Traffic speed can be critical to walkability and safety (see PBIC's Pedestrian Safety Guide and Countermeasure Selection System). While pedestrians may feel comfortable on streets that carry a lot of traffic at low speeds, higher speed traffic will discourage walking. Fast speeds increase the likelihood of pedestrians being hit and will make pedestrians feel uncomfortable. At higher speeds, motorists are less likely to see and react to a pedestrian, and even less likely to actually stop in time to avoid a crash. Higher speed crashes are much more lethal to pedestrians, with an 85% chance of a fatal injury to a pedestrian at 40 mph compared to a 5% chance of a fatality at 20 mph.
If you see cars speeding down your street or through your neighborhood, what can you do about it? There are several actions that can be taken, individually or together with your neighbors or city or town officials. Did you know that a vast majority of people who are caught speeding in neighborhoods are area residents? To find out what actions may best suit the speeding problem in your neighborhood, please read through the following actions and click on the links to find out more.
What you or your neighbors can do about speeding motorists in your neighborhood:
Determine if traffic calming approaches should be used in your neighborhood
Let people know that speeding is not okay
Begin or enroll in a speed monitoring program
What you can ask city or town officials in your community to do about speeding motorists in your neighborhood:
Slow motorists through the construction of traffic calming devices
- What is traffic calming?
- What kind of traffic calming devices are there?
- How can I find out if traffic calming is available for my neighborhood?
- Who pays for traffic calming?
Create sidewalks that are separated from moving traffic
Assign more police enforcement
Undertake a community-wide public education campaign
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What you or your neighbors can do about speeding motorists in your neighborhood
If you see motorists that speed through your neighborhood, which discourages walking and makes it more dangerous, you may not be alone. First, talk to your neighbors or neighborhood association (if you have one) to find out who else is concerned about speeding in your neighborhood and wants to help out. The more people you have that support your cause, the stronger your voice for change will be. Next, try contacting your community officials to see how they can help out. However, because most communities have limited resources for speed enforcement or for traffic calming devices, such as speed humps, neighborhoods must speak up loudly and clearly that this is a priority for them. Outlined below are several approaches you or your neighbors can take to try to decrease speeds in your neighborhood.
According to the US Department of Justice's Speeding in Residential Areas (note: this is a pdf) guide (pg. 3), a driver's perception of the roadway determines the speed at which they think it is safe to drive. If drivers are speeding through your neighborhood, then the road may be too wide and straight. Accordingly, the roadway may need to be changed in order to cause drivers to perceive that a fast speed is not okay on your neighborhood streets. Traffic calming approachesdefined as ways to design streets, using physical measures, to encourage people to drive more slowlyaim to alter the roadway and therefore the perception of the driver. After reading and finding out about the various traffic calming approaches that might be best for your neighborhood, you can educate and work with your neighbors and community officials on determining what traffic calming approaches might be most appropriate for your neighborhood.
Let people know that speeding is not okay
In most cases, speeding results from habit and poor road design, not from an intentional decision to break the law. "Speeders" are not bad people from somewhere else - most are neighbors and friends. Their reasons for speeding aren't malicious either: in addition to perceiving they can (as discussed above), people speed because (as discussed above) they are behind schedule and trying to make up for lost time, they are unaware of the speed limit, or they are trying to keep up with other traffic (Speeding in Residential Areas, pg. 3). Others speed because they are so familiar with their own neighborhood that they do not realize how fast they are travelling. Though the effects are not immediate and may not be substantial, undertaking a neighborhood public education campaign to discourage speeding using short-term reminders, such as banners or yard signs telling drivers to slow down, can change the social acceptability of speeding.
