Road rage: Neighbors blame Longo

Marianne McKernan is decidedly frazzled. She awoke at 5:30am and was unable to get back to sleep because of the steady stream of cars flowing by her house at the corner of Calhoun Street and St. Charles Avenue.

But perhaps flowed isn't the right word, since there a four-way stop was added to that intersection, and she listens to the sounds of cars screeching to a stop and then roaring away. Continuously.

Since the Park Street bridge closed and her Locust Grove neighborhood has become a detour, McKernan says the traffic is "horrible, absolutely horrible."

She blames the city in general and Police Chief Tim Longo in particular. Why Longo? Because the city closed his street, sending traffic over to Calhoun.

"I'm angry because they have Watson closed," she says. "They say it's not safe and has nothing to do with the chief of police living there."

"Wouldn't it be great to have so much power?" asks Longo, who acknowledges he has been approached by a couple of neighbors who've made comments about Watson Avenue being closed because a certain city official lives there.

"I had no decision-making responsibility on that," he says. "I have in no way been involved. I'm disappointed people would suggest that. Nothing I've done here would suggest I do business that way."

City traffic engineer Dave Beardsley backs the chief up. It was Beardsley's neighborhood development department that decided to close Watson and route traffic through Calhoun and North Avenue.

"It didn't have anything to do with who lives there," says Beardsley. "I didn't know that [Longo lives on Watson] until I met with the neighbors last Monday."

Sandy DeKay is a Calhoun Street neighbor, and she says that many people remark how the street where the police chief lives is closed. Nevertheless, "I don't think that was intentional," she says. "He doesn't strike me as that kind of police chief."

DeKay also notes that it's impossible to get away from the noise on Calhoun from the traffic, which she estimates has tripled or quadrupled since the bridge closed. And the closing of Watson has pumped up the traffic volume.

"Watson was closed because of safety concerns," says Beardsley, citing its narrow width.

"Watson is a narrower street because people park on it," contends DeKay. "We think they should share the burden. It needs to be parceled out, because, as everybody keeps telling us, it's temporary."

McKernan agrees. "If we're being inconvenienced, why can't people on Watson keep their cars off the street?"

The Park Street bridge will be closed at least through November, and McKernan thinks it'll be worse in the winter when she won't have the air conditioner on to help block the noise. She owns her house, but lately has wished she were a renter, "so I could just move away."

"We're working on plans to publicize some alternate routes," says Beardsley. The City expected increases in traffic using Calhoun, Sheridan, and North as cut-throughs, but "I don't think we knew how much," admits Beardsley.

DeKay wonders why traffic wasn't detoured onto the 250 bypass and U.S. 29 north. "We feel like we've been hung out to dry as sacrificial streets since Watson closed," she says.

She understands that it's human nature to take the shortest route. "I'm just asking to them to have a little compassion for their neighbors," she adds.

Last week, the city removed the stop signs on Calhoun at St. Charles Avenue. "Now it's harder to get out of my driveway," says McKernan, and at rush hour, traffic is backed up all the way from Locust Avenue to Park Street.

Still, the change is helping with the noise, if not the traffic, she says. She's been getting more sleep after moving her air conditioner and trying some insulation on her windows. But if her sleepless nights resume, she's ready to go stay with her parents until Park Street reopens.


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