Slow Signs
Home|The MUTCD and slow signs |Varieties of slow signs|The origins of the yield sign| Children at play, but do drivers care?| Slowing down speeders
Slowing Down Speeders

Tension naturally arises between pedestrians and drivers in suburban and urban areas. People in cars want to get where they’re going expeditiously – a logical desire, given that average travel distances have been increasing for decades. Pedestrians and residents, on the other hand, whose priority tends to be safety, object to vehicles speeding through their neighborhoods.

For decades, cars dominated in this conflict. But today, as governments (and people) seek to cut emissions and improve public health, municipalities are increasingly in favor of walkable, playable streets. The trend doesn’t just benefit pedestrians and kids: in 2005, car crashes killed 43,000 people in the U.S. With statistics like these, it’s evident that slowing down cars and reducing traffic is good for everyone.

A salient example of how streets can change is Massachusetts Avenue (“Mass Ave,” in local parlance), a four-lane thoroughfare that traverses Boston and Cambridge, Mass. This major artery serves two functions: as a main route for commuters heading into Boston from populous northern suburbs like Arlington and Lexington; and as the city’s Main Street, a restaurant- and boutique-lined boulevard that runs through the heart of the city. Over the past decade, Mass Ave has transitioned from a clogged and hazardous artery to an enjoyable and attractive avenue – an evolution that reveals how concerned citizens, with government support, can remake their neighborhoods themselves.

The organization that helped spur this change, LivableStreets, began as a loose group of concerned citizens who came together to advocate for innovative people-centric strategies to improve their streets, from traffic calming to increased enforcement. Here, in bullet points, is a citizen’s guide to creating complete streets, inspired by Boston’s LivableStreets Alliance:

Citizens, unite! While an individual complaint may not have much impact, civil groups can and do influence traffic policy in their neighborhoods. By coming together to create more people-friendly streets by implementing traffic calming methods and encouraging alternative modes of transportation, citizen advocates can inspire a vision, build partnerships, empower communities, and act as a local partner for the government.

Get the media involved. Since 2006, LivableStreets’s projects have been covered over 150 times, in outlets from local neighborhood papers and the Boston Globe to the Denver Post. When they clamor for change, the whole city hears.

Start simple. Small changes to the physical environment can have big impact. Cambridge implemented various easily emulated traffic calming measures on Mass Ave., including: curb extensions (which bump out sidewalks at corners, decreasing crosswalk length and creating a sharper turning radius, which forces drivers to slow down); chicanes, or artificial curves in the road in the form of staggered build-outs; and raised breitling kopior pedestrian crossings, which double as speed humps.

Like the bike. You may not like to cycle, but bike lanes – which are now present all along Mass Ave – are an effective traffic calming mechanism: drivers, who are made nervous by their new narrower lanes and proximity to bikers, inevitably slow down. Plus, the more people bike, the fewer cars on the road.

Get the police involved. Lower speed limits and “Go Slow” signs mean little without enforcement. The website cites at least three Mass Ave sites with high police presence. Speed cams are another option here.

Perky Standing Sign
This perky standing sign may be implausible now, but signs that say “slow” aren’t the only tool in the contemporary traffic calming toolbox – there are speed bumps and humps, expanded bike lanes, and signs warning of video monitoring.
Home|The MUTCD and slow signs |Varieties of slow signs|The origins of the yield sign
Yes, children are at play, but do drivers care?|Slowing down speeders
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