Pursue Physical Change in your Street or Neighborhood

Sometimes education and enforcement efforts are not enough to reduce motorist speeds. This section discusses how the physical environment contributes to motorist speeds.

How to design a neighborhood that discourages speeding

Medians are used to narrow lanes in an Atlanta, Ga. neighborhood to slow traffic.Here are some concepts to keep in mind when thinking about how to reduce speeding in your neighborhood:

1. Narrower streets or travel lanes usually will slow things down.

  • Motorists will have difficulty speeding on a 25-foot residential street with parking on both sides. Wider streets are typically desired by local Fire Departments, but a compromise often is needed to provide calmer streets that result in fewer crashes.
  • A 10-foot travel lane on an arterial street is wide enough to accommodate most traffic.
  • Lanes can be narrowed by installing a painted bike lane or striped shoulder along the street in addition to a centerline. This technique also may be used to preserve space along the street for bicyclists and create a separation between pedestrians and motor vehicles.

2. STOP signs will not necessarily reduce speeding issues.

  • STOP signs are used to indicate who has the right-of-way. Placing STOP signs where there is no need for one leads motorists to lose respect for them. Traffic calming measures (see below and in Facility Design section) are more effective in reducing motorist speeds than the placement of STOP signs.

3. A neighborhood that is alive with people invites motorists to slow down.

  • Notice your own habits when driving. Do you naturally find yourself driving faster when there is no life on the street? Notice how you drive on a street that is filled with pedestrians. Getting more people out walking may have more of an impact on motorist speeds than you may think.
  • Don't discount the importance of streetscape. Seeing people on their porch or in their front gardens adds to the life of a neighborhood. Neighborhoods that are good for pedestrians are better at slowing motorists.

Other easy physical fixes to reduce speeding

A variety of physical improvements can reduce speeding. Since wide streets encourage motorists to speed, first look to see if there are any quick and easy solutions.

  • One question to ask before you explore expensive physical improvements is whether there is something else contributing to motorists using your street. For instance, does a parallel roadway often back up, sending frustrated motorists down your street as a cut-through route? The core of the problem may then be on a different street.
  • Are you or your neighbors parking too far off the street? When speed is perceived to be a problem, residents sometimes park partly off the street (onto the sidewalk or planting strip) to avoid their vehicle being sideswiped by a speeder. This only makes the problem more real. Encourage your neighbors to park correctly.
  • Is the edge of the street defined? Streets without curbs don't give motorists a cue about where to park. Work with your local government for long-term solutions, but in the meantime work with neighbors to determine where you should park.
  • Are there street trees on your block? Planting trees can change the visual feel of your street and make it appear narrower than it really is. Do some research into the best trees to plant in your location, taking into consideration roadway and maintenance issues.
  • Strobe light signals, flashing beacons, and pedestrian warning signs in eye-catching fluorescent colors can improve drivers' awareness of special conditions and the presence of pedestrians, and may reduce speeding.
  • Traffic calming devices typically cost money. If your community does not have funds to implement built traffic calming devices, suggest your community try starting with paint. Painting speed limits or "SLOW" on the road surface, in combination with posting roadside signs, may help reduce speeds. With guidance from your local traffic office, painted versions of traffic circles, chicanes and curb bulbs may be possible.
  • Your community may have a special approach for speeding in school zones. The creation or an extension of a school zone may involve signs, striping, signals, traffic calming devices, or enhanced police enforcement in the blocks immediately surrounding schools.

Work with your city or town to slow motorists through construction of traffic calming devices

Motorists commonly speed on streets that are too straight and wide open. Traffic calming devices can slow the speeds of motorists on such streets in two ways:

1. Horizontal changes: motorists must do something besides go straight (for example, going around a traffic circle or maneuvering around a chicane).

2. Vertical changes: motorists must go up and down (for example, going over a raised crosswalk or speed hump).

While speed reductions can greatly increase pedestrian safety, the safety benefits of reduced speeds extend to motorists and to cyclists as well. If city or town officials determine that a traffic calming device is appropriate for your neighborhood, then the width of the street, the amount and speed of traffic, and the type of street will help determine what alternatives are possible for your street.

What is "traffic calming?"

Medians, like these used in Thornnton, Colo., can be used to narrow lanes and slow traffic.According to the Institute of Traffic Engineers (ITE), "Traffic Calming is the combination of mainly physical measures that reduce the negative effects of motor vehicle use, alter driver behavior and improve conditions for non-motorized street users." In essence, traffic calming is an approach that communities can undertake in neighborhoods to:

  • Slow down motor vehicle traffic
  • Reduce the frequency and severity of crashes
  • Increase both the actual safety and the perception of safety for pedestrians and bicyclists
  • Reduce the need for police enforcement
  • Enhance the street environment
  • Increase access for all modes of transportation (especially bicyclists and pedestrians)
  • Reduce cut-through motor vehicle traffic

The approach involves the installation or construction of road treatments which include raised devices (such as speed humps and raised crosswalks), roadway narrowing, horizontal shifts in the roadway, or planting trees along the street.

For a brief overview of the type of traffic calming devices that may be appropriate for your neighborhood, visit the Facility Design section on traffic calming.

Depending on the characteristics of your street, neighborhood, and corresponding traffic speeds and volumes, your community's engineering department may determine that a specific traffic calming device or a combination of traffic calming devices may work best for your street. According to PEDSAFE, areas where traffic calming devices are present should be adequately signed, marked, and lit to be visible to motorists and a series of devices may be needed to have the desired effect so that motorists won't speed up between devices.

How can I find out if traffic calming is available for my neighborhood?

Most cities have a procedure for requesting the construction of traffic calming devices. It is usually necessary to make an official request and have the support of other residents in your neighborhood for the traffic calming device. In most cases, requests are reviewed and ranked on an annual basis according to established criteria, such as the speed and amount of traffic, and a number of other safety concerns. The areas in the most immediate need of traffic calming—those with the greatest safety concerns or most excessive traffic conditions—will be treated first.

Who pays for traffic calming?

The city or town may cover part or all of the cost of the traffic calming device depending on how serious the speeding problem is and how expensive it is to fix it. Likewise, it is also possible that you and your neighbors may be asked to cover part or all of the cost of the device. Your homeowner's association (if you have one in your neighborhood) or some other neighborhood association may be able to cover the expense if it decides the issue is important enough. Because many localities have more requests for traffic calming than funds to implement them, if your neighborhood is able to raise some funds on its own, then your city or town will be more likely to provide matching funds to construct traffic calming in your neighborhood.