Get rid of all speed bumps

Cartoon courtesy of Brent Brown Graphix.

I doubt that social-justice warriors are on the warpath against speed bumps. Speed bumps are a prime example of punishing the innocent for the sins of the guilty. But punishing the guilty for the sins of the guilty is rational, and so these days probably verboten, so don’t expect it in Providence anytime soon.

I am on the warpath against speed bumps, however, and I admit it’s my bad that I waited until the speed bumps showed up in my neighborhood.

Shortly after they appeared on Rochambeau Avenue, which was my most frequent route from Hope Street to North Main and back, I switched over to either Doyle Avenue or Cypress Street. So I wonder how many Hope and Blackstone neighbors will adopt similar “bypass” strategies, and how many families on Doyle and Cypress will worry about their increased traffic.

Recently, mayoral candidate Brett Smiley sent out a campaign statement about the speed-bump crisis. He raised questions about the planning process for speed bumps but did not come out against speed bumps. He lost my vote.

Speaking of process, I’m glad to find that I did, in fact, write a post against speed bumps back in 2015 (see “Speed bumps on Blackstone?“) I attended a public meeting at Nathan Bishop Middle School, where 190 of 200 attendees opposed a plan to place speed bumps on Blackstone Boulevard. I wrote: “It now seems, if the city is serious about paying attention to public input,” that the speed bumps are “very likely to be abandoned.” Indeed, they never were installed. The lesson learned by the city was not to hold public forums on controversial issues.

So far as I know, and I could be wrong, there was no public input or forum to gauge community reaction to the plan to place speed bumps on Rochambeau. They have been installed, and they have also been installed on tiny 12th Street, which ends at Hope just before India restaurant. 12th Street?!

Who knows what other streets have or will soon receive a dose of such aggravation? Speed bumps are the most irksome form of traffic calming, as planners call these strategies for slowing down vehicles on streets. In some European cities, planners have found that reducing or even eliminating signs – “signage” in planner speak – reduces traffic speeds as drivers must pay more attention to how they’re getting to where they’re going.

City officials already know that speed bumps create dangers of their own. People speed up between them out of anger or to make up for (minimal) lost time. People dodging between gaps in the bumps designed to let ambulances pass through might swerve into an oncoming car or one parked to their right. People may lose control of their vehicles when they strike an unexpected speed bump. One thing’s for sure: they pay more attention to avoiding the bumps than they do to the street environment. People who live near a speed bump are irked by the scraping or crashing sound of such unexpected encounters. Is there a straw that breaks the camel’s back for such people? Do these dangers pose more risk than speeding to pedestrians? Has the city done a study? Maybe speed bumps are appropriate and effective in some places, but not on Rochambeau.

There is a class of misguided residents who apparently support speed bumps, presumably in the mistaken opinion that it will make them or their children safer. That is unlikely. What it will do is to punish the innocent for the sins of the guilty. However effective, that is wrong. The proper and more effective response to speeding is an officer of the law handing out tickets, and if that doesn’t work, hike the fine two or three hundred percent. A ticket or two that makes news will stop speeding in its tracks, or most of it – and, as a bonus, punish only the sins of the guilty, leaving the innocent alone. The best form of traffic calming is a cop.

But wait! Defund the police!

By the way, utility contractors seem unable to properly repair trenches dug to lay or fix utilities below pavements. Do our increasingly washboard streets qualify as speed bumps? Why does the city not force contractors to do their jobs?

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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14 Responses to Get rid of all speed bumps

  1. Wars 3 neighbor says:

    Thanks for attending tonight’s meeting. Too bad your questions were not addressed. 🙁

    Like

  2. stanleyxweiss@gmail.com says:

    david …while how can I not hate the speed bumps as you David but …,maybe it’s a message about slowing down our lives and/or creating better neighborhoods starting with the houses on Rochambeau, who wants to liveOn a street that’s like a highway not to speak of the monsters that come out at night with their bikes? Best stan …It’s the old not in my backyard

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

    • It’s easy to hate injustice, Stan. Punishing the innocent for the sins of the guilty is the definition of injustice – especially when it is neither justifiable nor necessary, as in the case of speed bumps on Rochambeau. That street is not even wide enough to make the bumps arguable. I keep hearing about how it is “a highway.” Even if people do creep above the speed limit, it is certainly no “highway.” And yet I am punished for using it as a route to North Main. Not fair! There are better ways to signal “slow down,” whether on one’s streets or in one’s life.

      Like

  3. barry schiller says:

    Most of us want drivers to slow down on their street but be free to speed on all the others. Indeed my North Providence Councilman told me that the most common complaint from constituents was speeding on their street. The response has been to put up endless stop signs in that town – I’d rather have the speed bumps as at least you don’t have to stop (or run a stop sign)
    I think the speed bumps on Rochambeau are indeed too sharp, but the ones on Fruit Hill/Woonasquatucket are more gradual and are fine, and are needed. So I don’t agree with the “all” in the title. And I especially like the State House bump to slow traffic were I cross a lot and remember the previous speeding that almost cost the life of a friend. Some drivers feel entitled to speed despite the risks to those outside their vehicle – as we can’t have police on every fast street, speed bumps, done right, are the best thing.

