Traffic Calming - Revisited


This is an updated version of an article I first posted on May 18, 2008.  In the coming week I plan to post several more articles on speed signs, engineering traffic counting tools, the police SMART radar trailer and the proposed new radar speed signs.  It's an important issue for all of us and I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes an issue in the upcoming election.

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October 14, 2009 - Brookfield News - City won't yet take steps to curb speeding on Calhoun

June 26, 2008 - Brookfield News - Council OKs new traffic-calming policy, Residents must take the initiative to drive street changes

May 22, 2008 - Brookfield News - City steers toward traffic-calming policy, It would apply to only residential streets

One of the most common complaints an alderman gets is someone stating their neighborhood's traffic is too fast, too reckless, in too high a volume and that the situation is highly unsafe.  The Board of Public Works (BPW) adopted a new policy for "traffic calming" at its May 13, 2008 meeting.  The chief architect and champion of that new policy is 7th District Alderwoman Lisa Mellone, who placed it on the 2006-2008 City Strategic Plan and wrote about it on her blog. I serve on the BPW and support the new policy. 


So, how do you get your street considered for this treatment?  The policy defines a process to be followed, roughly (see the link below for the complete policy) as follows:

  1. A resident makes a complaint and fills out an application describing it.
  2. The city staff determines if the complaint falls within the policy guidelines.  If so, continue on.
  3. Supporting data is collected.  That's the police speed trailer, accident history, etc.  If the objective data looks bad, continue on.
  4. Start the education and enforcement steps.  If the problem persists, continue on.
  5. Select an engineering solution.  e.g speed bumps, etc.
  6. Review of the proposal by BPW, budget for changes, give approval.
  7. Continue to monitor to see if the changes solved the problem.

There are several good reasons for this seemingly complicated process.  One is to make sure the problem is real, and not just an isolated incident.  Another is to place all complaints on an equal footing and eliminate unfairness (real or imagined) on which neighborhood gets consideration.  This deliberate process defuses many of the opposing arguments by weeding out the questionable cases.


The traffic calming poilicy includes the "Three E's" - Education, Engineering and Enforcement.

The first component of the policy is education. The idea is to remind people what safe driving is and to involve the people most aware of the situation in its solution. First, yard signs can be placed with messages like "Slow Down".  Second, the police trailer that shows an oncoming car it's speed as measured by radar can be used.  That also collects objective data to document traffic volume, average speed, time of day patterns and generally raise awareness in the minds of those driving by.  Another possibility is to lend residents radar guns to measure the traffic speed for themselves so that they understand that a car going 25 mph might appear to  going be a lot faster when you're close to the road.


If an area has a recognized problem with speeding traffic, the road can be physically modified in an attempt to slow it down.  Keep in mind that the following list is what other cities have done.  They would be constructed only in extreme cases and only after careful considerationSome may not be used at all in Brookfield.

  • Additional signs - Indicating the speed limit, asking for caution, warning of pedestrians. Simple and cheap, but easy to ignore.
  • Vertical deflection - That's engineer speak for speed humps.  A hump is like a bump, only not as tall and steep and thus not as jarring.  There are a few in Weston Hills in the southwest corner of the city.  Another version is the speed table which is sort of a speed hump but not as high and as wide as your car.
  • Horizontal deflection - More engineer speak for making the road curvy.  A good example is Norhardt Drive (west edge of Ruby Isle) where there is a curve in the middle, forcing traffic to slow down to see around it.
  • Bulb (bump) outs - Curbs extending into the street creating a narrow point.  You see these in the Brookfield Road Village area defining parallel parking spaces and corners.
  • Chokers - Make short sections of the road one lane to force one car to stop while a car heading in the opposite direction passes through. 
  • Street closure - Make a dead end, ending cut through traffic but forcing all the residents of that street to exit the neighborhood in one less way.

There are other, in my experience less popular, constructs such as traffic circles (mini-roundabouts for low volume locations) and chicanes (think zig-zag), but you get the idea.


Station police patrols to monitor the traffic and write citations as needed. 


Nothing is free.  Here are some ballpark cost estimates from the consultant.

  • Speed humps - $2,000 for several humps close enough to be effective.
  • Bulbouts - $7,000+
  • Partial (one way traffic) or full (dead end) closure - $120,000 for ripping out the pavement, planting grass, changing signs, etc.

Some cities will only implement traffic calming in a neighborhood if the adjacent residents pay for it.  It ensures people only pay for something that benefits their house and is a way of ensuring that neighborhood support is sincere.  Would you be willing to pay $100 for "your share" of the speed bump in the road in front of your house?  City assessments are treated like taxes.  Once the cost and affected area is determined, you must pay, whether you agreed with it or not.

 Official Policy - I know it's dry reading, but everything is there.

City of Brookfield, Wisconsin Neighborhood Traffic Calming Guidelines, July 2008 (PDF, 40 pages)

Minutes of May 13, 2008 Board of Public Works (BPW) discussing the policy

Presentation to BPW by traffic consultant on February 19, 2008

Related Web Sites on Traffic Calming

Wikipedia entry on traffic calming.  A fair overview.

Traffic consulting firm's site on the topic.  Very similar to what Brookfield's consultant said.

Federal Highway Administration site on traffic calming

Local Government Commission - Street Design

Local Government Commission - Land Use Planning for Safe, Crime-Free Neighborhoods (PDF)

Local Government Commission - Street Design and Emergency Response (PDF)

Local Government Commission - Traffic Calming and Narrow Streets Case Studies )PDF)

Local Government Commission - Traffic Calming and Emergency Response (PDF)

 An Opposing Viewpoint

There are some objections to traffic calming.  This is part of that other 359 degree of a debate that some blogs ignore because they don't agree with it.  I believe in a truly fair and balanced discussion before making a decision.  My affirmative vote speaks my decision after considering these points.

  • Fire trucks, ambulances and police cars have to slow down when they encounter them, even in an emergency.
  • The problem is not speed or recklessness, but heavy traffic.  These measures just chase the traffic into someone else's neighborhood, solving nothing.
  • None of this stuff is free.  Are you willing to pay for it?
  • How can you plow snow with all that junk in the road?
  • Cars running over speed bumps make a "thump" noise that wasn't there before.  Is it too noisy?  Does it ruin the car's suspension or tire balance?
  • Anything can be abused.  Two cars may reach a choker and "play chicken."  Speed bumps may be seen as a challenge.
  • I've lived on this street for 30 years and raised my kids here without a problem.  This is just some worry wart parents too lazy to supervise their kids properly.
  • Air pollution increases.  You slow down coming to the barrier, then accelerate leaving it rather than keeping a fuel conserving steady speed.

Road Access for Disabled Americans

National Motorists Association

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