on that stuff,” said Charles Town Mayor Bob Trainor, a self-professed numbers kind of guy.
Looking like extra-rugged cigar boxes connected to a long, rope-like pneumatic tube, the separate machines can do more than count passing vehicles and tell how faster they’re going. They can also calculate whether that was a car, SUV, pickup truck, tractor-trailer or delivery truck that passed by and what time and day that happened.
“The statistics are just awesome,” raved City Councilman Jim Kratovil, a member of the council’s street committee that purchased the machines in August.
The roadway possibilities, city leaders suggest, might not just be informative but, well, potentially transformative in a modest municipal way.
“It was really cool the variety of data that we’ve gotten. I had no idea,” offered Councilman Todd Coyle, another a streets committee member. “Just having that data makes decisions so much easier.”
Purchasing the machines cost the city about $3,000.
Charles Town City Manager Daryl Hennessy said the traffic counters were acquired as a way to respond to a particular citizen’s common request to address speeding cars traveling by a bus stop in the Norborne Glebe subdivision off U.S. 340.
“We thought we’ve got to do a better job of gathering data around these questions. It can’t just be about somebody’s perception of speed,” Hennessy said.
“And so that was really the motivation and that’s why we started in Norborne Glebe.”
The project to collect roadway data remains in its early stages. City staffers are still becoming familiar with how to collect data from the machines, but they’re also considering when and where might be best to use them, Hennessy said.
But when the machines were positioned around Norborne Glebe over the past few weeks, city officials happily learned that motorists were really traveling several notches below, not over, the neighborhood’s posted 25 mph speed limit as some residents thought.
“The early finding is the perception of speed in these neighborhoods is greater than the actual speeds,” Hennessy said.
That preliminary data dump from Norborne Glebe hasn’t curbed the measured enthusiasm from Charles Town’s leaders.
They’re thinking of the possibilities the machines might provide in understanding how to make traffic flow safer in and around the city.
Police Chief Chris Kutcher is on board with exploring how to use the traffic counters to possibly achieve more effective traffic enforcement to most efficiently uses the city police department’s resources.
Coyle suggested that perhaps the machines could help the city determine where to prioritize its maintenance. However, a separate review of the needs of street maintenance and possible repaving is being conducted, Hennessy said.
“At this point, we’re mostly just trying to gather data and understand not only how to use the device but also what is happening in these neighborhoods,” Hennessy said. “And then we’ll turn that over to the chief and he can start to do some other things with it.”
Meanwhile, during a council discussion a month ago, Trainor invited the city’s council members to think of where the machines might best be deployed first throughout the city’s eight political wards. He encouraged the council members to reach out to city residents for suggestions too.
Charles Town residents can also reach out directly to City Hall about any speed or local traffic concerns, Hennessy offered.
“We still want to hear from citizens if they’re concerned about an area in their neighborhood where they think traffic may be moving at too high a rate of speed,” he said. “It’s not a bad outcome if people from the community call us or call their council member to say, ‘I’d like you to consider these two streets in my neighborhood,’ or whatever the case might be, because that will help us figure out how to deploy the devices.”