It’s almost noon and hundreds of hungry students are released from class at North Idaho College.
The once quiet streets around the small campus soon are filled with the hum of traffic, an occasional blare from a car horn or a revved engine.
Low blood-sugar levels battle long lines at stop signs and stoplights, causing some drivers to improvise with shortcuts and higher speeds.
It’s a ritual that occurs nearly every day in the Fort Grounds neighborhood, and residents are getting sick of it.
Numerous speeders and two recent accidents have mobilized neighbors along Empire Avenue.
They’re complaining to police, the college, City Hall and anyone else who will listen.
“It’s a real problem,” said John Johnson, pointing out distinct black marks left from burning rubber tires that had veered around his small hair salon on Military Drive. The salon is half a block from Empire Avenue.
Johnson walks around the block in his socks to show a visiter the two-week old tire scars in a neighbor’s yard.
“She swerved to miss his trees and went down two lawns before she stopped,” he said. “It makes you sick. There’s 17 children in this two-block area.”
A number of factors has contributed to the growing traffic problem around the NIC campus.
Last year, the college had an increase in enrollment. Now, about 3,800 cars have permits to park in NIC’s 1,526 spaces.
All those cars, plus the hundreds belonging to the residents of Fort Grounds, have one entrance and exit to their neighborhood: the Mullan Avenue, Government Way and Northwest Boulevard intersection.
Until this week, Government Way was closed, slowing traffic even further at the intersection.
Last school year, the neighborhood also had an exit at Lincoln Way and Northwest Boulevard, but the dangerous crossing was closed following a fatal accident in the spring.
Now all exiting cars must go one direction on Mullan. At noon Monday, Garden Avenue was backed up with more than 20 cars at the stop sign as drivers wait for gaps in the Mullan Avenue traffic to make their move.
Drivers looking for shortcuts sometimes take Empire Avenue. The biggest parking lot at NIC also has one access that empties onto Empire.
“They’re leaving school and they’re not driving defensively and sometimes they end up on my yard,” said Reuben Hine, who has had two accidents in front of his house in the last two weeks.
NIC and the city are responding to neighborhood complaints.
At NIC’s request, the state Department of Transportation changed the timing on the Northwest Boulevard signals, giving drivers more time to get off campus and less opportunity to sit in long lines.
Traffic officer Mike Calderwood is patrolling the streets around campus more frequently, especially during heavy traffic times.
He has helped get more speed limit signs installed on the surrounding streets.
In addition to stopping students for speeding, “I’ve written up numerous individuals for failure to stop at a stop sign,” Calderwood said.
NIC also has considered closing off the parking lot entrance at Empire Avenue, but staff fears it will only increase problems on other streets.
The city is exploring changing the location of stop signs and the possibility of installing speed “humps” on certain streets.
Humps are low and long, explained City Engineer Gordon Dobler. They don’t pose much of a problem for snowplows. But, in addition to speeders, they slow down fire trucks and ambulances, he said.
The city’s Traffic Safety Commission may take up the issue at its Wednesday meeting.
“In the long run,” said college spokesman Steve Schenk, “there’s no doubt we need another stoplight-controlled entrance and exit to the college.”
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