What would happen if traffic calming ruled our streets?

Mike Skene and Jim Sproul
The Next City
September 21, 1998

The Next City Asked Mike Skene, transportation manager for the City of Victoria, and Jim Sproul, neighborhood activist, to comment

Neighborhood roads would be safer. Traffic calming — which includes getting the community involved in decision making, employing landscaping and esthetics to influence driver behavior, and designing roads to be self-enforcing and self-explaining to drivers — decreases accidents, reducing vehicle insurance premiums, medical insurance, and lawyers fees. The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia agrees that neighborhoods with traffic calming had fewer accidents. When accidents and other mishaps do occur, traffic-calmed neighborhoods are more accessible to emergency vehicles than neighborhoods that use road closures and one-way streets to combat traffic problems.

Neighborhoods would be more secure. Many large American cities find that traffic calming combats criminals. Slow get-away speeds through neighborhoods deter drug dealing, prostitution, drive-by shootings, and home invasions.

Outdoor social activity would increase. Traffic calming supports neighborhood watch programs, creates respect for the community, and is more conducive to walking and cycling as an alternative to driving.

Property values would increase, not only bringing pride to the neighborhood but also serving as a catalyst to economic regeneration — a significant benefit in downtown core neighborhoods.

Long-term costs would be reduced. Although traffic calming has high initial and ongoing maintenance costs, economic regeneration, increased tax revenues from higher valued properties, and less wear and tear on neighborhood roads translate into lower long-run costs. By creating neighborhood pride, traffic calming also encourages residents to maintain boulevards, sweep gutters, and pick up leaves, balancing any short-term increase in maintenance costs.

City politicians would meddle constantly in our neighborhoods. Local politicians, looking for visible projects that might leapfrog them into higher office, are already modifying the very nature of our lives by installing various traffic-calming devices — including traffic circles, speed bumps, curb extensions, and concrete barriers — often without the citizens’ knowledge or consent. A year and a half ago, the vast majority of residents in my North Toronto neighborhood were shocked to find that the city had put four concrete barriers at each intersection (84 in total). After a series of residents meetings, the city agreed to a vote on the barriers, and over 72 per cent of the residents wanted them removed immediately. While some communities may want traffic calming, my neighborhood’s experience shows that grandstanding politicians shouldn’t plow ahead without their constituents’ approval.

Streets would become ugly, reducing property values. The barriers in my neighborhood came in a variety of shapes and sizes, but most were 4-feet-high and 6-feet-long concrete monstrosities that caused home prices to plummet, on an average of 10 to 15 per cent.

Streets would become unsafe. The barriers in my neighborhood resulted in narrow roadways — especially dangerous in wet and snowy weather — that increased accidents by 50 per cent. Also, children played on the barriers, dangerously close to traffic.

Cities would waste their money. Not only is traffic calming expensive (the city spent $450,000 in my community), it often fails to reduce traffic. In my neighborhood, residents create 90 per cent of the traffic. Instead of discouraging what was in reality non-existent outside traffic, the expensive barriers simply made driving more difficult for residents.

City politicians would meddle constantly in our neighborhoods. Local politicians, looking for visible projects that might leapfrog them into higher office, are already modifying the very nature of our lives by installing various traffic-calming devices — including traffic circles, speed bumps, curb extensions, and concrete barriers — often without the citizens’ knowledge or consent. A year and a half ago, the vast majority of residents in my North Toronto neighborhood were shocked to find that the city had put four concrete barriers at each intersection (84 in total). After a series of residents meetings, the city agreed to a vote on the barriers, and over 72 per cent of the residents wanted them removed immediately. While some communities may want traffic calming, my neighborhood’s experience shows that grandstanding politicians shouldn’t plow ahead without their constituents’ approval.

Streets would become ugly, reducing property values. The barriers in my neighborhood came in a variety of shapes and sizes, but most were 4-feet-high and 6-feet-long concrete monstrosities that caused home prices to plummet, on an average of 10 to 15 per cent.

Streets would become unsafe. The barriers in my neighborhood resulted in narrow roadways — especially dangerous in wet and snowy weather — that increased accidents by 50 per cent. Also, children played on the barriers, dangerously close to traffic.

Cities would waste their money. Not only is traffic calming expensive (the city spent $450,000 in my community), it often fails to reduce traffic. In my neighborhood, residents create 90 per cent of the traffic. Instead of discouraging what was in reality non-existent outside traffic, the expensive barriers simply made driving more difficult for residents.

Jim Sproul

Mike Skene

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