OPINION - Traffic Calming

SoapboxTraffic Calming in my opinion is a good idea on paper but mostly ineffective in reality. Many municipalities are starting Traffic Calming measures however few are successful in achieving what is effective.

One of my nearby municipalities, the Corporation of Delta, started Traffic Calming measures several years ago. They installed Speed Humps along roadways and small Traffic Circles at various intersections. Although in theory and on paper these are effective, I believe they lead to other negatives.

Speed Humps are effective in slowing some traffic however, most drivers do not proceed effectively over them. If the speed limit on a roadway is 50km/h then there is no reason, or should be no reason, for a driver to brake to 30km/h or lower every time they approach and proceed over a Speed Hump. I can think of one stretch of roadway in the Corporation of Delta which is a 50km/h speed zone that has 5 Speed Humps and I've witnessed drivers break to 30km/h or lower for each Speed Hump. This creates other negatives such as increased potential for rear-end collisions, traffic delay, as well as aggressive driving by those behind the driver that feels it necessary to brake. The 2 main reasons for these negatives in my opinion are lack of driving skill or knowledge by the breaking driver and/or the Speed Humps are of inappropriate size requiring a vehicle to slow down to successful negotiate it without potential damage.

Traffic Circles vs. Roundabouts are they the same thing? In Europe for example primarily large multi-laned multi-directional structures are known as Roundabouts and I believe are effective in allowing many directions of traffic to enter and exit without the need for a Traffic Signal. In North America, and in the Corporation of Delta, they have taken the idea of Roundabouts and modified them to Traffic Circles replacing Stop Signs at Intersections. Most of these Traffic Circles are ineffective. They are too small to negotiate safely at a reasonable speed as it's impossible to see traffic approaching from most of the other 3 directions of travel due to the size of the circle, blocked lines of sight due to trees, houses and other objects; even the straight ahead direction is blocked by city beautician built right into the middle of the Traffic Circle preventing a driver from seeing oncoming traffic and/or pedestrians directly on the other side.

Overall, I believe Traffic Calming is necessary and essential in certain areas but in my opinion, many municipalities are not doing it effectively. The Traffic Calming measures many municipalities are currently putting into place might deter some traffic or slow down some drivers on a roadway but increase other negatives as a result. Municipalities should come up with effective Traffic Calming that have fewer negatives instead of putting in Traffic Calming just to be able to say they have it.



I think the Wikipedia page on Traffic Calming is well worth a look, lots of information there (including pictures) as well as depth.  The key question for the engineers is, what can they do to make residential areas calmer and quieter and more inhabitable - and this includes deliberate deterrents to drivers trying to get from one place to another; almost inevitably, this means slowing them down.

Speed bumps/humps have been in use in many jurisdictions for a long time, now.  In the UK, they're often referred to as 'Sleeping Policemen'.  They can vary a lot in terms of how they affect your car at different speeds (the suspension design in the vehicle along with the weight will also make quite a difference).  There are some wicked double-humps in some of Vancouver City's back lanes - drive them at or under 20 km/hr and it's a smooth undulation; but if you fail to notice them (easy to do at night, as they're deliberately not marked) and you are travelling too fast, then the first one will elevate your car sharply, then just as it comes down again, compressing the suspension hard, the second one will snap your jaw shut with the impact!  Brilliant design, in my opinion, as it achieves exactly what's intended by keeping vehicle speeds legal and reasonable for conditions.

Speed humps do make some drivers nervous, and they perhaps slow down more than necessary (depending on your point of view); but then, their whole purpose is to slow cars down, so mission accomplished.  It's up to EVERY driver to keep sufficient following distance from the vehicle ahead, and to pay proper attention to conditions, to ensure that they don't rear-end the driver in front of them; if they do, then this will be 100% their fault, and they will hopefully receive a ticket under Section 162 (1), with demerits going on their license as well - there's simply no excuse for it, period.

The question is asked: "Traffic Circles vs Roundabouts - are they the same thing?"  The most thorough answer to that is probably going to be found in the ICBC 'Learn to Drive Smart' publication, under Intersections.  Generally speaking (though not always), a Circle will not have any road markings in terms of a centre-line or island on approach, or any road signs other than the black & white 'Keep right of the Divider' signs plonked in the middle of it facing in all directions.  It's my interpretation of the MVA that right-of-way is somewhat ambiguous in these uncontrolled intersections per Section 173 (1), but will typically be regarded as a shared responsibility.  A Roundabout will typically be larger, sometimes multi-laned, with a triangular boulevard or painted triangular island at the centre of the roads approaching it, 'bending' traffic to the right, as it were; and there will absolutely be 'Yield' signs facing everyone on their approach.  As I like to think of it, simplistically - the person already in it, owns it.  A lawyer - or judge - addressing this issue might simply ask the driver who proceeded past their 'Yield' sign into a collision with a vehicle in the Roundabout "what part of 'Yield' do you not understand"?

