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How can we get a speed bump to make our street safer?

My neighbours and I are noticing more traffic including a couple of speed demons on our once-sleepy side street. Who might we complain to to get more speed bumps or stop signs or possibly block the street to through traffic? Do we have to wait until someone gets seriously hurt to change traffic patterns? – Jayne in Burlington, Ont.

You've touched on a hot topic. Although slowing down traffic via measures such as speed bumps and barriers is known as "traffic calming," town hall meetings on the subject are often anything but serene.

We want our neighbourhood streets to be safe for pedestrians, and free of excess noise and pollution, but is erecting another stop sign or speed bump the answer? Some say yes, while others argue that one or two offenders shouldn't mean all motorists get punished.

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Organizations such as the Canada Safety Council (CSC) urge communities to get below the surface of traffic safety issues to find solutions that will work.

"The council has a number of reservations as to how traffic calming is implemented. Sometimes it seems to be more about pleasing the neighbourhood than real safety of the individual," says Raynald Marchand, general manager of programs at the CSC. "A good example of that is in neighbourhoods which have sidewalk protrusions at the intersection. The advantage is it's a bit more narrow and, supposedly cars are going to slow down as they approach these intersections, but from a cyclist's point of view, you have to swing around them – you can't go straight through, and that puts you right in front of the traffic."

Speed bumps can help to slow traffic, but they must be maintained. Apart from crumbling, as yellow paint wears off those large, elongated bumps in particular, motorcyclists can be taken by surprise and lose control. A speed bump outside your door will also undoubtedly affect air quality, and create noise pollution due to increased stopping and acceleration.

What about mounting a red octagon on a pole to curb speeders?

"Littering a neighbourhood with stop signs isn't going to be helpful in reducing speed, because people tend to speed more in between the signs," says Marchand. "So that makes it difficult, because the neighbourhood wants the sign, but it's not effective in what they want it to do.

"It makes them feel good, and stop signs are cheap. But if you go too far and put up too many signs, people say 'forget it.'

"There are many places where a stop sign should really be a yield sign, and then people end up treating the stop sign like a yield – which they shouldn't do, because in some places a stop is really needed. When you start to treat some stop signs like yield signs, you start treating them all like yield signs. So traffic calming can have a double edge," says Marchand.

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"Too many municipalities are trying to engineer themselves out of traffic policing. They think, if they put all these things in place, they won't have to do traffic enforcement. That's not true. There really is no substitute. They should have officers who will issue violations to those who are speeding, and that's the way to curb it," says Marchand.

To find the best solution, you need to learn more about the problem. Contact your municipal traffic department and ask for an evaluation.

"They'll park a van fitted with monitoring devices and return the next day or in several hours and look at the evaluation.

"What we found, and what the police in Ottawa found, is that the perceived speed is often way out of whack with the real speed, i.e., some residents say that people are doing 80 or 90 km/h on their street, but the average is actually only 50 km/h and the highest is 62 km/h," says Marchand.

Another measure is the placement of a sign, which indicates the speed limit and the speed of the approaching traffic. "That's pretty effective because it's direct feedback to the driver," says Marchand.

Start with a visit to city hall, or the police, to find out what's going on with the traffic in your neighbourhood. Once you know more about the problem, you can evaluate the solutions that have been proven to work.

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"If you have just one offender who speeds through your neighbourhood, it doesn't require a speed bump. Get some traffic enforcement, give that bad apple a ticket or two and they'll slow down. lt's punishing the person that's the problem as opposed to punishing everybody.

"And you know what you may find? It's not the guy from Seattle who's driving like a maniac through your neighbourhood, it's the people that live there," says Marchand.

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About the Author

Joanne Will is based in Toronto. She has been a regular contributor to The Globe and Mail since 2009. In 2014, she was a Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. More


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