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How effective are traffic calming measures?

Many people hear about ways that drivers can help improve road safety by keeping their attention on the road and driving defensively. However, cities try to help enhance safety by adjusting the physical design of the road as well.

Recently, Seattle has adopted many of these strategies–called traffic calming–to help keep our roads safer. But are these measures helping?

What does traffic calming look like?

The strategy to calm traffic and improve safety stems from efforts across the globe, mainly from the United Kingdom and Germany. And these measures often appear as:

  • Adding speed bumps and medians
  • Narrowing roads to slow speed
  • Raising intersections
  • Replacing intersections with roundabouts
  • Giving more room for pedestrians to cross
  • Adding wider bicycle lanes
  • Texturing pavement

The goal of implementing this kind of infrastructure is to reduce the chance of traffic accidents, as well as the severity of these accidents.

However, there are some issues with traffic calming strategies

There is no widespread evidence of how effective traffic calming is, mostly because different tactics have varying effects in different areas.

For example, the National Association of City Transportation Officials stated that some efforts in Minnesota, such as curb treatments, did reduce vehicle speeds. But that same strategy might not work as well in Washington neighborhoods.

That is because the Federal Highway Administration identified a few issues with traffic calming, including:

  • The lack of design standards proven to improve traffic safety
  • Potential legal issues should traffic calming efforts not work
  • The fact that traffic calming only works in low-volume areas, mainly residential areas

However, many Seattle residents state that traffic calming in their neighborhoods has done nothing to improve safety.

What can we do when traffic calming does not work?

According to KOMO News, the West Seattle area added speed cushions to help reduce speeds on Beach Drive SW, an area known for racing.

The racing puts motorists and pedestrians alike in danger, and the city hoped that the road cushions would help reduce drivers’ speed. Unfortunately, the news report states that drivers hardly use their brakes as they speed over the cushions.

If traffic calming efforts do not work, then drivers must step up. Because even with traffic calming, it is still essential for drivers to be aware of their surroundings and ensure they drive responsibly.

There are reckless drivers out there, but the more people who commit to driving defensively, the safer our roads can become.