By Bob Uphues
A nearly two-year effort by residents of Berkeley and Byrd roads in Riverside to restrict traffic flowing into the neighborhood from Harlem Avenue has resulted in the village board agreeing to signage to discourage cars from doing just that.
The action follows multiple requests by residents of the neighborhood to either restrict or completely close off access to Berkeley Road from Harlem Avenue in the wake of a 2018 home invasion and, later, the potential for commercial development at 2704 Harlem Ave.
Police Chief Thomas Weitzel, a representative from the village's traffic engineering consulting firm and other officials met with residents of the neighborhood last September after they voiced concerns about 2704 Harlem Ave. being a potential location for a cannabis dispensary.
The village previously had rebuffed a request in 2018 to close off Berkeley Road at Harlem Avenue as a public safety measure.
Officials remain reluctant to close off Berkeley Road to traffic entirely, since the commercial property at 2704 Harlem Ave. has an entrance off of Berkeley Road and because the road also serves as access to a townhome development to the north. The townhome residents, in particular, have resisted efforts to close off access to Harlem Avenue.
"The recommendation from staff … is that we'd go with the least intrusive [solution],"
Weitzel told village trustees at their meeting on Feb. 6.
Weitzel said one of the reasons for opting for signage at this point is because it's unclear what kind of business might locate at 2704 Harlem Ave., and that whatever business ends up there will have to address the Berkeley Road entry drive as part of its business permit application with the village.
"If that was to remain open by whatever business went there or they were to close that off and didn't want entrance or exits from there, it would really shape what that road would look like in the future," Weitzel said.
The village traffic consultant offered three options for controlling access to Berkeley Road from Harlem Avenue, varying in restrictiveness.
The least restrictive, which the village board agreed to last week, involves installing signs to prohibit Harlem Avenue traffic from turning westbound onto Berkeley Road.
According to Police Chief Thomas Weitzel, the village plans to place "Do Not Enter" signs facing east on Berkeley Road at Harlem Avenue.
In addition, Berkeley Road will become a one-way street eastbound from Byrd Road to Harlem Avenue. This will pose something of an inconvenience to people driving home to the townhome development on the north side Berkeley Road, just west of Harlem Avenue since they will now have to circle around to it using Longcommon, Byrd and Berkeley roads.
Weitzel said the village could adjust traffic patterns in the future if that arrangement becomes a problem, but it achieves the residents' goal of cutting down on traffic entering the neighborhood from Harlem Avenue.
"I'm pretty happy about it," said Berkeley Road resident James Wineman. "I prefer to make Berkeley and Byrd Road safer. There are a lot of kids in the area."
The traffic engineer's suggestion for more a restrictive solution was to erect a "half-closure" – a westbound traffic barrier across the north half of Berkeley Road west of the alley/access road.
Weitzel said that once the signs are in, police would increase traffic patrols in the area and issue warnings for the first 30 days to educate people about the change in traffic patterns. Residents of Berkeley and Byrd roads would also have to follow the new rules. After the grace period, residents and non-residents alike risk being ticketed if police observe them ignoring the signs.
"We can't enforce that way," Weitzel said of potential resident transgressors. "We'd have to give them a ticket or warning, too."