Friday, May 09, 2008

"Traffic Calming": The Butt-Plug Mentality

Katy Grimes, in the Sacramento Union, points out the deceit of "Traffic Calming" schemes, which are choking off a downtown Sacramento that is finally revitalizing.

At least some of the denizens of Midtown Sacramento and the Land Park areas, those who brought us the farce of "traffic calming", have a "butt-plug" mentality; they enjoy constipating the traffic flow for those who need to commute in or through the area. Many of them are Luddites who want us to ride unicycles whereever we go. (OK, bicycles, but anyone carrying groceries and children knows this to be unrealistic.)

No, I really don't care what people do in their private lives, but the metaphor is really appropriate when you think of the demographics of the "rainbow sector".

What to do? Give these neighborhoods a Traffic Enema; perhaps perhaps many Midtowners could appreciate that metaphor.

Here's how:

1. Reopen E and F, G and H, and S and T streets to one way traffic, signals timed appropriately. I have an old city map from 1964 which shows those streets as one ways east-west.

2. Reestablish 19th and 21st streets as one way all the way up to E and F streets, and all the way down through Land Park.

Now in the old days, 19th and 21st, E and F, G and H, and S and T Streets had three lanes going one way. I would do this differently. I would have two wider and safer one way lanes, with bike lanes on each side, the way P and Q streets currently are.

Perhaps 15th and 16th and J and L Streets could get the same "fewer but wider and safer lanes" treatment.

Note to drivers: this is NOT just a sop to bicyclists; bike lanes allow for easier parallel parking maneuvers and wider and safer, albeit fewer, remaining lanes.

The "Mexico City Solution" to traffic, using paint to make more lanes that are VERY narrow, just does NOT work, as anyone from that hell hole can tell you.

Why force Midtown open? Because "traffic calming" is EVIL, that's why!

The term "traffic calming" is simply an attempt to put a favorable "spin" on tactics used to ruin traffic flow (that is, obstruct, divert and slow traffic). Proponents of these tactics are usually persons who live along urban streets in areas known as "mixed neighborhoods" who object to motor vehicle traffic passing by their homes.

Although proponents usually couch their complaints in terms like "speeders" and "reckless drivers," the true irritant for "traffic calming" advocates is "heavy" traffic. Their desired objective is to divert traffic to other streets outside their neighborhood. The devices employed to accomplish this diversion of traffic include:
--inappropriate stop signs --speed humps and bumps
--cement "plugs" blocking streets (metaphoric "butt plugs" if you will)
--lane narrowing and vehicle turning obstructions, and
--absurdly low speed limits.

Only traffic lights (properly timed) are justifiable (for example at pedestrian crossings and busy intersections), the rest are simply hazards.

Increased traffic on residential streets is often caused by misguided and ill-informed management of the main arterials and collector streets. These streets are designed to carry most of the traffic, keeping it off of residential streets.

Misguided proponents of "traffic calming" always fail to realize that the reason they are seeing more traffic on their residential streets is because the same tactics have already been applied to main arterials and collector streets. These include improper installation of stop signs, mistimed traffic signals, and under-posted speed limits on the major arterials that have no relation to actual vehicle speeds. In Midtown, major arterials were actually REMOVED in an utterly perverted attempt to "calm" traffic, such as smoothly flowing one-way streets that were blocked off or were turned into two-way traffic jams. Throw in construction and congestion, and it is no surprise that residential streets are experiencing increased commuter traffic.

The solution to this problem is not to further obstruct traffic flow by pushing the problem into someone else's neighborhood. The real solutions are:

1. To upgrade and improve the traffic handling capabilities of main thoroughfares. This means implementing physical improvements, as well as raising speed limits (major boulevards only) and synchronizing traffic controls to accommodate actual vehicle speeds. If main streets provide convenient access between home, work and shopping destinations, motorists will use them, and stop taking alternate routes through residential neighborhoods.

2. To reconsider land use away from "mixed neighborhoods" in the affected area. Although it has become vogue to have "mixed neighborhoods" (residential, commercial and light industrial closely juxtaposed) in cities, the downside of mixed neighborhoods is very clear: People from outside the neighborhood will come into the neighborhood for the workplace, commercial interest, or recreational interest, and they will drive there to do so. Even if there is an efficient bus system and lack of parking in the neighborhood to discourage driving, that bus system in itself means heavy traffic! There would be a lot less traffic in a neighborhood if it was only residential.

3. Frankly, one real solution is for people in affected mixed neighborhood areas to GET OVER IT. The price of living in an area "where the action is" (an area within walking distance to lots of cafes, "night life", nifty boutiques, and office space) is to have increased traffic. That's simply a fact of life.

