Kevin L. Hoover
OLD ARCATA ROAD – Where five speed humps once encumbered speeders on Old Arcata Road south of Buttermilk Lane, now there are but four. Public Works has removed one following a now-dropped lawsuit for “inverse condemnation” filed by nearby residents.
Bob and Susan McPherson have lived in their 1929-vintage house for more than 40 years. It’s one more suited to Southern California than Humboldt, with lath and plaster walls, a tile roof and a stem wall foundation. The house was built on fill – fine-grained bay mud prone to liquifaction.
Thus it as with serious dread that the couple saw the City laying down a speed hump just over their fence.
“You’re going to hydraulically hammer our house,” Bob said he warned the City as the asphalt lump was being installed.
Sure enough, the built-to–crumble house started shaking as soon as the speed hump was installed outside.
The initial impact of a vehicle striking the hump caused one jolt, then a second as the car landed on the other side.
Susan said the “bump-bump” was disqueting, but even more so “was watching the ripples in our coffee cups in the morning when big trucks go over it.” That may be why she calls the hump a “speed jump.”
“Every time, you’re sending these hammer blows through the house,” Bob said. “Hundreds of them per day. It accelerated the natural decay of our house tenfold.”
Under the vibrational onslaught, new cracks appeared and the chimney started pulling away from the house.
Another unintended consequence was all the items that apparently were jostled loose from vehicles traversing the hump, or jump. The McPhersons would routinely harvest all manner of property from humpside, and amassed a desultory detritus.
Their collection included lumber, part 0f a lumber rack, a bucket truck’s apron loaded with costly tools, an eight-foot round table, a wheelbarrow full of topsoil, coffee cups and cell phones. They sold the groundscores at a yard sale, helping recoup the $10,000 or so they expended on legal fees fighting City Hall.
Susan said removal of the speed hump actually increased safety by ending the rain of heavy objects constantly falling into the bike/pedestrian lane lane. “I think we’ve eliminated a horrible hazard,” Susan said.
Apart from attorneys, the couple tapped specialists for potential expert analysis. A plaster expert said the house – which is on Arcata’s noteworthy structures list – said repairs could cost $30,000. Installation of a vibration-fighting foundation would have cost $54,000. “It was adding up into the hundreds of thousands,” Bob said.
The McPersons offered the City a deal – a lawsuit, or removal of the hump.
To verify the effect for the brewing lawsuit, Bob McPherson, who just happens to be a seismologist with Humboldt State’s Geology Department, borrowed a university seismograph to document the impacts. That sealed the speed hump’s fate.
“How do you argue with a seismograph?” wondered City Manager Randy Mendosa.
As a result, the hump was removed and a $250,000 claim against the City, which insurance would not have covered, was waived. As a condition of the settlement, no speed hump will be constructed 100 feet in either direction of the former hump site.
Bob maintains that “speed humps are really the wrong approach,” and for several reasons. He says the vehicles tend to slow down to hit the hump, then accelerate again, resulting in a net increase in fuel use.
“It seems to me, if you just put a cop there, you’d make money [on tickets],” he said. Susan wants to see a radar sign that flashes the speed at motorists.
The couple hadn’t been aware of the just-concluded Old Arcata Road Safety Committee meetings, but came to the same conclusion as attendees did – that shaming speeders with a webcam might be helpful.
With the hump gone, cars are back to speeding in the area, but the double bump and engine speed-up noise has gone away.
“You still hear the whoosh,” Susan said.