Cities implement traffic calming measures
We can thank the Germans who in the 1930s gave rise to a new word: Verkehrsberuhigung, literally translating to traffic calming. This practice protected residential areas from through traffic by means of speed bumps, narrower roads, physical design, traffic control gates and other safety features, all of which had the intention of slowing traffic for pedestrians and cyclists. The concept was then adopted in 1985 by the United Kingdom.Today, this successful practice can be seen in various towns and cities around the world.
Keith Bredehoeft, director of public works in Prairie Village, Kan., shared some of his knowledge with his department’s own traffic calming.
“The main concern of speeding in our neighborhoods is what we wanted to change on 87th Street,” Bredehoeft said of the Johnson County city. “Our aim was to make it a resident-driven program that has clear process for traffic calming to be considered. Our process of getting residents’ buy-in is essential.”
Such a development usually starts with neighbors banding together and calling for a meeting with the public works department, in hopes of obtaining a slower speed for their community. These requests are addressed on a case-by-case basis.
“Speeding was and usually is the main reason for implementing traffic calming,” said Bredehoeft, who ran the program from the beginning. “Two residents came to me requesting that something be done. There is usually one main person, but many times, there are two or three in the group. We had no challenges — the process works
Prairie Village has had neighborhood speed watch programs a few times, because, Bredehoeft observed, it helped the residents to better understand the speeds of cars.
“They appreciated the ability to do this, and now we have about 15 locations where we’ve had measures installed,” said Bredehoeft, adding that most of the time residents are happy with the results. “On most streets where traffic calming has been implemented, we do not get calls from residents about speeding vehicles any longer.”
Asked if the speed limits had been changed because of the traffic calming, Bredehoeft said that no speed limits had been changed.
“We do usually get lower speeds after installation and a few mph reductions,” said Bredehoeft. “We use pedestrian-activated beacons at existing crosswalks, but they are not considered part of traffic calming.
“In general, I think we have a very successful traffic calming program. It is a resident-driven program, and the program has a very clear process to follow.”
Bredehoeft emphasized that the criteria to consider for installing traffic calming measures are specifically defined and clear so it helps ensure that his department is only installing measures where they are really necessary.
“They can only be used on residential streets that are not considered emergency response routes. The speed table gets a driver’s attention and makes the driver think about what he or she is doing (while driving),” said Bredehoeft. “I personally feel this is one of the main objectives of traffic calming when forcing drivers to think about what they are doing. In today’s world, folks are very busy and thinking about what they are doing next or next week and not always paying attention to their driving. The speed table is not too much of a negative impact to drivers — speed bumps and speed humps can be problematic and I have seen situations where the negative feedback has caused these measures to be removed. We have not had significant negative feedback related to the speed tables. They are a good balance in my opinion.”
Other measures the city has installed to date include median islands, neck-downs and speed display signs. Speed display signs have been good at grabbing drivers’ attention as well.
Mayor Lisa Jones of Foxfield, Colo., has had plans to continue with traffic control gates as a means of pedestrian safety, speeding reduction and stopping cut-through traffic on both East Fremont Avenue and South Richfield Street. Officials had also considered roundabouts, manned gates and toll roads, none of them feasible.
But then the pandemic slammed the world and much of Jones’ staff is working from home for safety reasons. In an email, she wrote, “Due to budgetary constraints as a result of the current situation, the gate project is on hold.”
Dripping Springs, Texas, is another city that uses traffic calming successfully, according to Dripping Springs Public Works Coordinator Aaron Reed.
The main reason for traffic calming in Dripping Springs was high volumes of cut-through traffic during peak traffic times. These cut-through streets are mostly residential. Citizens voiced concerns about safety issues with the cut through so the city worked with its traffic engineer and the community to develop a traffic calming policy.
“The city has received complaints about speeding and safety concerns along these mostly residential streets,” said Reed. “We do not have a municipal police force. The Hays County Sheriff and Constables patrol city streets through interlocal agreements with the city.
“The city has worked together with its citizens to develop the traffic calming policy. So far, the policy and traffic calming have been met with praise and support.”
When asked how many places traffic calming was created, Reed said currently there was one traffic calming area with a second one funded and currently being installed.
If a public works department in another city wanted to explore traffic calming for its town, what advice would Reed give?
“Talk to fellow citizens in your community for input on problem areas and common desired outcomes, and research what other jurisdictions have set up. The city should consult with its city engineer or hire a transportation engineer to evaluate the need, work with stakeholders and make recommendations,” said Reed. “Dripping Springs has a great maintenance staff that has been instrumental in the installation of the traffic calming features. This is a fairly new policy for the city so it is still a learning process, but so far, everything has gone smoothly. We are learning about locations for features that limit the ability for drivers to avoid the feature by driving around.”
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