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Traffic calming is an attempt to strike a balance between vehicular traffic and everyone else who uses the street: pedestrians, bikers, business people and residents. That balance tilts away from cars. Some see traffic calming as a way of "reclaiming" local streets from a traditional domination by automobiles. Others see it more modestly as a way of trying to restore the safety and peace in neighborhoods that are becoming overwhelmed with speeding traffic.
In many ways, this approach upends the traditional goals of traffic engineering, which strive to move auto traffic quickly and efficiently. Roads have been designed as wide, straight routes, with few obstructions to the motorist's vision or progress, and strict barriers or space between vehicles and pedestrians. Traffic calming, by contrast, seeks to do the opposite.
The goal is to slow vehicular traffic, and in some cases discourage drivers from using certain roads.
By altering the design of the road, introducing obstacles, and otherwise making the path a bit more difficult for vehicles, motorists will be forced to drive more slowly and carefully. There are dozens of techniques for this, ranging from narrowing the roadway, to creating medians, to allowing on-street parking, to installing speed humps.
Yes. Before-and-after traffic studies in many municipalities show a reduction of speed and a reduction in the traffic volume after calming changes are made. Many proponents believe it also reduces accidents, though that claim is less well documented.
Yes. Police, fire and ambulance response times will be slowed. Some designs bring pedestrians, parked vehicles and bicyclists in closer proximity to moving cars, which may increase safety risks.
Slower vehicle traffic could create traffic back-ups. Not all drivers will navigate the obstacles designed to slow their speed. And roadway alterations require construction costs.
Citizen surveys in some municipalities show traffic calming to be the most requested and most popular government program. Other city councils have been stormed by irate residents demanding the removal of speed bumps or traffic circles. The difference seems to lie in having a clear and predetermined program, objective criteria for adopting traffic calming, a variety of options, and extensive public participation in the planning phase.
There are dozens of variations of traffic calming techniques, limited only by the imagination of architects, motivated residents and road engineers. For a more thorough list and definitions, please see the glossary. Here are some of the more common techniques, with tips on their advantages and disadvantages.