Non-stop traffic calming

This week yet another community will appear before Transportation Committee asking for STOP signs to slow speeding traffic and make neighbourhood intersections safer. Asking for STOP signs is a tactical error, as it shifts the debate from the road safety issue to the (de)merits of STOP signs. Since the people who ask for the signs are the same ones who will ignore them once they are installed, their installation becomes a form of tokenism. As the traffic department points out.

Politics at its most useless.

The politicians either don’t know or won’t volunteer better ways to calm traffic. What the traffic department doesn’t point out is that there are cheap(er) traffic calming methods. That’s what we will look at today.

Tactics: the real problem is that the roads and streets were designed by engineers who imported successful highway design features and plastered them onto residential streets. Things like wide sight lines, removing “dangerous” objects near the sides of the road, making lanes wider, streets flatter straighter and smoother. Some of these features actually made highway driving safer for motorists. But employing them on residential streets leads to excessive speeds, and any safety benefit to motorists is counteracted by the transfer of the risk to pedestrians, who are told to walk in the vehicle “run off” zones along the roads, stand at corners where it is “too dangerous” to put up even a wooden post, and wade through the “water storage” and “snow storage” areas along the curbs to crosswalks cunningly co-placed with the lowest point of drainage. Roads are lit but shoulders and sidewalks are not. Minimal pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure bears no relation to need or good design.

So the complaining community should focus on the issues of speed and danger. It’s usually pretty easy to make a case to politicians that there is speeding (where isn’t there??). (The traffic folks will never be convinced, since they feel if there is +/- 80% compliance with the speed limit it’s just fine, and the other 20%, some of whom may due 100 kmh in front of school at departure times, are not worth worrying about). The community should be focusing on Vision Zero principles. Show the video at committee, and then again at council. They will need to see it at least 13 times before they even begin to understand it.

As for the engineers, arguing about traffic counts and volumes, ignore them. They are folks somewhere on the autism spectrum, extremely low on the emotion quotient (EQ) and obsessed with numeric minutiae. Their position that there have to be injuries and maybe deaths before action is warranted because somebody higher up decided how many lives didn’t matter, didn’t work when presented at Nuremberg although it may still resonate at Ottawa City Hall.

Non-stop traffic calming: instead of asking for pretty-much-useless STOP signs, the community should ask for the roads to be redesigned to be safe for everyone, all the time. Vision Zero. The city could start today with new roads it is “accepting” from developers, and with roads it is rebuilding. That is the long term fix. What about the short term?

Start with some cheap, quick to implement traffic calming tools. The city should be able to install a number of these in two weeks or less. If they can’t, guerrilla traffic calming may be required.

First, paint the road narrower. Not 14′ lanes, not 12′ lanes, but 10′ lanes. The smallest size the city allows. Here’s an example on Sherwood Drive, where the painted lines visually narrow the paved width, although the lanes are still too straight:

Demand bulb outs at corners, or even mid-block, to further narrow the street and make pedestrian crossings safer.

Since those bulb outs require endless processing through the “rules” set out by the traffic folks themselves (talk about make work!) go for something temporary at first. Simply paint a bulb out onto the street, outlined with flex posts or dollar store cones. If desired, paint the interior of the bulb out with paint with scattered reflective grains in it.

The city could add some centre-line flex posts to make the street look less wide:

Even better, get some large concrete planters, add trees, and plop them down the centre line. Nothing like the fear of denting some sheet metal to encourage compliance. Come winter, fork lift those planters into the nearby park for storage til the spring.

Now here is a chicane that means business. Concrete planters right smack in the centre of each line require motorists to drive with caution, and keep in contact with other motorists. Who says streets have to handle two way traffic simultaneously?

Sometimes a median works to separate traffic lanes, making each direction lane look narrower when it is off by itself. Here’s a City one (expensive !):

It is “flush” so driveway access is possible by simply driving right over it.

but a painted on one might work just as well. After all, its “just a prototype” pending some huge budget for a make-work “traffic study”. If there isn’t a driveway, I’d go one step up, and try to install a jersey barrier or three, which really visually narrows the lane and self-enforces staying in your lane.

Real keen guerrilla traffic  calmers can bolt old tires together, paint them white, add reflective strips (available free from the city’s traffic safety folks) and lay them out where they’d like to see a bulb out.

If our city traffic committee had any guts, instead of just “considering” stuff that filters up from the bureaucrats, they’d pre-approve a menu of simple paint and portable measures to be supplied and  installed anywhere the community can convince the councillor to authorize them. If they don’t calm the traffic, nothing ventured nothing gained. Try something else.

Keep in mind it took engineers decades to come up with the “faster all the time” current designs so it may take a combination of calming installations to have much effect. For example, narrower lanes, that periodically shift several feet right or left, with generous bulb outs, parked cars on the shoulder, some pots in the centre median, etc. It isn’t worth it to “traffic calm” just one intersection, since motorists will simply speed up in the next block “to make up for lost time”. It is necessary for the whole length of street to become a place where it won’t seem natural to motorists to go too fast. Remember, crescents and cul-de-sacs are the original suburban traffic calming and motorists accept these as “natural” turns in the road, etc.

In the USA, many states have laws that require motorists to stop only when someone is at the crosswalk, so it isn’t a frustrating stop-when-no-one-is-around rule. Since Ontario doesn’t have such a rule, maybe some adjacent homeowners could pop out curbside signs reminding motorists to stop for pedestrians (even if there isn’t an official STOP sign at the corner).

