Sunday, June 26, 2022

Are Speed Bumps Really the Answer to Local Speeding Issues?

There has been a lot of talk recently about speeders in this municipality. It is a topic that is brought up at council meetings with regularity, and it is often the subject of debate on social media.

Last week a reader shared with me her frustration with a small number of motorists speeding through her neighbourhood. At one point she expressed frustration with our municipal council, suggesting that ‘there is a very simple solution, speed bumps, and I don’t understand why council hasn’t already ordered some to be installed’, she said to me.

Speed bumps are an ‘obvious’ and ‘simple’ solution that I have heard many residents suggest, but are speed bumps really a ‘simple’ and obvious solution? If we had a climate like California perhaps, but in our part of the world, a hefty chunk of our year sees snow falling on our roads, and plows clearing the way in order to ensure our roads are driveable.

We don’t have to look very far to find warnings about the use of speed-bumps in our climate.

Speed Bumps No Match For A Snowplow’s Blade was a headline in the Toronto Star in 2013.

A snowplow can make short work of speed bumps that were added long after the road was built,” the article began. “With the end of winter in sight, calculating the toll of cold, snowy weather on our roads has begun. Potholes are the worst we’ve seen in years, with transportation services crews scrambling to fill them. All that salting and plowing carries a cost beyond the bill paid for it by the city, which isn’t as apparent, except in the case of the disappearing speed bumps on a back alley named Renfrew Pl.”

The 2013 article in the Star noted that while the speed bumps that had been installed were supposed to withstand the winter beating from snowplows, but Toronto’s real world experience suggested otherwise.

In 2019, the City of Hamilton abandoned the use of rubber speed bumps after finding that “Snow plows are accidentally clearing Hamilton of rubber speed humps,” according to a report in the Hamilton Spectator. “The city is giving up on the popular but plow-prone rubber humps.”

Instead, Hamilton planned to explore less effective, but more durable asphalt ‘speed-cushions’.

Five years ago – when road safety installations started to ramp up – the removable humps were viewed as a good way to ‘test-drive’ slowdown sites in a neighbourhood or on a particular street. They also theoretically allowed the city to take the barriers out ahead of winter and reinstall in spring,” reported the Spectator in 2019. “But the rubber humps proved more popular than expected and the growing number across the city – more than 40 of 106 humps in total – made the seasonal in-and-out plan “unrealistic” for a stretched operations crew.”

In an attempt to save on the labour costs associated with annual removal and installation of the rubber speed bumps, Hamilton tried leaving them installed year-round, however that resulted in parts of the speed-bumps being scraped off by plows leaving dangerous bolts sticking up out of the pavement, one of which resulted in a legal claim against the city by a motorist who experienced damage to their vehicle after crossing over a deteriorating speed bump.

So as much as some might like to pontificate, speed bumps are not an ‘obvious, simple solution’ to a local speeding problem.

To be fair, alternative methods of traffic calming come with their own downsides, and no potential solution is either simple, or perfect.

Lowering speed limits in areas that have been experiencing speeding incidents might help, but if people aren’t following the current posted speed limit, why would they adhere to a lower limit?

Increased police speed enforcement could be effective, though it would also be costly, and we already spend more than $2 million per year for the OPP enforcement that we do have.

Raising awareness with digital speed signs is a good option, though once the sign is removed it is very likely that old habits will return. The Municipality of Meaford has one of these signs, and has moved it from one location to another, and perhaps it would be a worthwhile investment for the municipality to purchase a few more of the signs in order to address speed issues in neighbourhoods as they surface.

While a digital sign reminding motorists of their speed and highlighting the actual speed limit seem like an alternative to boosting police presence at a high cost to ratepayers, or lowering speed limits in residential areas, the signs aren’t cheap, and if one isn’t enough, will four be?

This is definitely an issue worth studying, but for those who are concerned about fast driving vehicles in their neighbourhoods, the reality is that there are some folks who simply don’t care about speed limits. We could lower the speed limit to 20 km/h, install a flashing digital speed sign, and install speed bumps, and there will still be those who ignore it all and drive at their preferred speed anyway.

Residents are right to be concerned about fast-moving traffic in residential neighbourhoods, but let’s not suggest that there is a ‘simple’ solution, an ‘obvious’ solution that somehow our local council has just been too blind to see. Council is well aware of complaints about speed, and they are also aware of recent traffic studies which have measured the speed of vehicles in reportedly problem areas, yet the data didn’t find any speeding issues of significance, as the OPP Commander told council in a meeting in which the issue was raised.

Sometimes people insist that vehicles are speeding when in fact they are not – we humans aren’t necessarily the best gauges of the speed of objects. But that makes it even more important that this issue is researched, that actual speed data is collected, and that any and all potential traffic calming measures are explored for both effectiveness and cost in hopes of making some educated decisions, as opposed to knee jerk responses to what may or may not be real speeding issues.

You can bet that if one neighbourhood were to have speed bumps installed, a dozen others would be lining up with requests, as Hamilton experienced when their popular speed-bump program ballooned to more than 100 speed bumps throughout the city, and those speed bumps aren’t free.

In my more than 30 years in municipal council chambers I can say with confidence that ‘simple solutions’ to complex problems are rare, and often the most popular solutions can be fraught with unintended consequences.

So yes, council should continue to ask staff to explore the issue, but no, speed-bumps are not a ‘simple’ or ‘obvious’ solution.


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