Traffic calming

From ArticleWorld

Traffic calming is a set of strategies and tools designed by traffic engineers and urban planners in order to reduce the adverse impact of traffic on residential areas, pedestrians and bicyclists, primarily by reducing vehicle speed. Pioneered in the 1970s in the the Netherlands (where it began), Germany, and Denmark, many of these ideas such as speed bumps, roundabouts, and street narrowing, have been adopted in many parts of the world. The most salient feature of traffic calming measures is that they are meant to be self-enforcing. There is considerable debate now, particularly in the United States, about how much security or insecurity these measures actually afford to bicyclists, and what the environmental and social cost is of them. Second generation traffic calming strategies are being developed which, rather than separate automobiles from human activities, work on the premise that drivers are forced to be alert if there are fewer controls and barriers.

Strategies and tools

In the Netherlands, schemes called 'Woonerf' used speed bumps, road narrowing and chicanes to give priority to pedestrians and residents on streets. The name means 'living street', and the idea was to regenerate neighborhood life by reclaiming streets. The idea eventually developed into a four-pronged approach to lower speeds and therefore fatalities. Vertical deflections included speed bumps, tables or curb extensions and cushions, and rumblers. Horizontal deflections such as chicanes. Road narrowing combined with balanced traffic in both directions lowers vehicular speeds while and traffic islands provide pedestrians a safety net. On larger roads tree planting, median diverters, and roundabouts are common, while systematic road closures and one-way streets are also common. Boom gates, cul-de-sacs and raised pedestrian crossings are some of the other measures.


Traffic calming measures are criticized on the grounds that often motorists speed up after they have passed through one, frustrated by the interruption and wanting to regain 'lost time'. The ever-increasing incidences of road rage are also thought to be exacerbated by such measures. Traffic slowing measures can seriously slow down emergency service vehicles such as ambulances, fire trucks and police vans, particularly during rush hour. Speed bumps are now perceived as dangerous to motorists, and some people also argue that not enough studies have been done to determine the real effectiveness of traffic calming. Finally, it is argued that the environmental impact on noise and air quality and loss of productivity and time are not accounted for.

Second generation developments

Second generation traffic calming strategies are based on the idea that if motorists are made to feel that they are slowing down naturally, they will be less frustrated and less inclined to drive fast the minute the obstruction as past. These tactics also use concepts from behavioral psychology and evolutionary biology which suggests that the few man-made obstacles to a motorist, and the fewer barriers between them and pedestrians and cyclists, they become naturally more attentive to traffic conditions, registering and reacting as they normally do to other stimuli to the reflexes. They are therefore more careful and safe. As these ideas develop, urban planners and traffic engineers say that Engineering, Education, and Enforcement still remain the keys to reducing fatalities on the streets.