In our fondest dreams, we could even mandate that driverless cars obey (new, lower) speed limits in residential areas.

Next: improving the edge of the park where it meets a street





9 thoughts on “Non-stop traffic calming

  1. Bulb outs at corners are a nightmare for cyclists, although 99% of intersections in Ottawa are already horrible for cyclists…

    1. i have experienced a few “ride over” bulb outs now, and kinda like them. One has to be careful in the design to ensure cyclists dont have too much deviation or swerving to get to the ride over part or, worse, cycle “behind” the bulb out along the curb, which is a real problem when there are parked cars nearby. One of the big issues is that stand alone bits of calming aren’t as good as (re)designing the whole street to be calm.

  2. A few years ago I had the misfortune of representing our community association in discussions with one of the silos at city hall about traffic calming opportunities for Centrepointe. The traffic management group basically discarded all of the suggestions we made, many of which are outlined in the article above as:
    1. “unworkable”, (e.g. planters as bulb outs) with no explanation as to why they were unworkable; or
    2. outside our area of responsibility (e.g. flex signs are part of the Councillor’s traffic calming budget).

    When the traffic calming study was eventually completed, we were presented with alternatives that would have taken >$1 million to implement, at some time in the ill-defined, distant future (i.e. when funds are available in the budget). Even painting white lines along the road to create the illusion of a narrower driving path would take forever.

    As for the section in the article about people speeding in the neighbourhood, two common themes became apparent during the public presentations on the traffic calming study.

    The first theme was one of denial. It isn’t the residents who are speeding, it is people who are cutting through our neighbourhood. They could not provide any reasonable explanation of why someone would travel the longest possible route through the community, in order to save time from using the Baseline/Woodroffe arterial routes.

    The second theme was diametrically opposed to the first. We need to do something to stop ourselves from speeding. Some people were of the opinion that they absolutely had to close the gap to the car in front of them, with no recognition to the concept that that would require that they exceed the speed of the car in front, in order to catch up. One individual pointed out that he frequently does 60 in a 40 zone because he has to accelerate to get up a small hill. Again, no plausible answers as to why we have to do something to prevent ourselves from doing what we know we shouldn’t do and are more than capable of controlling by applying less pressure on the throttle. In short, it is the residents of the community that form the largest component of the people who are speeding on our own neighbourhood streets. We can control the speed of vehicle, but we choose not to.

    Finally, since the people in the various silos within city hall refuse to learn from their mistakes (which would require an acknowledgement that mistakes were made), the residents, visitors and those evil cut through drivers of the next suburb to be built outside the Greenbelt are destined to continue to suffer from planning/traffic engineering/traffic management staff’s failure (or is that refusal) to learn.

  3. I have two points to make on this issue.

    1) City Budgets for traffic Calming are insufficient to slow down traffic in all areas that may need them. I lived on a local street in the West End for 30 years which had 4,000 cars per day most of whom exeeded the speed limit. It took 35 years before we got high enough on the Cities priority list before we got speed humps to slow down the traffic. I could name other examples as well.

    2) Automobile design speed regulation design: The current rather crude automobile speed control systems ( accelerator pedal and brake) make make it more difficult for drivers to regulate their speed below maximum posted speed limits. The driver needs to actively pay attention to his speed and brake the car to lower his speed which is somewhat unnatural to do. Self regulating speed limiting technology exists to limit speeding exists, but has only been implemented in high end luxury cars to date. If all cars had this technology the car speeding problem would be reduced.

  4. Good but for cycling issue with bulb outs. As an aside we went through a town in mid US which had all of its streets made of brick. Strange. It slowed us down.

  5. Those flex posts really work. They are much better than bulb-outs or speedbumps at convincing me to slow down.

  6. Somebody very important must live on Cambridge St N in the block immediately north of Somerset.
    This section of Cambridge St N has all of the traffic calming features described: 1) planters directly in the travel lanes; 2) street paved with brick not asphalt; 3) narrowing of the road so that roadside obstructions threaten the paintwork on the vehicle; 4) lots of greenery to obscure sight-lines and force drivers to slow as they have no idea what may be hiding in the shrubbery.

    Also, on Cooper St at Metcalfe the bulb outs have cut-outs to permit through traffic by both bicycle and wheelchair traffic. Cars face a bulb out. Cyclists face no obstruction and are not forced to door a passing auto.

    Speaking of wheelchairs, it may be politically advantageous to couch all requests for traffic calming in terms of fundamental human rights with a focus on the needs of wheelchair users, the elderly, and the blind. This confronts the overpaid silo dwellers with an argument hard to evade.

    The Trudeau government has now forced all Canadians to have respect for psychic genitalia. Trudeau senior took the state out of the bedrooms of the nation. Trudeau jr has inserted the state back into the underpants of the nation. Complain to the city that your psychic genitalia is greatly inconvenienced by high speed vehicular traffic, Cite Bill C-16. You are gonna win!

    1. We lived on Cambridge North north of Somerset for 5 years and no one of importance that I know of lived there. The Traffic calming measures you see there were put there to eliminate the Tourist buses that used to park on the street when visiting China town residents. The design I believe was put in as an experiment to test traffic impact. The current design does certainly calm traffic and is attractive visually, but there are some significant drawbacks. Visitor parking is non existent, Snow removal is difficult. Pedestrians on the street cannot easily see cars that cut thru, sometimes in the wrong direction. I would not repeat this design with such dense greenery

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