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