Humping zone: Road renegades rile West Leigh

Like something out of The Blair Witch Project, piles of rocks and twigs began appearing in early November along West Leigh Drive.

It all started after defiant drivers began veering into yards to dodge new bumps in the road.

The speed bumps are designed to slow traffic traveling through West Leigh. While most residents concede they've calmed traffic, the bumps also have flared tempers and sparked a wave of off-road vandalism, the witchy piles... and more vandalism.

"It's become a game of cat and mouse, and whoever's doing it is being aggressive," says resident Anne Powell.

This isn't the first war over traffic calming in the pricey West Leigh subdivision. This Ivy enclave of two-, three-, and four-acre lots has property values hovering around $400,000. West Leigh tots go to the highly rated Meriwether Lewis Elementary School.

But in 1999, it was the grown-ups who got a lesson in politics after one of the three neighborhood associations installed stop signs– 22 of them– to slow traffic.

The stop signs proved so unpopular with some West Leighers that banners began emerging wish such pleas as "Free West Leigh." Some of the stop signs were mysteriously uprooted and tossed aside or totally ignored by lead-footed motorists.

The skirmishes ended only after county officials pointed out that county authorization for the signs was needed, and that the homeowners association could be held liable if an accident occurred. The surviving signs were removed.

Flash forward three years. In November, the West Leigh Property Owners Association for Section 1, the same group who had installed the ill-fated stop signs, put in six speed humps– this time with county approval.

Traditionally, traffic engineers and fire and rescue groups don't like speed humps because they can pose a hazard in an emergency. "We still don't really like them," says county director of engineering and public works Mark Graham. "We approved them with some trepidation" because of the homeowners association request, he adds.

Graham notes that the correct terminology is "hump" rather than "bump," because humps are gradually elevated– unlike the more abrupt bumps– so that speeding drivers won't lose control of their cars.

West Leigh Property Owners Association president Rick Kast says that a motion to create the speed humps was voted on at the association's annual meeting last year with very little discussion. Overall, the response he's received to the humps has been positive, and he thinks they're working well to slow traffic, he says.

As for the scofflaws driving around the humps and uprooting the nearby caution signs, Kast calls such behavior "pretty aberrational and isolated." He's concerned about the damage to private property and says if he finds out who the culprits are, he'll notify the police.

Are otherwise law-abiding citizens really performing acts of vandalism?

Charles Glady believes that one person in a jacked up truck or SUV has been doing most of the damage. Two of the caution signs were propped in Glady's yard last week, which has become a rutted, off-road alternative to the hump in front of his house.

Glady, who is unable to walk, can't ride his scooter through his yard to walk his dog because the turf is so rutted by tire tracks.

While Glady didn't favor creation of the humps in the first place, he doesn't think they're that big a deal– aside from the damage to his property, of course– because he can drive over them at 25 mph, the posted speed limit.

Now he's considering putting a hazard in his yard to deter the renegade driver or drivers: a big piece of plywood with screws poking up through it. "Let 'em get flat tires," he says.

Across the street from Glady, Anne Powell also tried to deter the scofflaws by piling rocks at the end of the hump when tire tracks started forming a gully in her yard. Now she's rethinking her strategy. For one thing, the barricade method "makes the neighborhood look ugly."

Instead, Powell would like to find the perpetrators and ask them to stop, one on one.

"It's a neighbor-to-neighbor issue," she observes while admitting that she does feel a lot safer walking her children to the bus stop with the humps in place.

Others in West Leigh dispute that the humps were necessary in the first place. "We don't really have that much traffic here," says Nancy Lauer, a Section 3 resident.

Lauer is particularly miffed that she had no say in the installation and claims the whole issue was "railroaded" by a few people in the Section 1 homeowners association.

Lauer declares that she's not paying her dues this year because of Section 1's unilateral hump decision.

Meanwhile, she's had two flat tires from potholes in West Leigh Drive that went unfilled for years– until the humps went in.

"It's taxation without representation," says Lauer. "I'm saving the money for a wheel alignment."

Still, even those who dislike the humps decry the property damage that they've prompted. West Leigh Drive, a private road, serves as a convenient cut-through between Route 250 and Owensville Road.

The county suggests installing plastic traffic delineators at the ends of each hump. But couldn't those meet the same fate as the speed hump signs, and the piles of wood and rocks that are being mowed down by angry commuters?

"Oh, yeah," says the county's Graham. "There's no question they could get run over. That's always going to be an issue."

He adds, "When we approved the humps, we suggested they may not be the best solution."

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