Proliferation of Speed Humps Causes Aggravation in D.C.

"We get nothing but positive feedback about speed humps," say D.C. transportation officials. Some residents beg to differ. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 29, 2009

There are moments in life when it's time to step up and show solidarity, and Sean Duffy believed that moment had arrived one recent night as he drove along a peaceful, leafy street in one of Washington's most prestigious neighborhoods.

Duffy beeped his horn once -- honk! -- a second time -- honk! -- then a third -- honk! It was his way of choosing sides in a not-so-civil war that has erupted among the lawyers, journalists, policymakers and wonks of Chevy Chase. What could be profound enough to trigger teeth-gnashing arguments and reams of nasty e-mails in such civilized environs? What could inspire otherwise law-abiding citizens to engage in spasms of vengeful honking?

A grand total of three speed humps -- three of the latest to pop up in D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's citywide blitz to sedate traffic.

"It's petty and it's personal," said Kip Joseph Crecca, 43, a Chevy Chase resident. "It's war."

Since Fenty (D) took office, the number of speed humps in Washington has soared, from about 100 to 868. The humps have sprouted from Friendship Heights to Congress Heights. There are 10 new ones along Anacostia Avenue in Northeast, six along Lebaum Street in Southeast and four on one block of Monroe Street in Northwest.

The need for humps evolved with the District's recent prosperity, city officials say. "Like a lot of major cities, we have seen a real renaissance, we have people moving back, you have people having children in the city," said Gabe Klein, director of the D.C. transportation department. "Pedestrian safety has become a very big issue."

Klein contends that "we get nothing but positive feedback about speed humps."

Not quite.

In Cleveland Park, a candidate for the citizens association's board, Mike Rosella, has urged residents to toot their horns to protest new speed humps on Newark Street NW. Len Oliver, 75, a consultant who has joined in the honking there, imagines his neighborhood becoming an obstacle course if humps continue to proliferate. "No one would want to move to Humpville," he said. "It's ugly."

In Chevy Chase, the public spat over something as mundane as speed humps has become an embarrassment to a community that views itself as the essence of worldly sophistication. The honking began after the humps were installed in early August on Morrison Street NW, prompting the block's residents to snap photos of their tormenters and confront them. Jim Doyle, owner of a small policy research firm and husband of Hillary Rodham Clinton's former campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, felt compelled to sit on his porch one afternoon and videotape a passing driver who honked 30 times.

"We needed to show the neighbors that this was going on," said Doyle. But instead of hosting a viewing, he only mentioned the video at a community meeting, referring to other honkers who gave residents the finger as they drove by. Doyle pleaded for peace.

The honking abated, but the bitterness endures. It was at that same meeting that Sheldon Shreiberg, a lawyer on Morrison, shouted "Get a life!" at Jennifer Blackburn, who proceeded to tell the audience how she almost died a few years ago when a car struck her a block from Morrison.

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