Lately, in Four Hills every day is hump day.
If you commute from Four Hills you probably recognize this sound. It goes: "Whump ... whump ... whump ... whump ... whump ... whump ... whump ... whump ... whump." That's not a bass line to gangsta rap, nor failing CV joints. It's the sound of passing over nine—count that, nine—traffic humps installed by the city in September at the entrance to Four Hills Village. Four Hills is the only community in Albuquerque, other than private gated communities, with just one way in and out. You take Four Hills Road off Central, then the road splits at the entrance to Four Hills Village. The right fork is Wagon Train Drive, with nine speed humps in six tenths of a mile. Double that for each roundtrip.
The left fork is Stagecoach Road. Here the same beat goes "whump" six times. That's six speed humps in three-tenths of a mile.
The Wagon Train humps appeared with little notice to the community. Residents drove out one late summer morning over a smooth surface while enjoying their cup of java, or perhaps applying makeup and doing all the usual rushed, ill-advised commuter rituals. The humps greeted them that night.
No sooner had residents started complaining about these new obstacles on Wagon Train than humps broke out on Stagecoach, again with little notice.
The city had surveyed 165 homeowners to see if they wanted speed humps installed to cut down on speeding problems. Eighty-two homeowners basically said, "Go for it." The other 83 either said, "No way!" or didn't respond. But 82 homeowners were enough for the city and speed humps are now part of the terrain.
Among those 82 homeowners who wanted speed humps, coincidentally, was Mayor Martin Chavez' mother.
Problem is, Four Hills has about 1,300 homes. Thousands of people have to cross 12 or 18 speed humps on the daily commute. Of the more than 1,000 residents who weren't asked for their opinion, many it seems are ready to jackhammer the streets to their original smooth condition.
You could say they strongly object to nonconsensual humping.
Consider Donna Pedace, who hosted the organizational meeting of antihump insurgents. She has to cross 18 humps to get to and from her home. She has two ruptured discs that don't take kindly to the new driving experience. She and others have been circulating a petition to have the humps removed or reduced in number. At last count, they had 835 signatures representing 561 households, more than six times the volume of people the city relied upon as justification for the work. The petitions continue circulating.
Carol Camacho, a registered nurse, has a variety of health problems that she claims have gotten worse since she started rolling over the humps in her neighborhood. She says her doctor has advised her to move out of Four Hills immediately. She and her husband also had to spend $1,597 in repairs to their car, including replacing an oil pan, as the result of transiting the humps. She has lived in Four Hills for 18 years and now "feels like a recluse" because she is reluctant to drive the streets. She worries about emergency vehicles. "The city has traded a perception of safety for an increased risk of slowing ambulances," she says.
Suzanne and Paul Fossett bought their home shortly before the humps appeared. They say they would have moved elsewhere had they had known humps would be in their future. Nevin Hardwick, a professional traffic engineer, has friends who canceled their plans to move to Four Hills. A local homebuilder had to refund a $10,000 deposit after the purchaser insisted speed humps were not part of the deal. The Four Hills Village Neighborhood Association, on the other hand, claims the humps may actually improve property values.
City Councilor Tina Cummins, who represents the area, thinks the humps are nifty. In a Sept. 23, 2004, letter to residents, though, she acknowledged that everyone affected should have participated in the process. Accordingly, she wrote, "I have agreed to sponsor legislation that would create an extended notification area prior to installation of speed humps in the future." So far, however, she hasn't followed up on the promise.
The city's traffic code gives the mayor authority to install humps but offers no language on hump removal procedures.
Mayor Chavez wrote in an e-mail to Pedace that the humps "were placed at the request of your neighbors and supported by your neighborhood association."
The Four Hills Village Neighborhood Association board says it's up to the city to make changes and accuses hump foes of elevating their "right to speed" over public safety. The association has distributed useful hints on living with humps, such as: "Well-maintained vehicles will not suffer undue damage. Vehicles with aging, marginal suspension systems may require repair to restore their original resilience."
Cars may be more resilient than people. The Neighborhood Association now officially divides Four Hills households among hump lovers, hump haters and everyone else, and a feud seems to be brewing to a boil as a result.
With Rumsfeldian clarity, Mayor Chavez has declared that the decision to install the numerous humps "is final" but will be reconsidered in a year.
Roger Mickelson, president of the neighborhood association, is caught in the middle. He explains how he, too, has a back problem that is aggravated whenever he crosses multiple humps. But he also explains that "directly affected" residents wanted something done about speeding.
Hundreds of homeowners insist they are "directly affected" every time they drive and should have been consulted beforehand, says Pedace. These angry residents don't appreciate the association calling speed humps "traffic calming measures."
As for the Mayor Chavez' mother being among the "hump lovers," the mayor's spokeswoman Debra James says the humps were installed according to city traffic management procedures. Ed Adams, director of Municipal Development, points out that those procedures were created by City Council, and give only "directly affected" residents along the stretch of road where speeding occurs the right to participate in speed hump decisions. He acknowledges that neighborhood disputes over speed humps, like the Four Hills feud, may never be settled.