Changing the mindset of “streets are for cars” to “streets are for people.”
Traffic calming is the use of physical road design and/or other measures to slow vehicles as they move through urban, commercial, and residential neighborhoods. It makes humans a priority over cars—a mental flip for many people who are used to the notion that streets are built for personal vehicles to travel on, and to do so as quickly as possible. Instead, all forms of transportation are given more of an equal weight when traffic calming is implemented. The result? Drivers will reduce their speeds, which improves their compliance with posted speed limit signs. Reduced speeds are proven to help decrease the severity of injuries and fatalities if an incident does occur.
Watch the video below for a quick overview of traffic calming. The first minute goes over what traffic calming is, gives a summary of a few measures, then explores how radar speed signs work as a traffic calming treatment.
Why is traffic calming necessary?
A 2018 Globe & Mail story reported the growing need for traffic calming measures. According to the latest US national data, 5,376 pedestrians were killed in the US in 2015, which ranks as the highest pedestrian death toll in nearly 20 years, and a 10% increase over 2014 numbers. Meanwhile, 283 pedestrians were killed in Canada the same year.
Traffic calming is “founded on the idea that streets should help create and preserve a sense of place, that their purpose is for people to walk, stroll, look, gaze, meet, play, shop and even work alongside cars—but not [be] dominated by them.” – Project for Public Spaces
Traffic calming options
Traffic engineers play a vital role in traffic calming, which is a multi-step process. Public input and temporary installations with traffic cones and barrels may be part of the process before a permanent installation is completed.
There are many ways to calm traffic, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to slowing down drivers in your community. However, here are a few options to consider as part of your traffic calming plan, and how they can be enhanced with other traffic safety devices like RRFBs or radar speed signs.
Sidewalk extensions (bulbs/chokers/neckdowns): Adding sidewalk extensions in selected areas, like at intersections or mid-block crosswalks, can help pedestrians safely cross the street. Adding rectangular rapid flashing beacons (RRFBs) or circular beacons at the crosswalk can help further increase visibility.
Roundabouts and traffic circles: Replace intersections with roundabouts to reduce conflict points and avoid traffic signals. Drivers will slow as they approach the roundabout, while the installed crosswalks can help pedestrians navigate across safely. Adding RRFBs or circular beacons at the crosswalks can further improve visibility at each entry/exit point of the roundabout.
Street narrowing: Narrower streets naturally cause drivers to slow down. The extra lanes can be replaced with bus lanes, bike lanes, wider sidewalks, or vertical elements like trees. Further encourage drivers to adjust their speed by installing radar speed signs as a reminder to check their speedometer.
Speed humps: Speed humps can slow traffic in school zones and similar locations, especially when combined with speed signs and beacons.
Benefits of traffic calming
In addition to reducing speeds and thus reducing the chance of a collision with other road users, there are many other benefits of implementing traffic calming measures. For instance, angled parking rather than parallel parking can reduce driver speed and make it easier for drivers to see pedestrians, but it can also add up to 40% more parking stalls, which can help revitalize the local economy. Driving slower allows vehicle traffic to take in their surroundings, find parking, and interact with businesses in the community. Multimodal streets are generally considered more aesthetically appealing than car-centric ones, making a stop for coffee or downtown shopping more inviting.
When budgets are limited, it may not be possible to add physical traffic calming obstacles. This was the case in Bellevue, Washington, and so the city found an alternative to costly speed humps and traffic circles: radar speed signs. These traffic calming signs reduced 85th percentile speeds and continued to be effective even years after they were installed. Read the full case study to learn more about this project and its long-term effectiveness.
FYI: Traffic calming is one of many factors that can be part of a Vision Zero goal. Learn more about how Vision Zero and traffic calming work together.
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