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Traffic Calming: Once Again On The City Commission Agenda

City staff is still searching for a balance to its Neighborhood Traffic Calming Policy (PlanforTC). We’ve written about it before and there hasn’t been that many changes to the draft since last time. That said, it is no longer written in a negative voice. It seems that advice to create a proactive policy was accepted.  I still think it is overly cautious and narrowly focused, but if the new master plan is written to make traffic calming a basic product of all reconstruction projects, this citizen initiated policy might be a nice complement.

However, it remains cautious, if not restrictive, and unnecessarily creates a divide for city streets between neighborhood vs. non-neighborhood streets (Framework vs. non-framework). Who is going to champion the great divides in town that are part of our neighborhoods, but that sit in between “associations?” 14th, 8th, Garfield, W. Front are all mixed use corridors where residents deserve healthy, vibrant streets.

Narrower Streets: a great start

It also gives too much authority to adjacent property owners. This last point is critical because it extends the ideology that the ROW in front of our homes is “personal” space that is shared with the masses vs. the idea that it is the commons and we all have a right to say what investments we desire city-wide. The policy also fails to recognize that renters are citizens who are valuable assets to our community. Why does an absentee landlord have more authority than someone living in a neighborhood? I think a petition of 50% of residents and/or property owners needs to be adopted.

Mayor Chris Bzdok’s latest post at Plan for TC sums up the process, objectives and financing well, and he is rightly asking for the city commission to make some changes before adopting it. As he argues, “If the city is serious about traffic calming, we need a policy designed to generate projects, not generate barriers to doing projects.” He has two specific concerns: the number of signatures required to initiate a project (a majority vs. a super majority) and the percentage of the project that the neighborhood requesting the project would be assessed. The plan now says 50-50, but the Mayor would like that changed to 25-75, where the City would pay for 75% of the project.

I support those two changes, as well as including residents, whether owners or renters, into the petitioning process. I also think definitions of what constitute a neighborhood need addressing so that we can better address what the plan calls the “framework” streets.

I have a disagreement in the language of the policy and with the Mayor’s assessment that traffic calming is used primarily to “reduce cut-through” traffic. Although traffic reduction may occur with a good traffic calming plan, the goals of traffic calming are primarily to create behavior that is more conducive to shared streets. I would rather have 2000-vpd pass by my house going 20-mph and traveling smoothly, than 600-vpd with many of them reaching 45-mph and revving up after each stop sign. This argument may need to wait for another day though and may be more properly addressed in the master plan and future complete streets ordinance. I just think traffic reduction is a much broader investment.

Tonight’s meeting is an opportunity to provide comment, but comments in support of the Mayor’s changes, and other suggestions, can and need to be sent into the City this week to make the final draft that the City commission will vote to adopt at their March 20th meeting. Tonight • 7pm • Governmental Center.

Related Traffic Calming Posts

  1. March 7, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    It is absolutely wonderful to hear so many people rallying around the concept of “traffic calming” — and yet I know, as a car driver I know, that those words are almost a red rag to a bull. I’m in a car (we are all except the most dedicated bicycle riders, in cars at some point) and I see arrayed against me an arsenal of restrictive signs: slow down, stop, children playing. Suddenly, and for no seemingly good reason, the road I am on narrows, or zig zaggs, or there is a bulge in the sidewalk.

    It is almost an obstacle course, a perverse maze, a restriction on my freedom, and as a car driver I hate it. It goes against the grain.

    However, I do believe the ultimate aim is, in cities, to slow cars down. We need to make the car driver feel it is his choice to slow down. He/she made the decision. There is no outside force. Common sense, the visual landscape, the very feel of the road makes him want to slow down.

    I am going to quote long passages from the book Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt, because the book says it best. A man called “Monderman had been called to rework a village…[he] did not have the budget for traffic-calming infrastructure. At a loss he merely suggested that the road simply be made more ‘villagelike.’ If the road looked more like a village road and less like the highways leading out of town, people would act accordingly….’I thought this must go wrong. There were no flowerpots, no chicanes. It was just a simple road in a village, nothing more.’ A month after the project was finished Monderman took a radar gun and measured the speed of cars passing through the village….the speed had dropped so much that he could not get a reading. ’The gun only functioned at thirty kilometers per hour,’ he recalled.”

    “What had happened? Monderman, in essence, had created confusion by blending the car, bike, and pedestrian realms. What had been a wide road with clearly marked delineations was suddenly something more complex.”

    I am on page 192 of Vanderbilt’s book and I could continue to quote the rest of the page and half of the following page. For instance, “ there is…a quite low curb….we have a feeling we belong to one another, when you isolate people from each other by a high curb, ’this is my space, this is mine,’ drivers drive faster. When you have a feeling that at this moment a child could drop in front of my car, you slow down.’”

    “’psychological traffic calming.’ Rather than hit people over the head with speed bumps they would resent and signs they would ignore, better results could be achieved if drivers were not actually aware that they were slowing down, or why. ’Mental speed bumps.’ is the delightful phrase used by David Engwicht….Engwicht argues that intrigue and uncertainty — the things that active cities are filled with — are the best remedies for traffic problems. Put a child’s bike on the side of the road instead of a speed bump; hang a weird sculpture instead of a speed limit sign.”

    “’That experience changed my whole idea about how to change behavior,’ Monderman told me [Tom Vanderbilt]. ’It proved that when you used the context of the village as a source of information, people are absolutely willing to change their behavior.”

    “woonerven — the word translates roughly into ’living yards’ — began to spring up in European cities in the early 1970s….suggesting that it was people who lived in cities and that cars were merely guests. Neighborhood streets were merely ‘rooms’, to be driven through, at no higher than walking speeds of 5 to 10 miles per hour, with drivers being mindful of the furniture and décor….Even today woonerven plans seem radical, with children’s sandboxes sitting cheek-by-jowl to the street and trees planted in the middle of traffic.”

    I have quoted extensively from the book because I cannot begin to say it as well as the book says it. The idea is still highly radical: do away with signs, make the car a guest, slow drivers down through psychological speed bumps, not physical speed bumps. But the greatest beauty of this scheme is that it costs very-very little money. Yes, there must be some road narrowing, some planting of trees in the middle of the street — but the essence is to make the whole setting so complex, so much like a real village — with bicycles & children & trees and dogs and everything else that makes a village vibrant — that car drivers must be pleasantly alert: look at all the activity around you. You are only one part of a complex equation, and you must slow down, navigate this complex really, pleasant, village landscape.

    Enjoy it all, don’t speed through it as if it were just one more piece of the highway.

  2. March 7, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) is one of the inspirations for the creation of this blog. Thank you for raising the topic, Henry.

    Our city engineer has actually talked about this and half-jokingly has said it’d be the best thing to do and make his job easier. The difference, I think, is that our streets lack design elements to simply “do away” with the signs-some streets are 36 feet wide and we also have some highways running through our city which don’t help create the feeling of entering a village. We also lack the use critical mass of people using the commons to create the shared use needed to slow drivers down.

    Still, it’s worth another look and to draw inspiration as to what we could do for very little money and a lot of innovation and creativity.

  3. Franny Bluhm
    March 13, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    I so totally agree about the difference between traffic that is slow and smooth versus the sound of engine exceleration and the hiss of airbrakes at the stop signs and other traffic barriers.

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