News: CJ Exclusives

JLF: Traffic Calming Risky, Ineffective

Report says humps, bumps and roundabouts actually cause congestion

Raleigh drivers can expect longer commutes, increased congestion, and greater risks for people needing emergency services as long as the city focuses on “traffic calming,” according to a new John Locke Foundation policy report.

“Traffic calming is just the latest fad from professional planners,” said Jenna Ashley Robinson, JLF program assistant and the report’s author. “This seemingly worthwhile goal has significant detrimental consequences.”

Traffic calming involves various means of slowing cars. They include speed humps and bumps, narrower travel lanes, raised crosswalks, raised median islands, and traffic circles or roundabouts. Converting one-way streets to two-way traffic also addresses planners’ traffic-calming goals.

“The construction of roundabouts on Hillsborough Street north of N.C. State University and the conversion of downtown streets from one-way to two-way near the state Capitol will aggravate the city’s traffic congestion problem and slow emergency vehicles, posing a threat to human life,” Robinson said.

Emergency workers have pointed out the threat to human life, Robinson said. “Scientific analysis predicts that deaths in a community rise due to delays of emergency vehicles caused by traffic calming measures.”

One study suggested heart-attack patients would be 85 times more likely to die for every minute an emergency crew is delayed by traffic calming devices. “Because of delays and the risk to human life, firefighters and emergency service personnel across the country oppose traffic calming,” Robinson said.

Safety risks are also tied to the conversion of one-way streets to two-way traffic, Robinson said. “The conversion leads to more than just clogged roads and slower commutes,” she said. “One study found that converting two-way streets to one-way caused a 38 percent decrease in accidents. Pedestrians benefit particularly from one-way streets. A study by the Research Triangle Institute called one-way streets ‘the most effective urban counter-measure’ to pedestrian accidents.”

Robinson also takes aim at Raleigh’s plan to build a series of roundabouts on Hillsborough Street. “It will cost citizens at least $17 million and do little to relieve congestion,” she said. “Building a roundabout every 900 feet for 1.2 miles will divert traffic to other roads.

“Planners predict that 30 percent of the 19,000 cars a day currently traveling on Hillsborough will instead add to traffic on Western Boulevard and Wade Avenue — streets that are already congested.”

Traffic calming also consumes local-government budgets, Robinson said. “Based on ‘starter ideas’ sketched by study consultants for one neighborhood in Raleigh, it is estimated that the cost of a ‘typical’ neighborhood traffic calming project might total $2 million.”

Raleigh has studied more than 70 streets for possible traffic calming, Robinson said, and the number could grow as other neighborhoods respond to the program. Now is the time to rethink those plans.

“It isn’t clear that traffic-calming devices effectively combat safety hazards or protect pedestrians,” Robinson said. “When traffic calming reduces accidents, it is at considerable cost in time, money, and emergency response.”