    Like

    • Nobody (in comments or in emails) seems interested in my main point, which is that it is wrong to punish the innocent for the sins of the guilty, especially when there are workable alternatives. And why don’t traffic engineers seem interested in speed bumps mild enough to slow speeds down to the posted limit, rather than to five miles per hour? I’ve never heard of such an idea being proposed. I would not object to speed bumps that merely slowed me down to the limit, but I get the impression that such a gentle speed bump would be of little interest to planners who get their ya-ya’s from social engineering rather than solving problems with simple and obvious solutions.

      Like

      • John the First says:

        Your creed relies on a rather too simplistic idea of the innocent and the guilty. There is a fundamental societal cultural reason for the ubiquitous traffic nuisances (and worse). For example, a package or junk-food deliverer, which is forced by his boss and the demanding consumers to deliver as much as packages as fast as possible is not ‘the guilty’ one, everyone involved in the game is guilty. And so there are a multitude of examples possible to point out that it is a problem of culture. Our societies are obsessed with economy and everything base, ‘horizontal moving about’ is the only activity it knows and worships. And they all demand the freedom to move horizontally incessantly, at the expense of the freedom of others.

        I am all in favour of both speed-bumps and cops, more policing and regulations, refusing to see the greater causes behind symptoms, and myopic casting the blame on some specific group to the point of absurdity is the way of the war of the people against the people which is democracy. I would love to give my vote to both so that we end up with a cop on every street corner and a sign of regulation on every tree, so that we can prove to posterity the absurdity of the system and its culture.

        Now bring on a few hundred voters, so they can stumble over each other and aid with their different ideas and nuances, we will lend an ear to all of them and try to implement as much policies as possible.

        Like

      • John the First says:

        “And without divine help, said Adeimantus, they will go on for ever making and mending their laws and their lives in the hope of attaining perfection.” Plato – The Republic

        Like

      • John the First says:

        In addition, I agree with mister Brussat that the street-bumps are absurd, but therefore they are appropriate, so that every time you feel their bump, it is a nuisance which is required to remind us of it. From happy speeding to happy bumping.

        Like

  4. Stephen J. ORourke says:

    Good!

    Like

  5. Lee Pittsfield says:

    In your neighborhood or on your street? What’s interesting is that, according to the Valley Breeze, our neighbors in North Providence and Lincoln are clamoring for speed bumps to be added to their streets. And I wonder if your perspective might be different if you lived on a cut-through street that suffers from speeding.

    When I looked to buy a house, one of the criteria was that it not be on a street that was used as a cut through. And while I don’t speed, I don’t mind the speed bumps. They cause you to focus on driving (god forbid!) instead of zoning out and racing to your destination without concern.

    Like

    • My neighborhood, Lee, not my street, at least not yet. My street T’s a block off Hope, but even still there are many cut-throughs heading to and from the boulevard. Nonetheless, our street is too narrow for speeding. As for the clamor you detect for speed bumps in North Providence and Lincoln, well, there’s no accounting for taste. I think they will tire of the speed bumps soon enough, and then what? And you are wrong about speed bumps: they take drivers’ attention away from what’s happening on the street and focus it on what’s happening on the pavement directly ahead, suddenly an obstacle course. The focus on driving you imagine being caused by speed bumps is an overly narrow focus rather than a focus on the whole environment, what’s happening between parked cars, or parked drivers opening doors, children playing on the sidewalk, or drivers pulling out of driveways ahead. The more I think of it, the more dangerous I think speed bumps are for residential streets.

      Like

      • Wendy says:

        “The more I think of it, the more dangerous I think speed bumps are for residential streets.”

        You’re welcome to think it, but is it true? I thought it might be helpful to look for some of the research on the subject. Note: these do not have universally fantastic pro-TCM results. I’m not here to advocate for one side or another. I just think that saying “I think what I want to be true is true” isn’t really effective arguing.

        This study (Area-Wide Traffic-Calming Zone 30 Policy of Japan and Incidence of Road Traffic Injuries Among Cyclists and Pedestrians. By: Inada, Haruhiko, Tomio, Jun, Nakahara, Shinji, Ichikawa, Masao, American Journal of Public Health, 00900036, Feb2020, Vol. 110, Issue 2) suggests injuries decreased with traffic calming measures (which included speed bumps).

        Here is a study that says traffic calming measures are generally good but said they found that drivers do not maintain the speed once they know there are no more TCMs.

        “Traffic calming and neighborhood livability: Evidence from housing prices in Portland” by Stefano Polloni in Regional Science and Urban Economics. January 2019 74:18-37 says that TCMs don’t seem to have an effect on housing prices.

        This was interesting: Lorenzo Domenichini, Valentina Branzi, Martina Smorti,
        Influence of drivers’ psychological risk profiles on the effectiveness of traffic calming measures, Accident Analysis & Prevention, Volume 123, 2019, Pages 243-255. “The results achieved allow us to conclude that the traffic calming measures considered are effective for all the sub-groups of drivers, even if at different levels, according to the driver’s psychological characteristics.”

        Anyway, it’s worth it to actually do some research before making assertions. Providence didn’t invent speed bumps, and you’re not the first person to hate them.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, Wendy. I guess it’s either “believe the numbers” or “lies, damn lies and statistics.” Take your pick. I base my opinion on what I think is my good sense, though of course I could be wrong. That is the bottom line in everything I write, which is designed to provoke discussion. I am retired and not paid anymore for these opinions, which I write because I enjoy it.

          Like

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