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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Talking Transportation: Traffic Calming

By Jim Cameron

Special to WestportNow

You’ve seen the bumper stickers: “Slow down in town.” They’re an often futile attempt to encourage speeding motorists to be more respectful of the neighborhoods they zooming through, especially of the pedestrians. Image

I wouldn’t exactly call it road rage, but why is it that when we’re behind the wheel our goal is to get on down the road as fast as traffic will allow, the speed limit be damned?

Of course in our own neighborhoods our interests are reversed. We curse “those idiots” who speed down our local streets ignoring the signs—“Drive Like Your Kids Lived Here.”

Increasingly, local neighborhoods are serving as short cuts around clogged arterial streets, spreading out the traffic into our sleepy, bucolic ‘burbs. But there is a way to enforce the speed limit without radar traps. It’s what traffic engineers call “traffic calming.”

You might not know that the first U.S. city to develop a master plan for neighborhood traffic calming was Hartford. And the second city will be Stamford. 

Work is also underway in New Canaan and New Haven. More than just “speed bumps,” engineers have a slew of street redesigns in their repertoire that can force us to reduce our speed.  Among them:

Speed Tables: Think of these as extended speed bumps with a 6-foot-long ramp up, a 10-foot-long flat table and a 6-foot-long ramp down.

Roundabouts: Small traffic circles with landscaping in the center make us slow down as we go around them, eventually taking a right turn to continue our journey.

Chicanes: These are the stubby picket-fence-like mini-roadblocks seen on some private streets, alternating their placement on the right and left sides of the road, forcing drivers to make a zigzag maneuver down the street. 

The same effect can be achieved by placing parking spaces alternately on the right and left sides.

Bulb-Outs or Neck-Downs: These are extensions of the sidewalk into car parking areas at corner crossings. Again, you gotta slow down.

Sidewalks: It’s amazing how many of our communities lack these pedestrian amenities, forcing hoofers to compete for space on the asphalt with cars.  Sidewalks get pedestrians out of the traffic and encourage us to walk and leave the car at home.

Crosswalks: What a concept!  A place where pedestrians have the right-of-way over cars, sometimes even mid-block and without the need for stop signs or red lights.

Roadblocks and Mazes: These were inspired by anticrime efforts in drug dealing neighborhoods (“crime calming,”) making it hard for drive-through drug buyers to find their way in and out of a neighborhood. Local residents know how to maneuver the maze, but casual short-cutters won’t try it again.

Of course, all these traffic calming techniques assume that the major traffic arterials, where the cars belong, can be kept flowing with their own traffic tricks.  Otherwise, we’re just spreading the gridlock into the neighborhoods.
James Cameron (Editor’s Note: Jim Cameron has been a Darien resident for 22 years. He was a member of the CT Rail Commuter Council for 19 years and still serves on the Darien Representative Town Meeting (RTM). The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. You can reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


Posted 05/27/14 at 02:22 PM


Comment Policy

It’s nearly impossible to drive the speed limit w/o the person behind you tailgating you, therefore forcing you to speed, or else pull over.

When you do come up to a stop sign, I’m one of those who actually stops, especially at a 4 way, they’re not pause signs, btw. So, I find it rude when someone honks at you b/c you do stop.  That’s what they’re for! I wish cyclists knew this!! especially b/c they’re so anxious to share the road…ahem w/ cars, but don’t seem to want to follow the same rules.

Crosswalks, you say?  Where pedestrians have the right of way?  Seriously?  I don’t think so.  I believe it’s more like bowling for pedestrians, I’m referring to the most popular crosswalk in town, the one between Trader Joe’s and CVS.  You need a walking buddy for that one, and even then you’re taking your life in hands.  The traffic has zero tolerance for pedestrians, the same as for those who go even 5 miles over the speed limit. 

The aggressiveness of driving has most definitely increased over the last few years, and I’ve no idea what to attribute it to.  I can’t imagine that people are in that much of a hurry to get to their destination, though.  I do know that I still see a large number of people talking on cell phones regardless of the fact that it’s against the law.

Posted by Jean Marie Wiesen on May 27, 2014 at 03:37 PM | #

I am just baffled by why the CT DOT objects to purpose-build pedestrian crossings controlled by actual traffic lights. The pedestrian presses a button; the traffic light turns red; the traffic stops; the pedestrian crosses. Simple and effective. And common in other US states as well as European countries. So why install those ridiculous crosswalks with the yellow diamonds and LED lights that most drivers ignore? For some reason the CT DOT is only willing to install actual traffic lights where there happens to be a traffic intersection, forcing pedestrians elsewhere to take their lives in their hands if they want to cross the Post Road.

Posted by Paul Bradshaw on May 27, 2014 at 05:07 PM | #

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