As anyone who has tried to cross a busy highway on foot or avoid fast-moving cars while walking from the parking lot to the front door of a store understands, it can be dangerous for pedestrians and automobiles to coexist. Realizing this danger, urban planners and other designers of infrastructure are increasingly turning to traffic calming, a technique that usually incorporates a variety of physical objects to change the behavior of drivers and improve safety conditions for pedestrians, bicyclers, and others not using a automobile of some kind.
Traffic calming endeavors to create good-looking, safe streets and improve the living conditions for people in a given area. Increasingly, as people understand the problems that come with depending on fossil fuel-powered vehicles, traffic calming is also attempting to create spaces where people will be more apt to walk instead of travel by gas or diesel-fueled cars, motorcycles, and trucks. This is achieved through techniques that promote slower driving speeds, reduce the need for traffic cops to patrol an area, and lessen the frequency of vehicular collisions as well as the damage such accidents can cause to life and property.
Both aesthetic and safety concerns drive those who use traffic calming to improve the living conditions in a city, town, or neighborhood. After all, they reason, there is no reason why traffic control has to make the community look worse. The traffic calming techniques themselves were first developed in the 1960s in Europe and then were adopted by many communities in the United States. Seattle, Washington, and Berkeley, California, were the first places traffic calming was used in America, but it has since spread across the country.
Those who have never heard of traffic calming will quickly recognize they have encountered it before as some of the most common traffic calming techniques are listed. First, there is the use of impediments such as speed bumps to slow traffic in a given area. Much of the time speed bumps are used on the streets surrounding schools to slow cars and keep children safe. They are also a familiar sight in parking lots. Variations of the speed bump include raised crosswalks that function in virtually the same way as speed bumps. Traffic can also be slowed with special paving tricks like the simulation of brick roads. For some reason, most people drive at slower speeds when the road is not pure asphalt.
Traffic calming also seeks both to slow and redirect traffic through the use of traffic circles and roundabouts. These intersections can keep traffic moving safely without the use of stoplights or other devices to make drivers stop. Traffic circles are placed wherever several roads come together, and they force drivers to circle a central point of some kind to access their road. Drivers entering the circle must yield to drivers already on the circle, and they might have to drive around nearly 360 degrees to get to the road they are seeking. A roundabout is merely a traffic circle on a larger scale used at the intersection of more heavily-traveled roads.
There is little doubt that traffic calming will continue to be an important part of urban planning well into the future. As it is used, residents find that their neighborhoods are safer and more enjoyable.
The following sites offer more detailed information on traffic calming:
• Arlington Traffic Calming — information on Arlington, Virginia, and its traffic calming program
• Appropriate Traffic Calming Techniques for Small Iowa Communities — these reports on traffic calming in Iowan small towns are applicable to small towns everywhere
• Bicycling Info: Traffic Calming — a site about bicycle safety has established this page on traffic calming and bicycles
• Cambridge Community Development: Traffic Calming — all about traffic calming from the government of Cambridge, Massachusetts
• FHWA: Traffic Calming — United States Federal Highway Administration page on traffic calming
• Neighborhood Traffic Calming Resource — an introduction to the practice and benefits of traffic calming
• Traffic Calming 101 — PBS page on traffic calming techniques
• Traffic Calming Encyclopedia — definitions of traffic calming-related terms
• Traffic Calming Handbook — Pennsylvania Department of Transportation handbook on traffic calming
• Traffic Calming Library — searchable archive of documents related to traffic calming from the Institute of Transportation Engineers
• Traffic Calming.net — a British engineer has developed this page about traffic calming and the measures employed in it
• Traffic Calming.org — Fehr & Peers Transportation Consultants have developed this page on the history and science of traffic calming
• Traffic Calming Tools — the pros and cons of several traffic calming tools
• Transportation Alternatives — information on traffic calming from an organization devoted to pedestrian safety and rights
• Why Don't We Do It in the Road? — a good article on salon about how traffic calming can work
Written By: Edson Farnell | Email |