Begin or enroll in a speed monitoring program
Some communities have speed monitoring programs, such as a neighborhood speed watch, which train residents to use radar in their neighborhoods and provides free equipment for a certain period of time, often for a week. The information the resident gathers is usually matched with driver and motor vehicle service records and then the city or town sends a letter to the vehicle's registered owner advising the owner their vehicle was seen speeding. The letter appeals to the owner or driver to slow down on neighborhood streets. Speeding tickets are not issued in this program. Though some residents feel that such monitoring is too time consuming and don't like the idea of spying on their neighbors, people who have participated in such programs feel it is a worthwhile educational program. In some cases it changed their perception of the degree of speeding in their neighborhood.
Though expensive and sometimes prone to vandalism, mobile units that monitor and display vehicle speeds, also known as SMART Trailers or speed display boards, can also be effective in slowing down drivers and gathering data. Neighborhood associations or watch groups can agree to monitor the speed display board to minimize vandalism. According to the US Department of Justice's Speeding in Residential Areas guide (pg. 18), "Speed display boards have been shown to reduce speeds and crashes, and appear to be at least as effective as speed cameras in reducing speeds, and do so more cost-effectively."
Call your town hall to see if they have such resources available for your use. If not, suggest to the proper town officials that they initiate these programs in your community. It is best to use a speed display board that flashes a red and blue light or white flashes or some other message instead of the high speed. This will discourage people from seeing how high of a number they can make the sign display. The police should be encouraged to conduct some speed enforcement downstream from the display board to increase the effectiveness of the device and educate motorists of some of the consequences they face if caught speeding.
What you can ask city or town officials in your community to do about speeding motorists in your neighborhood
If you observe that motorists speed in your neighborhood, which discourages walking and makes it more dangerous, one of the best steps you can take is to call your city or town officials to find out how they can help. Often, the officials may ask who else in your neighborhood is concerned with this problem and you may need to gather a list of names or have people sign a petition. Your city or town officials will then try to take the appropriate steps depending on the scale of the problem in your neighborhood. It should be noted, however, that most communities have limited resources for speed enforcement and traffic calming devices. Accordingly, neighborhood action can sometimes be the most effective course of action to take. Nevertheless, direct city or town involvement, as outlined below, may ultimately be the best way to reduce speeding in your neighborhood.
Motorists commonly speed on streets that are too straight and wide open. Traffic calming devices can slow the speeds of motorists on such streets. 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.
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,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.
Depending on the characteristics of your street, neighborhood, and corresponding traffic speeds and volumes, your community's traffic 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 the Pedestrian Facilities Users Guide, 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 (spaced appropriately 300 to 500 feet apart) to have the desired effect so that motorists won't speed up between devices. For a brief overview of the type of traffic calming devices that may be appropriate for your neighborhood, click here or click on one of the devices listed to the right.
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 calmingthose with the greatest safety concerns or most excessive traffic conditionswill 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.
Along streets with fast-moving traffic, the best way to make pedestrians feel safer may be to make the sidewalks as safe as possible. Sidewalks that are directly next to fast moving traffic cause pedestrians to feel vulnerable, especially if the traffic is heavy and has a larger percentage of trucks and buses. Alternatively, sidewalks that are separated from moving traffic by a distance of several feet buffer the pedestrians from the traffic. In sum, sidewalks that are separate from the street provide a number of advantages over sidewalks that abut the street - click here to view the pedestrian.org article, "Sidewalks placement: What are the advantages of setting back the sidewalk with a planting strip?" Sidewalks that are separated from the street can provide pedestrians with an extra sense and degree of safety, especially if that area is planted with shrubs or trees. According to the Pedestrian Facilities Users Guide, a buffer zone of at least 1.2 to 1.8m (4 to 6ft) is desirable and landscapers generally need a 5 to 6ft wide area to accommodate trees and bushes. A lane of parked cars or a bike lane can also buffer pedestrians from traffic. If there is construction work that will be done on your street, ask that the sidewalk design be done carefully and wisely.
Ask for more police enforcement
If you believe that people routinely drive too fast on your street, call your police department. First, the police or another agency will conduct a speed study that will be used to identify the specific problem and when and where the speeding is occurring. The results of the study may find that a traffic calming treatment would be most appropriate or they may find that extra police patrols need to be assigned to the trouble spot. When you call the police department, be prepared to provide details about speeding on your street. Let them know the specific location, the time of day, and the day of the week speeding usually occurs so that they have a good idea of what to expect.