There are drawbacks as well as benefits to anything.  If you compare the Canadian/American style 4-Way Stop to the European style Roundabout, then the 4-Way will require less real estate for sure; but when traffic volumes are at their peak, the Roundabout will be about 33% more efficient in terms of how many vehicles will get through the intersection in a given amount of time, which is remarkable.  Oh, if you're interested in arcane legal trivia, there's no such thing as a 4-Way Stop in BC; you'll never find a reference to this device in the mighty Motor Vehicle Act. 

Meanwhile, let's go back to that nice leafy old neighbourhood with single family homes, parks, schools, folks sitting out on the porch gossiping with their neighbours, etc (are you getting the atmosphere, here, I'm not a gifted writer lol) with relatively narrow streets; oftentimes, due to parked cars on each side of the road, there's only enough room left for cars to travel down the middle in one direction, so people will politely pull over to allow an oncoming car through; but that's OK, because traffic volumes are low.  (A word of warning - I think traffic circles are absolutely brilliant, so this is where I'll be going with this ... )

Chances are that back in the dawn of time, whenever two of these roads came together to make an intersection, the traffic engineers didn't even think to put up any controlling signs.  Why bother?  So long as drivers are cautious, and remember always to drive at a speed that will allow them to stop within the range of their vision, as well as to check not only their own street but also the cross street for any Yield or Stop signs; then as long as they give right of way to the more or less simultaneous arrival of another vehicle approaching from their right, then signs are superfluous.  When I first got my license, some 40-odd years ago, uncontrolled intersections in residential neighourhoods were the most common; people knew this, respected it, and drove accordingly.

But as traffic volumes rose, drivers tended to become more hurried and harried, yet (ironically) less attentive; and when two cars both try to barrel through an intersection at the same time, resulting in a T-bone crash, it's a pretty horrendous collision.  Back in the seventies, it was estimated that something like 30% of fatalities were occurring in uncontrolled intersections!

So, if you're a traffic engineer, what to do?  Some kind of control is called for; the volume of traffic at this type of quiet intersection doesn't justify a 4-Way Stop, let alone a Traffic Signal, so the only logical thing to do is turn it into a 2-Way Stop, putting the primary onus (see Section 175) on the drivers facing the Stop signs to give right of way to those on the cross-street.

For the longest time, in many areas, these 2-Way Stop intersections worked well enough.  But it's often hard for those faced with the Stop signs to see traffic on the cross street; you have to creep out so far due to all the parked cars, and the fact is, it's impossible to look both right and left at the same time because human beings aren't designed that way.  Meanwhile, as traffic volumes increase (often due to impatient drivers avoiding backups and snarls on the arterials where they ought to be) you once again find increasing volumes, travelling too fast for conditions on the so-called 'main road' (or maybe now the MVA would term it the 'through highway').  Drivers who are constantly rat-racing through what is supposed to be a quiet neighbourhood, without regard for anything but their own need for expedience.  And meanwhile, more and more noise is being created by the drivers facing the Stop signs as they jerk to a stop (more or less, and often forgetting to look for pedestrians and crosswalks, even when schools are nearby) then accelerate away when they figure it's safe.  And of course, if there is a collision, then kaboom, it's a biggie, even though cars now (as compared to the seventies) will have reinforced door beams and latches that don't burst open on impact.

So, if you're a traffic engineer, what to do?  Well, you take a look at how other jurisdictions around the world have dealt with the problem and you realize that a device like a traffic circle is actually pure genius.  

  • It slows everybody down, yet without making anybody stop for no reason.  That is totally efficient!
  • It simplifies conflicts, and separates them.  Notwithstanding the possibility of pedestrians, each driver's primary potential conflict will be the vehicle arriving from his left, already in the circle; once this has been dealt with, his next concern will be the vehicle arriving from his right.  Wow.
  • Because these conflicts have been simplified and separated, the driver is more likely to notice pedestrians, either directly or peripherally.  Because there are no marked crosswalks or right-of-way signs, pedestrians are more likely to check in all directions (though serendipitously the number of directions that conflicting vehicles could be arriving from is now reduced).
  • If there actually is a collision between two drivers who are either so blind or stupid that they still can't negotiate the situation without coming together, then at least it will be at a 'soft' angle, much less likely to cause trauma and injury to either the vehicles or their occupants.

And that, dear reader, is why I think that the best way to keep quiet residential neighbourhoods calm, and safe, and liveable, is to throw away the Stop signs and build Traffic Circles instead.  

You can even grow flowers and vegetables in the middle of them - maybe even a shrubbery - so it's a win-win-win for everybody.  yes


I Agree with Rasher...

Mainly because I couldn't read the essay byCompetentDrivingBC. Now, if he had pictures? cheeky

Made me laugh!

I do go on a bit sometimes, eh?  

Traffic Calming

That was an essay, but very informative and I totaly agree.

I have seen other forms of traffic callming such as wider sidewalks and Islands causing traffic to slow down in School Zones (Crofton, BC for example)

Traffic slows down for the School Zone and in Residential Areas where they used to drive too fast.

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