More speed bumps? Community Council’s traffic committee considers “traffic calming” measures for Penn, Midvale & Schoolhouse Lane while we take a crash course on the road obstruction controversy.
To bastardize Frost: Something there is that doesn’t love a speed bump. Or hump or cushion… These are all mechanical deterrents for speeding. In other words, they’re ways we take a perfectly efficient road and muck it up on purpose. Engineering giveth, and PennDOT taketh away.
But it’s for our own good, though, isn’t it? Ehhhh… Depends on who you ask. And what you mean by “help.”
Yes, “traffic obstruction methods” slow drivers down (at least while they’re going over them) and they also tend to divert cars to other streets without them. Works great at reducing traffic volume for one particular street, but others in the neighborhood? Not so much. It’s not uncommon, then, for secondary roads to encounter traffic issues that require their own speed bumps…
Opposition comes from passionate bloggers, public service pdf’s, and driver advocates like the National Motorists Association, who assert speed bumps aren’t just annoying to drive over. They increase fuel consumption, pollute the environment with noise & exhaust, frustrate snow plows, lower property values, and encourage erratic driving.
Plus they could cost you your life!
See, speed bumps — including the wide “cushion” style proliferating in East Falls — allow fire trucks to speed to emergencies but smaller vehicles like ambulances & EMT vans still must slow down for every one, to the tune of 5 to 10 seconds per bump. Multiply that by a dozen speed bumps on your way to the hospital, that’s a delay of like 2 minutes. If you’re choking or having a cardiac event, every second counts.
In 2003 in London, the chairman of the city’s ambulance service pleaded with officials to find other ways to address traffic, “For every life saved through traffic calming, more are lost because of ambulance delays.” A report from Boulder, CO found a 14% increase in response time over speed-bumped roads, and concluded that for every life saved by “traffic calming,” as many as 85 people may die from emergency vehicle delays. Yeep.
So what does work, to help control speeders and keep our streets safe?
Traffic cops would be the “champagne” of traffic calming measures but not many communities can afford to patrol their problem intersections 24/7.
Signs are the low end of the spectrum: cheap, but not terribly effective. Who even sees them, after awhile? If you drive a road frequently, they soon sorta become a part of the scenery.
Now, though, an interesting new kinda sign’s making the traffic-calming rounds: the radar speed sign. Basically, a speed limit sign with a display underneath showing how fast you’re driving. Like those big displays cops’ll drag out to roadsides, only incorporated into street signage.
While most studies show “speed signs” are slightly less effective than speed bumps or radar cameras at slowing traffic in a specific area, they are exceedingly effective at calming traffic in the long term. That is, they literally train drivers & instill new habits.
How? First, the lighted displays regularly snap drivers outta the dangerous “autopilot” that occurs when we ride a familiar route. Most speeders aren’t lead-footed maniacs but daydreamers, multi-taskers, chatterboxes… It’s easy to forget to check your speedometer, but hard to ignore a glowing, animated sign. The human eye is just naturally drawn to moving lights of all kinds, we can’t help it.
We’re also social creatures, highly susceptible to basic empathy that connects us quite primally. Hard to believe just reminding someone “Hey, we live here!” can trigger much response, but it does. Most people don’t want to be asshats. Speed signs gently remind drivers they’re in a community that takes road safety seriously. Research suggests drivers instinctively comply.
TRUE STORY: A national survey of police officers, traffic engineers, and corporate safety officials named radar speed signs the “single-most effective traffic calming solution near schools, playgrounds, and neighborhood streets.”
Radar signs can collect data and track patterns over time, too — each one can be like a little traffic study (such info helps communities design more permanent traffic-calming measures, like traffic circles & “round-abouts”). These silent, solar-powered speed sentries seem to be gaining popularity in US residential communities for cheap, effective speed control & management.
Heads up: Community Council is considering speedbumps for Penn Street, Midvale and more on Schoolhouse Lane. If you have strong feelings about speed bumps — for or against — we urge you to complete the new East Falls Traffic & Parking Survey. East Falls Forward will share results online and with community organizations to help inform neighborhood planning.