Even if your community's police department can provide the extra enforcement resources, the enforcement can only be temporary. Accordingly, it is a good idea to also follow some of the recommendations outlined above, such as looking into the installation of a traffic calming device since traffic calming is a self-enforcing mechanism and police resources aren't necessary. Additionally, a good resource which may help you and your police department identify your neighborhood's problem is the Department of Justice's "Speeding In Residential Areas" guide, available here.
Some communities have found that camera radar enforcement systems have been effective. Soon after a camera radar enforcement system was used in Fort Collins, Colorado, overall compliance to the speed limit rose from 17 percent to 38 percent. In some jurisdictions, the relatively inexpensive protective boxes in which speed cameras are placed are mounted in many locations, leaving drivers uncertain as to which boxes actually contain cameras at any particular time. As controversial as camera radar enforcement has been, there is no doubt that it has raised the awareness about speeding and its consequences. To make camera radar enforcement more acceptable to the public and elected officials, the speed limits must be reasonable and well-signed. The community must understand that the goal of this enforcement tool is to improve safety and not to spy or generate revenue.
Ask your city or town to undertake a community- or neighborhood-wide public education campaign
Education can be a powerful tool in reducing neighborhood speeding. A community-wide public education campaign recently undertaken by a committee composed of transportation, police, community planning, and fire officials in Ft. Collins, Colorado, aimed to remind motorists to drive the speed limit; obey signs and traffic signals; and watch out for children, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Ft. Collins' campaign involved:
- radio ads;Though the effectiveness of this campaign is impossible to quantify, it is likely that the campaign succeeded in changing the social acceptability of speeding. Other ways to capture the attention of speeding motorists: According to the US Department of Justice's Speeding in Residential Areas guide, painting speed limits or "SLOW" on the road surface, in combination with posting roadside signs, may help reduce speeds. Additionally, speeds may be reduced by narrowing the travel lanes. This can be done by installing a painted bike lane or striped shoulder along the street in addition to a centerline. This technique may also be used to preserve space along the street for bicyclists and create a separation between pedestrians and motor vehicles. Finally, strobe light signals, flashing signals, and warning signs painted in eye-catching fluorescent colors can improve drivers' awareness of special hazards and the presence of pedestrians and may reduce speeding. Your community may have a special approach for speeding in school zones. The creation or an extension of a school zone may involve signs, road painting, signals, traffic calming devices, or enhanced police enforcement in the blocks immediately surrounding schools.
The City of Portland: http://www.trans.ci.portland.or.us/trafficcalming/how/HOW.HTM
Mayors Traffic Safety Initiative, Ft. Collins, Colorado: http://www.usmayors.org/chhs/traffic/best_traffic_initiative_collins.htm
The Federal Highway Administration. "Speeding in Rural Areas." http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/fourthlevel/pdf/Speeding_in_Rural%20Areas_1-22.pdf
Scott, Michael S. 2001. "Speeding in Residential Areas." The Problem-Oriented Guide for Police Series, United States Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/mime/open.pdf?Item=284
Institute of Traffic Engineers, "Traffic Calming for Communities." http://www.ite.org/traffic/index.html
Institute of Traffic Engineers, "Traffic Calming: State of the Practice." http://www.ite.org/traffic/tcstate.htm#tcsop
Wetmore, John Z., 1999, "Sidewalks placement: What are the advantages of setting back the sidewalk with a planting strip?" http://www.pedestrians.org/tips.htm
Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, 2004, Pedestrian Safety Guide and Countermeasure Selection System. http://www.walkinginfo.org/pedsafe
Federal Highway Administration, 2001, "The Effects of Traffic Calming Measures on Pedestrian and Motorist Behavior." http://www.walkinginfo.org/rd/for_ped.htm#calm