January 3


Number 4 on my list of things a new city traffic engineer should do is develop a process for how you are going to respond to speeding complaints and stop sign requests.  When Ken offered me the traffic engineer job in Maple Grove almost fifteen years ago, he told me my number one task would be to act as the complaint department.  Wow was he right!

Once the weather turned nice in the spring, I was hit with a dozen complaints.  I think parents were out playing with their kids and every car seems to be going too fast when you’re out by the street with your child.  The complaints often cited people going at least 50 mph.  The residents were also kind enough to usually offer the perfect solution – install all way stop signs on their corner.

As a rookie, I scheduled a time to meet with each one of them in front of their house to talk about the issue.  Then I’d end up getting tube counters installed to collect volume and speed data.  The data would come back with reasonable speeds and the 85th percentile speed being very close to the 30 mph speed limit.  The intersections wouldn’t meet warrants for all way stop sign control.  I’d write a letter back to the homeowner saying there wasn’t a problem and we weren’t going to do anything.  Usually, I didn’t hear back but I did get a couple of not very kind replies.

This was time consuming and I didn’t make the residents happy – a double whammy.

Over time, I developed a multi-step process.  First step was that I would email them a short form for them to fill out.  I asked them to give me the following information –

  • Name
  • Address
  • Sketch of problem location with street names ( I once studied the wrong intersection because they were on an Avenue and I set the counters out on a Place)
  • When the problem exists

This cut out about half of the complaints because they wouldn’t send me back the form.  If I did get the form back, I’d let them know approximately when we’d be collecting data, the types of analysis I’d be doing, and when I’d get back to them with my findings/action step.

The vast majority of the time there wasn’t an issue by strict traffic engineering standards, but I hated responding back in that way.  Luckily, I had some discretionary funds and was able to buy a portable radar trailer.  Based on before/after speed studies I did, I don’t think these trailers have any long term impact, BUT, they’re a nice placebo.

trailerI’d let the resident know that we weren’t going to do anything permanent (signs, traffic calming, etc), but I’d explain the speed radar trailer program and that we’d be putting it for a couple of days at their “problem” location.  I let them know the dates and told them they could monitor the speeds and send us license plates of speeding vehicles if they wanted to sit out there and log the data.

I worked it out with the police department that they’d send a reminder letter to the owner of the car letting them know what the speed limit was on the street and that they were recorded doing xx mph at a specific date/time (thinking we might be notifying parents of a speeding child).  Not a single resident ended up recording license plates.  Putting the radar trailer out did seem to buy goodwill though.

As a local government traffic engineer, these complaints/requests can eat up a lot of your time.  I recommend you develop a streamlined, but respectful process for dealing with them.  You could certainly setup a web page with information on your program and a request form to streamline the whole thing even better (things have advanced a lot in the last twelve years since I left Maple Grove), like this one.

I have also developed The Engineer’s Guide to Citizen Traffic Requests that includes all of the frequently requested traffic requests I’ve encountered and citizen correspondences to help traffic engineers streamline their internal processes. You can download a free preview copy at Spack Academy when you click the link.



  • This lines up, in my experience, with how the City of Orlando deals with speeding complaints on residential streets. In our neighborhood the speed trailer does wonders (especially as an alternative for those requesting speed bumps/humps and endless speed warning signs), but it does create a wasteful cycle. Residents complain…police put out speed trailers/record speeds…the speed data shows the complaints were overblown…residents quiet down until next year. To break the cycle municipalities should point to past data after the first year, provide standards on what warrants any future studies, and put in place a minimum time period (5 years?) between studies. Otherwise, ask the homeowners if they are willing to pay for additional studies/enforcement in their neighborhood.

  • As a vendor, I hear this all the time and look at gobs of data to help sort out problems with speed complaints. What we typically find is that, usually you will find an 85th percentile close to the PSL and a very small percentage exceeding a threshold of 5-10 mph above the PSL. However, what we do see often that is interesting is that there are outlying speeders that are in fact tearing through a neighborhood. It may only be a handful of data points, but the emotional state of a resident when complaining to a municipality might very well be “everyone is speeding through the neighborhood, fix it!” Through a piece of software, it is possible to isolate an outlier(s) and look at the exact time an individual passed through a survey point, how fast they were going, what type of vehicle and the wheelbase. If a study is conducted over a week or so, we will find that the outliers will be the same vehicle type, same wb, roughly same time of day and it is usually the same person! Then you have something to move on with police enforcement and solve the problem if it is deemed necessary. We have a number of stories where this issue was solved by mining the data gathered and catching the culprit of the neighborhood speeding issue in collaboration with police/sheriff. Alternatively, if you live in a state with speed cameras, the citizens might end up with an automatic ticket generator in front of their home if the complaints continue. Which may or may not be desirable depending on who you are talking to.

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    Mike Spack

    My mission is to help traffic engineers, transportation planners, and other transportation professionals improve our world.

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