Pettway ‘speedway’ tackled by church

Like raindrops on stone, the members of the New Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church on Pettway Road have been steadily, consistently wearing away the hurdles to creating a safer place for pedestrians, especially their children. Their patience rivals Job’s, as they have been asking the county for help since the 1970s.

Typical of Florida’s pioneer communities, Pettway Road went unpaved for generations, but as development increased, the need for asphalt intervened. Along with pavement came cars that could speed unhindered from US 1 west to Gomez Avenue, right through the heart of the Pettway community.

“Drivers on Pettway travel through here way too fast,” says Larry Dover, a deacon of the church and a US Navy veteran, “and the road is narrow. Very narrow. It’s barely 20’ wide.”

The increase in traffic on Federal Highway along with a corresponding increase in traffic accidents at its intersection with Pettway Road finally resulted in the county’s decision to install a traffic light at that intersection; however, the additional light currently at Pettway and A1A required deaths to spur action.

“It took us forever to get that traffic light (at A1A),” says Dover, who has lived in the community since 1956 and has rather inadvertently become what others would call its “activist.”

“This is a working community,” he says. “People have jobs. They’re gone all day, or they’re elderly and just don’t have the ability to go to Stuart and talk to engineers. So I do it.”

The residents also were successful in having a sidewalk installed in 1989 on the north side of Pettway Road, though, at first, county engineers said there was insufficient right-of-way. To get it done, property owners would have to donate five feet of their land to the county, so they did.

Today, the sidewalk lies flush to the road with only a few inches of swale, or none, where the road’s asphalt spills onto the adjacent concrete. The sidewalk’s presence, however, improves the odds that its residents are less likely to be hit by a passing car.

As the population grew along Gomez Avenue, the traffic demands on Pettway–the quickest link to Federal Highway–as did the speed of the cars. On Sundays, church members park across the street after its own lot is full, then they must cross the road unaided.

“I really worry about someone getting killed trying to cross that road,” says the church’s pastor, David George, “and after the services, children are running across the road to the park. Not just on Sundays, but all the time, our children run across the road to the playground.”

Pettway Park, with playground equipment and a basketball court beckoning youngsters to play lies slightly northwest of the church. As the congregation discussed the dilemma among themselves, they determined the best solution seemed to be to slow the traffic on Pettway, but the request, which they made in 2005, required a petition from the community with notarized signatures to be submitted to the county engineering department.

Another hurdle, since people get home too late to get to a notary, so Dover decided to become a notary himself. “I just paid the money out of my pocket and did it myself,” he says, slapping the back pocket of his jeans.

Then he methodically visited homes in 2005 to gather sufficient signatures to submit the request for the county to devise a plan to slow the traffic on Pettway Road.

The church also wanted to pave its parking lot adjacent to the church, but a task that seemed so simple became complicated and costly. “The county told me that this was a ‘development,’” Dover says, “and I told them this is no development; we just want to put down asphalt on a parking lot that’s already there!”

As part of their “development,” the church was informed they would have to construct a turn lane into the property, but the county recanted after the engineers conceded that a grass parking lot and turn zones could be constructed instead to ease a fire truck’s ingress to and egress from the property.

County engineers also required the installation of a sidewalk along its property line adjacent to Pettway Road, as well as from the parking lots to and around the church. Due to the addition of asphalt, the church also was required to purchase and plant additional trees on its property and to donate a quarter of an acre of its land to the preserve.

They have met all that is required of them, Dover says, and the sidewalks are finished. The trees are planted, and the two parking lots should be complete by Independence Day.

But the question of “calming” the traffic on Pettway Road looms unsettled.

When Dover’s request for a speed table was submitted, the engineers reported to him that insufficient right-of-way existed to install any traffic-calming measures. The church donated an additional 20’ of its land to the county in September last year.

“At first we had all kinds of pretty drawings,” Dover says. “They had back-in parking and trees down the middle of the street and everything else you can imagine.” Then the county’s funds dried up, as did the plan to remake Pettway into one of those livable, walkable communities.

“All of that would have nice, real nice,” Dover adds, “but really, all we asked for was something to slow down traffic. One of those speed tables slows down traffic to about 35 miles an hour, and trailers can just roll right over them, and that’s all we’re asking. Just to slow down to around 35mph.”

Dover’s response was directed to the concerns raised by the county that area residents pulling their boats behind their vehicles complain that speed bumps across roadways damage their trailers.

To help judge the community’s response to a speed table–though not a Community Redevelopment project–the Pettway project was presented by Community Development Director Kevin Freeman at the May 12 meeting of the Hobe Sound Neighborhood Advisory Committee, who endorsed “some type of traffic-calming” solution for Pettway.

Just two weeks ago, the Pettway community got its answer: County engineers delivered a new set of plans that would include an “S-curve” redesign of Pettway Road. They also call for raising the sidewalks along the roadway.

No traffic table is part of the plan.

“That really makes no sense to us,” Dover says, as he points to the drawing, running his fingertip through the design to demonstrate his thoughts.

“Cars will be able to go right down the center line without slowing down. As long as there’s no car coming in the opposite direction, that’s what they’re going to do.”

When queried, the county engineer told Dover that a public hearing will be conducted to see how the community felt about the design, but he did not indicate where or when that will take place.

“It looks to me like they’re waiting until one of our children is killed,” Pastor George adds, “and eventually that’s going to happen. We just don’t want to wait for that.”