North and East neighbors celebrated when mysterious traffic control devices popped up at the sites of several recent high-speed collisions on Esmond Avenue. Residents were equally upset when they vanished.
The orange cones first appeared around July 16. The following Friday, plastic poles materialized, glued and bolted to the ground. Some neighbors began to speculate a street-calming vigilante was at work.
A week earlier, a Lincoln Avenue neighbor spotted someone arranging orange cones in the street. Later a 36th Street resident spotted a city truck at the intersection with workers trying to find out if the bolted poles had been the work of the city.
North and East resident Ellen Seskin said she and other neighbors have been calling and writing to the city council and mayor, begging them to do something about traffic safety before someone is killed.
“This was a neighbor. A wonderful neighbor. A neighbor who should be on the city council, because they know how to get things done!” Seskin wrote.
David Gabriel, a North and East resident, said the guerrilla traffic calming efforts worked, and when the poles were up, his street became much quieter.
“I can’t take credit for the cones (though I wish I’d thought of it). I’d gladly help reinstall them!” Gabriel said. “Crossing one of the intersecting streets is just not safe, especially when you can’t see around an over-parked corner!”
Neighbor Catalin Kaser was supportive of what she called tactical urbanism.
“I’d be happy to work with neighbors on Gaynor between 23rd and 29th to install some traffic calming measures if others are interested,” Kaser wrote.
Onetime mayorial candidate Shawn Dunning proposed a meeting between city officials and the “neighborhood heroes” who installed the devices.
“If we can get everyone on the same page, perhaps we can do something that’s scalable and also serves as an example for others to follow,” Dunning said.
Public Works Department Director Daniel Chavarria confirmed the city removed the cones and poles. “Those delineators were not installed by the city,” Chavarria said.
Aodahn Logan, a four-year resident of Esmond Avenue, was the first to post about the arrival of the traffic control devices on a neighborhood message board.
“Looks like some steps were taken to reduce speeding on Esmond. It seems to be working pretty well; cars are driving much slower,” Logan wrote.
While slowing down drivers may have been a short-term goal, Logan speculated the real objective was to start a conversation to find solutions to traffic safety.
Logan said he has been working with neighbors to improve safety, including City Councilmember Claudia Jiminez and a resident whose fence was smashed in a shocking collision.
“This started a conversation and directed attention to this issue. It showed a real-world affordable solution,” Logan said. “The plastic poles were installed and anchored very cheaply to build a traffic circle.”
While long-term traffic calming strategies like permanent traffic circles and protected bike lanes to reduce the width of streets will require more funds and take years to complete, Logan said there are efforts we could work on right now.
“We still need a short-term solution and are looking to apply for four-way stop signs at multiple intersections,” he said.
Some neighbors were already missing the cones, including Cynthia Phillips, who said after city workers removed the posts, a driver spent a minute doing a donut in the intersection of 37th Street and Esmond Avenue, leaving the odor of burnt tires in the air.
“Believe it or not, those small posts DO work!” Phillips said.