Afraid to let your children play outside because of the drivers who barrel down your block? Take action by exploring traffic calming tactics that’ll keep your street from becoming a speedway for rushing commuters and harried deliverymen. Communities across the nation have been able to affect change by installing everything from raised speed humps to traffic circles designed to slow speeders. All it takes to get started is a bit of grass-roots organizing.
Begin by doing some consensus-building among neighbors. A united front can go a long way in getting the attention of the local government officials who you’ll need on your side. Just don’t expect change to happen overnight. Depending where you live and how quickly the wheels of bureaucracy turn, you could be facing a wait of six to 12 months, or more. In some jurisdictions, you may even need to dip into your bank account to help pay for traffic calming measures.
Get your campaign started
Rallying fellow residents around your stop-speeders cause is critical. A petition is a good to start. Get signatures from as many people on your street as you can. In Abilene, Texas, for example, a written request to city officials for a speed hump must come from at least five residents; 70% of the homeowners on the street must ultimately sign off on the measure. Make sure your neighbors understand that the process is a long one that can include a financial commitment.
Procedures vary by state or even community, but in general the next step is to contact the local director of traffic or transportation. If you live in a private community, reach out to your homeowners association first. Try to do legwork beforehand by writing down the dates and times you typically see speeders. Send a detailed letter outlining the problem to your HOA board or transportation director. Copy your elected officials on the letter as well.
Once the transportation director is notified, a survey is usually undertaken to determine whether a speeding problem exists. If it does, officials will develop a traffic calming plan. Public meetings may be held, so make sure to attend. Affected residents may be polled to confirm support of the plan. Once approved, the plan is implemented. In some cities, like Tuscon, Ariz., residents foot all or part of the bill. A speed hump can cost $1,500 or more.
Speed humps are tip of the iceberg
Traffic calming devices come in all shapes and sizes. The most recognized are speed humps
and speed bumps, raised mounds of pavement placed across roadways that compel drivers to slow down. Bumps are steeper while humps have a gradual rise. Speed tables are flat-topped speed humps. Twelve-foot-long humps have been shown to reduce speeds by 22% in a study of 179 sites conducted by Fehr & Peers Transportation Consultants. Traffic accidents declined by 11%.
Another option is traffic enforcement. A police car on your street is an effective deterrent, but only a short-lived one. Once police move on, speeding is likely to resume. A neighborhood watch program is an alternative. Phoenix, for example, has one in which residents are armed with radar equipment to collect data on days and times when speeding is at its worst. The city then sends letters to vehicle owners urging them to slow down. Since drivers don’t get speeding tickets, Phoenix officials say the long-term impact may not be that pronounced.
The most costly and time-consuming traffic calming measures involve major design changes to roads. Roundabouts, traffic circles, curb extensions, and lane narrowing are some tactics cities can use to slow drivers. Traffic circles, raised islands placed at an intersection, are better suited for neighborhoods that don’t have a lot of traffic volume. Roundabouts are used in higher traffic areas. Curb extensions narrow the width of roadways, especially at pedestrian crossings. Roads can be narrowed by extending sidewalks, or adding bicycle lanes or parking spots. The Fehr & Peers study found these tactics to be less effective than humps at reducing speeds.
Bumps in the road to traffic calming
A quicker strategy to implement is placing signs on your street. There are simple signs like “Children at Play” that can be posted to encourage drivers to slow down. There are also electronic signs that flash how fast a vehicle is traveling. Like a neighborhood watch, the effectiveness is limited because there’s no enforcement penalty tied to either. In fact, some cities warn that “Children at Play” signs can be dangerous because they give parents and kids a false sense of security.
Don’t be surprised if some neighbors resist your traffic calming efforts. Speed bumps are often criticized because they can damage vehicles and delay emergency responders. According to the National Motorists Association, a group that opposes certain traffic calming measures, humps and bumps also increase fuel consumption and emissions because of the forced braking and accelerating. The National Motorists Association favors efforts to improve the flow of traffic on main roads so it doesn’t spill over into residential neighborhoods.
Donna Rivera for House Logic February 2009