Politics of Traffic Calming Projects
over the installation of traffic calming devices is dividing communities
across the United States. Deflection
devices, such as speed humps and traffic circles are appearing on streets
around the country, under the guise of improving safety.
To the contrary, research reveals that traffic calming projects are
politically motivated by individuals in our federal and local governments,
willing to sacrifice safety to
achieve their political agenda to encourage mainstream shift to other
modes of transportation.
such as speed humps and traffic circles are experimental in the United
States. There is no official
sanction for their use. The United States
Department of Transportation (USDOT) defines traffic calming devices geometric
design features of the roadway rather than traffic
control devices. The
USDOT has established standards for the design and warrants for the
recommended use of devices that are approved traffic control devices in
the federal Manual on the Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).
The absence of standards and warrants for the installation of
traffic calming devices allows decisions over their design and use to fall
to local governments
The USDOT is a well-funded and supported agency of
the U.S. government. Emergency
rescue services are controlled locally.
The imbalance in power has allowed individuals untrained in the
fields of emergency rescue and fire suppression to make decisions about
the significance of delay to emergency response, to the protection of
lives and property. Fire
chiefs, as city appointees, are being persuaded to accept delays to their
tax-funded response services to accommodate city staff and city council
members who want to build deflection devices.
Central to the debate is whether communities are more in danger
from speeding cars or from delays to emergency response.
An analysis that compares these risks was developed by Ronald
Bowman, a scientist from Boulder, Colorado.
The results of the analysis show that residents are in far greater
risk from even minor delays to emergency response caused by delay inducing
calming devices than from vehicles, speeding or not.
The analysis has been verified by a professional mathematician and
can be viewed online at http://members.aol.com/raybowman/risk97/eval1.html.
The Assistant Fire Chief of Austin Texas, Les Bunte, applied the
Bowman analysis to Austin with similar results, which can be viewed online
Members of city councils and transportation divisions
who want to build traffic calming devices use the numbers of devices in
other countries as support for their success. They fail to acknowledge the differences in our political
systems which has driven devices onto streets, and the problems
experienced in these countries from their long term use.
There has never been a democratic process for the
installation of calming devices in other countries.
In Leicester, England a protest petition of 500 signatures from 700
homes submitted to a local council was insufficient to halt an
installation of speed humps.
The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), which developed the design
for the speed "hump" (in contrast to the speed "bump"), softened
its support for the device in 1999. Responding to complaints of excessive noise,
foundation-damaging vibrations, increased vehicle emissions, complaints
from people with disabilities and increase in cyclist and motorcycle
accidents, they now recommend road authorities consider other solutions to
Councils around England are to spend millions of English pounds
either lowering or removing humps to adhere to new disability regulations
for lower bus floors to allow wheelchair access into buses.
Sigurd Reinton, Chairman of
London Ambulance Service, states speed humps are killing hundreds of
Londoners each year by delaying 999 crews.
He states that ambulances must slow almost to a "walking pace, or
slower" when carrying an injured patient and the twenty
to thirty thousand speed humps, plus the thousands of chicanes, ramps
and barriers have resulted in some of the lowest survival rates for
Londoners who suffer cardiac arrest.
In Australia, complaints from drivers and passengers of buses
prompted the state office in charge of administering the Occupational
Health and Safety Act to re-route the buses.
The Canadian Safety Council published opposition to the use of all
devices that delay emergency response after devices used to block access
to a street hindered the rescue of twelve people caught in a fire.
The Ontario, Canada Professional Fire Fighters Association joined
other rescue provider unions in opposing deflection devices because of
delays as well as injuries to fire fighters.
Injuries, including vertebral compression, are occurring to
firefighters in the U.S. as well. At least two of these injuries have resulted in permanent
Devices designed to impose deflection on vehicles and
vehicle passengers raise legal and ethical questions.
Drivers in the United States have lost control over the devices,
landing them in hospitals. Devices are damaging vehicles, increasing pollution,
increasing gas consumption and injuring persons with disabilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees disabled
persons equal access to public facilities.
The Department of Justice regulations for Title II of the ADA
defines "facility" to include "roads."