Midtown is located between downtown Sacramento and the Cal State University area, and contains many office workspaces, night clubs, cafes open late hours, historical landmarks like Sutter's Fort, two major hospitals, and an industrial park located on a former cannery site. All of which will bring in traffic into and through the area.

The "butt-plugs" who lobbied for these traffic hazards live in Midtown. Middle-of-town. Get it? If they wanted nice quiet neighborhoods, they should go live out in more residential neighborhoods without the commercial and office space nearby.

4. To construct bypasses when possible.


1. Know Your Enemy

Traffic obstruction advocates are local residents, usually few in number, who have decided to rid their street of unwanted traffic. They may use a collection of "politically correct" (sic) excuses about the evils of cars, but usually they are saner and they espouse a safety concern or the "it's for the children" argument. However, their overriding concern is most often "heavy traffic." Because they are local residents, they can attend public meetings and harangue elected officials, unlike motorists who simply pass through a community. The debate is usually one sided and the local officials eventually cave in to the demands for traffic obstruction installations. From their perspective, it's the easiest thing to do.

2. Know Your Advantages

If you also live in the community and you can attend public meetings, your influence will be equal to or greater than your opponents'. Your presence puts elected officials on notice that they can't eliminate the source of their aggravation by appeasing the other side. Now they have to contend with you, your allies, and your arguments.

3. Know Your Allies

Along with other residents in your neighborhood who do not relish more irritation in their daily travels, there are other sources of support to oppose traffic obstruction projects.

Devices that physically impede vehicle speeds hinder emergency response services such as the police, EMTs, and fire trucks. These same devices create problems for public works departments, road maintenance crews, and delivery services. Indeed, I wouldn't want to be an elderly person in an area affected by "traffic calming". If you have "fallen and you can't get up", Life-Alert won't help the paramedics in their attempt to dodge all the asinine traffic barriers.

Traffic engineers are often stymied in their attempts to stop the improper use of traffic control devices, like stop signs, because they have no support from the citizenry. They only hear demands from "squeaky wheels" who want a barrier on every corner to slow down traffic, or even block it entirely. If nobody is coming out in opposition to traffic obstruction, these engineers are less likely to fight the very council that determines their promotions and raises. They may be thrilled to find that there are people in the citizenry who understand that traffic obstruction goes against the general body of traffic engineering knowledge.

Representatives from such factions, combined with a few local residents, can provide formidable opposition to traffic obstruction projects. Also, you may find elected officials who oppose traffic obstruction projects.

4. Finding And Gathering Support

Approach the editors or reporters and let them know that you are forming a citizen's group to oppose traffic obstruction projects. With a little encouragement, the paper may do a story about your efforts. This is a tremendous opportunity to explain why you think traffic obstruction tactics are harmful to your community. Including your email address and telephone number will make it possible for potential supporters to contact you. If it is not possible to arrange for this kind of article, a letter to the editor can serve the same purpose. Do not be discouraged by a small response. If you are starting this fight alone, even one more person on your side will double your capabilities. Personal visits to the police and fire chief, public works superintendent, and the city traffic engineer may encourage them to work with you or suggest other supporters. Do not overlook local car clubs, businesses on affected streets, neighbors, and like-minded friends.

Of course, this all depends upon the local paper. If they are dominated by the sort of interests who want everyone to live in hives and ride unicycles wherever they go or other such Luddites, you won't get a fair hearing. But give it a try anyway.

5. Arguments Against Traffic Obstruction Devices

Traffic obstruction devices:

A. Can increase response time for emergency vehicles. When seconds matter, having to slow to pass over speed bumps and humps or navigate narrow roadways can mean the difference between life and death, or the loss of one's home. The fact that some of these devices can seriously damage emergency vehicles and other vehicles along the roadway is also a concern.

B. Can increase congestion on other streets and create problems in other neighborhoods. If traffic obstruction devices divert traffic to other streets, they may compound congestion problems that already exist in those areas. If not successful in diverting traffic to other streets, traffic obstruction devices will compound congestion problems on the streets on which they are installed.

C. Will increase vehicle wear and tear, air pollution, and noise. Braking and accelerating in response to speed bumps, speed humps, stop signs, and traffic signals increases fuel consumption and emissions. This can contradict other efforts to reduce emissions and contribute to a community becoming or remaining a "non-attainment" air quality zone, thereby being subjected to federal mandates and restrictions. (Of course, one suspects that for the Luddites, that's precisely the idea!)

D. Can increase street maintenance costs. Speed bumps and humps impede tree pruning and leaf cleaning equipment, a serious concern in older neighborhoods. Removable devices may soon be available, although they will require additional labor to install and remove them. Municipalities must maintain and repair stop signs and traffic signals, at taxpayer expense, of course. Barriers that impede leaf removal (already a BIG problem in Sacramento proper) are that much worse.

