WILMINGTON — For at least two decades, the speed limit along the increasingly developed Greenville Loop Road has caused some level of consternation among the city’s residents. Some have complained of too many drivers using the road to travel between the city and southern New Hanover County. Others have said too many are driving recklessly, speeding, and causing accidents.
On Monday, when the city’s head traffic engineer recommended keeping the speed limit at 40 miles per hour, and adding more signs and pavement markings to slow drivers around two large curves, Councilman Charlie Rivenbark didn’t believe those steps were enough. He voiced his support of reducing the limit to 35 miles per hour.
Four days later, Rivernbark took his complaints to the city manager while announcing plans to push for a speed-limit reduction on the road.
“Some of the information that was presented to council at our last agenda briefing was outdated and therefore not accurate to the existing traffic counts and development along this corridor,” Rivenbark wrote in a Friday morning email to Wilmington’s city manager, Sterling Cheatham.
Cheatham replied he would draft a resolution for Rivenbark to sponsor and attempt to expedite it for the next council meeting on Mar. 16. Two minutes later, Cheatham emailed the same traffic engineer, Denys Vielkanowitz, to draft the resolution.
Vielkanowitz replied that, although he would support any decision made by council, he was “unclear on the claim the ‘data was outdated and not accurate.’”
“I feel this statement reflects poorly on my analysis of the situation,” he told the city manager.
Vielkanowitz explained he and his team of engineers continuously collected data from sometime in 2018 to January 2021. They measured vehicle speeds, traffic volumes, and accidents.
“The methodology for determining the appropriate speed limit has not changed since the 2003 study, nor would it,” Vielkanowitz wrote, referencing the city’s earlier decision to reduce the speed along Greenville Loop Road from 45 to 40 miles per hour. “The methodology remains constant, only the data has changed. The data collected in 2003 actually suggested 45 was the appropriate speed limit, however due to the sensitivity of the subject, 40 mph was established.”
He iterated that the 40 miles per hour limit was concurrent with the data he collected. “I simply want to make clear I performed my due diligence on this matter,” Vielkanowitz wrote.
He also wondered whether the recommendation he made to council days before – adding flexible posts along the inside curves of the road to keep drivers within their lanes, applying additional pavement markings, and installing more speed limit and curve warning signs – were still part of the plan.
During the agenda briefing on Monday, Vielkanowitz explained Greenville Loop was an “urban collector,” the purpose of which is to distribute vehicles to and between the city’s larger public roads.
When a similar request to reduce the speed limit was made in 2002, he said city engineers conducted a 90-day trial authorized by council so they could gather and study the traffic information. The new study that began in 2018 collected data that “continues to support the 2003 study recommendations and speed limit ordinance” of 40 miles per hour, he said.
When Rivenbark asked him if he had any thoughts about his support of the speed-limit reduction, Vielkanowitz replied the recent data collected indicated the prevailing speed on the road is around 44 miles per hour. His guiding theory, he said, is to set the limit within 5 miles per hour of the prevailing speed on the roadway.
“In my opinion, 40 miles per hour is appropriate,” he concluded.
The recent round of complaints was brought forward by Oasis Drive residents Becky Owens and Bradley Wooten, who have started a “Save Greenville Loop Road” Facebook group, which has 171 members.
Wooten emailed Rivenbark soon after Vielkanowitz’s presentation on Monday, thanking him for putting their initiative on his agenda. He said Vielkanowitz did not “adequately explain why his office does not support reducing the speed limit to 35 mph,” and believed the engineer did not adequately account for the dense population growth surrounding the road, among other concerns.
“Mr. Wooten, I’m not going to [go] quietly on this,” Rivenbark responded. “I will bring the reduced speed limit to council but would ask that you and your neighbors decide if that is what they want. I believe I can get the votes.”
According to deputy city attorney Meredith Everhart, those votes will likely have to wait until the council meets in April.
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