Ariel Schwartz, left, and her friend Bailey Cromer say they frequently see traffic speed by when they’re on the streets around Schwartz’s Hilltop Drive home. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — The motorist turns off Stuart Avenue onto Hilltop Drive just after a late-model, high-end vehicle. The vehicle starts pulling away as it rounds a sharp curve with a 15-mph speed limit sign.
The motorist almost catches up with the car at the Whispering Pines Road stop sign, but once the driver crosses that intersection, he speeds through posted 20- and 30-mph traffic signs. The driver taps his breaks at the intersection of Hilltop and Valley Road and again as Valley runs into Glenview Road. But traffic is light, so the stop signs do little to impede his momentum.
In a last-ditch effort to catch the driver, the motorist increases his speed to 40 mph as he passes a 30 mph speed limit sign on Valley. But the other driver steadily pulls away.
According to residents who live in the quiet northwest Albany neighborhood served by the aforementioned streets, the scene above is a common occurrence. Northwest Albany and Lee County commuters looking to shave a few moments off their drive-time to and from work use Hilltop as a cut-through from Stuart and Whispering Pines onto Dawson Road. More than a few, according to residents who love along those streets, ignore posted speed limits and stop signs, putting walkers, playing children and pets in danger.
“This is a quiet neighborhood,” Virginia Skalla, who lives on Hilltop, said. “I worry that some of the people breezing through here are going to hurt somebody. Certainly we’re not saying no one outside the neighborhood can use our streets. But Hilltop was not designed as a through street.”
Skalla and her neighbors, Chad and Milloy Schwartz, recently took a neighborhood cat to veterinarian Jennifer Daniel after the cat was hit by a vehicle on their street. The cat miraculously survived but suffered severe injuries.
“We have a young daughter,” Chad Schwartz said. “I want Ariel and her friends to be able to come outside and feel safe. I’m afraid some of the drivers who cut through here are not very concerned about safety.”
Ariel Schwartz, who is 14, said she and friends like Bailey Cromer frequently walk on the streets in their neighborhood.
“People go by us very fast,” she said. “There are a lot of people who speed through here.”
Sky Martin, who lives on Valley Road and is leader of the Hilltop Neighborhood Watch group, said he and others in the Hilltop area have made frequent complaints to city government and police officials.
“A while back, the police came and sat at Greenwood (Drive) and Valley, where they could see the intersection (of Valley and Glenview),” Martin said. “We were told that they wrote 53 tickets, I think, in a two-day period. To my knowledge, they’ve never done that again.”
Albany Police Department Chief John Proctor said that while the order to target drivers along Hilltop did not occur during his tenure, he is aware of efforts to curtail speeding in the neighborhood. He said there are no current plans to again specifically target that area, but he said his officers have been informed to look for speeders when patrolling.
“I know there are concerns about that neighborhood, and we keep that in mind when we’re patrolling the area,” Proctor said. “We encourage drivers in the area to obey the speed limit and traffic signs. And I also encourage the citizens who have complaints to contact my office. I am available, and I do listen.”
Martin said he and other members of the Hilltop Neighborhood Watch group have also reached out to city officials.
“We’ve asked about the possibility of putting in some kind of traffic platform or speed bump, but so far all we’ve heard is ‘that’s not happening,’” Martin said.
Ward III City Commissioner B.J. Fletcher said she plans to look closer into the complaints of the Hilltop residents.
“Anybody who would hit an animal without stopping will hit a mailbox or a child,” Fletcher said. “It’s not feasible that the police set up traps at every road in our community, but I do plan to look into what we might be able to do about this problem. Maybe we can put some kind of speed bump on the street. I’m sure APD could write enough tickets to pay for it if they set up along Hilltop and Valley.
“The streets of Albany are for everyone’s use. But people in these quiet neighborhoods should not have to fear speeders going by their houses every day. I make a plea to the people driving in these neighborhoods: Just slow down.”