There are no studies showing the devices are safe for disabled
occupants of vehicles. Federal
agencies responsible for enforcing the ADA have received significant
testimony from persons with disabilities who describe injury and lasting
pain from deflection devices.
Some devices have been removed because of problems experienced by
A web site addressing the problems of the disabled with deflection
devices can be viewed at http://www.digitalthreads.com/rada.
The legal system of the United States guarantees a
higher level of protection for the individual than the systems of other
countries. A commercial
product known to have a fraction of the risks identified with speed humps
and other deflection devices would not be allowed on the American market.
There is sufficient data to make installation of vertical
deflection devices on public streets illegal.
If the U.S. DOT does not acknowledge the dangers associated with
these experimental devices, it is likely our courts will.
Lauding the use of "low-tech" devices as a magic
bullet to control vehicle speeds is a short-sighted and irresponsible use
of taxpayer dollars. High-tech
"active suspension systems" that counter the effects of deflection are
already available in top-of-the line luxury cars.
Less expensive systems are being designed that will eventually
allow most cars to travel smoothly over the devices.
The problem of traffic and speeding in our
communities is purported to be a livability issue, in traffic calming
literature. However, people
are extremely divided about whether deflection devices increase or
decrease livability. Projects
proceed largely because their processes are biased toward those who want
the devices. Residents
downstream from the devices, whose emergency response will also be
affected by an installation and who must also travel over the devices
daily to reach their homes, are eliminated from the process.
Once a project begins, the devices proliferate at alarming speed,
as residents on parallel streets attempt to protect themselves from the
diversion of traffic which always accompanies an installation.
As a result, projects typically end in full or partial moratorium.
around the country are calling for an end to the installation of all
deflection devices that impede emergency services, harm residents with
disabilities, damage vehicles and increase pollution and disharmony in our
communities. A truly independent and scientific cost/benefit analysis of
the data available on the issue from this country and abroad should be
conducted by an agency of the U.S. government to determine which, if any,
devices can be safely used in our communities and what standards for the
design and placement of the devices must be required of our local
A cost/benefit analysis should include an assessment of the following:
political movement behind building traffic calming devices in communities
across the United States should be of immediate concern to our federal
investigation, the political agendas of individuals in our local and
federal government will continue to suppress all meaningful consideration
of the impact of traffic calming projects on the safety and well being of
 Traffic Calming: State of the Practice, ITE/FHWA, Reid Ewing, 1999, pp. 13 - 14
 Manual on the Uniform Traffic Control Devices, Millennium Edition, USDOT/FHWA, 2000
 "Council Jumps the Gun," Claire Jones, LEICESTER MERCURY, Feb. 6, 1999
 "Road humps can damage houses," Transport Correspondent, THE SUNDAY TIMES, London, 12/28/97
 "Councils to spend millions lowering road humps," David Bamber, ELECTRONIC TELEGRAPH, 2/27/00
 "999 patients ¬ėkilled by speed bumps¬ķ," Joe Murphey, THE EVENING STANDARD, London, 01/27/03
 "Public transport and emergency services: problems caused by traffic calming," TRL Report #307, Webster and Boulter, 1998
 "We told you so ¬ń Traffic Calming Jeopardizes Public Safety," Canada Safety Council, News Release, July 16, 1999
 "Traffic Calming Devices, Why firefighters have given them a rough ride," IAFF (International Association of Firefighters) Canadian Journal, January 2000
 "Traffic Calming Programs and Emergency Response," Les Bunte, Assistant Fire Chief Austin TX, May 2000
 Traffic Calming and Vehicle Emissions,: A literature review, TRL (Transport Research Laboratory) Report 307, United Kingdom, P.G. Boulter and D.C. Webster, 1997
 Building a True Community, Final Report, U.S. Access Board, Public Rights-of-Way Access Advisory Committee, January 2001
 "Disabled woman wins
fight to remove speed humps on her street, " Kristen Green,
THE SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE,
May 12, 2000
 "Chips in Charge," Ivan Amato, DISCOVER MAGAZINE, December 1999