E. Increase a community's liability for accidents attributed to such devices.

F. May cause physical discomfort, even pain, for disabled persons or persons with physical ailments. Being jolted or jostled by speed bumps and humps can be painful for persons with injuries or painful illnesses.

G. Create neighborhood friction. Road rage is a growing phenomenon, and the "traffic calming" mentality has much to do with it. Frequently, the response to unnecessary stop signs is to angrily ignore them. One suspects that the growing popularity of jacked-up pickup trucks and very large sport-utility vehicles in Sacramento has a lot to do with the fact that they can drive over speed bumps and turn the corner on those "corner chokers."

Not all persons (not even most persons) on a given street will appreciate having to run an obstacle course every time they drive to or from home or their kids' school. Some traffic obstruction opponents blow their horns or yell verbal insults when having to slow or stop for speed bumps or humps. (Personally, I liked to blow my horn loud and long whenever client business took me to the Midtown Sacramento area with such asinine devices installed. When asked why I am doing so, I always reply, "for safety, because of the children, don't you know...")

6. Presenting Your Arguments

Again, use the local newspaper to broadcast your reasons for objecting to supposed "traffic calming" projects. A letter to the editor will again substitute for an actual article. Letters from multiple supporters (of your position) will add momentum to your efforts. Remember, local officials read "letters to the editor" to gauge local opinion.

Personal visits to local elected officials will put a human face on your arguments and will add credence to the degree of your sincerity. It also puts them on notice that you are not going to go away if they decide to ignore your concerns. Encourage your supporters to make similar visits and to regularly talk with their local elected officials.

Always arrange for someone to attend public meetings where "traffic calming" projects are likely to be discussed. If public notices do not list the topics to be discussed, your friends in the public works department, or an advocate on the council or board, can probably keep you on top of the issue, should it be a topic of discussion.

7. Solving The Problem

The mere presence of organized opposition will often stop the advance of traffic obstruction projects. However, heavy traffic in residential neighborhoods will continue, as will the agitation to reduce this traffic. If the problem is not corrected, your victory will be temporary.

A strategy that encourages traffic to move to major streets only will have the greatest effect on reducing through traffic on residential streets. Raising speed limits (on major boulevards only), synchronizing traffic lights, removing four-way stop signs, and improving access to roadside businesses will bring traffic back to the main arterials, where it belongs. You can present this as a "win-win" solution.

If you offer positive alternate courses of action, your municipality cannot argue that it has no choice but to install traffic obstruction devices. You will have proven that these devices do not solve the problems of traffic congestion. You will have shown that they create new and more serious problems for city departments, emergency services, and the general motoring public. You will have offered suggestions that will reduce traffic in all residential neighborhoods, not just the ones slated for traffic obstruction devices. Finally, you will have offered suggestions for improving traffic flow on the city's main thoroughfares.

Here's a great leaflet for people in neighborhoods considering "traffic calming" measures. Tailor it for your situation:


Here are some questions we thought you'd want the answers to. You may want to reconsider signing!

Fire at your house? Well, the fire truck will eventually arrive after it makes a complete stop at each hump. Time lost at each hump will be about 15-30 seconds. Sit tight, help will arrive - later.

Relative having a heart attack? The ambulance will be there - later.

Does your youngster have skates, a skateboard or a bicycle? Speed humps attract children into the street and into traffic. It's fun to jump those humps! The ambulance will be there - later!

Has leaf removal or storm drain gutters backing up been a problem? If it hasn't, it probably will be.

Is your house attractive? How will it look with two of those 2 1/2-feet-square "Speed Hump - 20 mph" signs (the color of this page) out in front? And those foot-wide zebra stripes on the hump? Lovely! Or maybe they won't be in front of YOUR house. Do you feel lucky?

What do you think will happen to the suspension and exhaust systems on your nice car at normal, legal speeds when you cross those humps at least twice a day? Ouch! It's hard on the brakes, too. And what about your wallet? Ouch!

Some vehicles, like delivery trucks and maybe your own small car, almost have to stop at speed humps. What happens when vehicles unexpectedly stop in traffic? Back to the repair shop!

Are speed humps good for the environment? No, the unnecessary slowing and accelerating they cause results in wasted fuel and increased air pollution.

Humps can cause noise pollution, too, because some drivers who aren't happy with them will lean on the horn button.

Any way you look at them, humps are a major nuisance, and drivers may indeed avoid them so that traffic increases on neighboring streets. In any case, even if you're the only one left driving on your street, you'll have the pleasure of bounding over those humps every day, again and again and again....

Next to last question: Who's paying the bill for installing or removing the humps? (Hint: It's not the city.) You are! Ouch!

Have you thought about signing that petition? We hope you'll reconsider.

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