The Secret behind the Popularity of Traffic Calming

The term “traffic calming” is simply a device to put a favorable “spin” on tactics used to obstruct, divert and slow traffic. Proponents of these tactics are usually persons who live along urban or suburban streets and object to motor vehicle traffic passing by their homes.

Although residents usually couch their complaints in terms like “speeders” and “reckless drivers,” the real irritant for “traffic calming” advocates is heavy traffic.

Their desired objective is to divert traffic to other streets outside their neighborhood.

The devices employed to accomplish this diversion of traffic include unnecessary stop signs, speed humps and bumps, lane narrowing obstructions, and absurdly low-speed limits.

Increased traffic on residential streets is often caused by misguided and ill-informed management of the main arterials and collector streets. These streets are designed to carry most of the traffic, keeping it off of residential streets. What proponents of “traffic calming” always fail to realize is that the reason they see more traffic on their residential streets is that the same tactics have already been applied to main arterials and collector streets.

These include improper installation of stop signs, mis-timed traffic signals, and under-posted speed limits that have no relation to actual vehicle speeds. Throw in construction and congestion, and it is no surprise that residential streets are experiencing increased commuter traffic.

The solution to this problem is not to further obstruct traffic flow by pushing the problem into someone else’s neighborhood.

The real solution is to upgrade and improve the traffic handling capabilities of main thoroughfares. This means implementing physical improvements, as well as raising speed limits and synchronizing traffic controls to accommodate actual vehicle speeds.

If main streets provide convenient access between home, work, and shopping destinations, motorists will use them versus alternate routes through residential neighborhoods.

Traffic obstruction devices:

Can increase response time for emergency vehicles.
When seconds matter, having to slow to pass over speed bumps and humps or navigate narrow roadways can mean the difference between life and death, or the loss of one’s home. The fact that some of these devices can seriously damage emergency vehicles and other vehicles along the roadway is also a concern.

Can increase congestion on other streets and create problems in other neighborhoods.
If traffic obstruction devices divert traffic to other streets, they may compound congestion problems that already exist in those areas. If not successful in diverting traffic to other streets, traffic obstruction devices will compound congestion problems on the streets on which they are installed.

Will increase vehicle wear and tear, air pollution, and noise.
Braking and accelerating in response to speed bumps, speed humps, stop signs, and traffic signals increases fuel consumption and emissions. This can contradict other efforts to reduce emissions and contribute to a community becoming or remaining a “non-attainment” air quality zone, thereby being subjected to federal mandates and restrictions.

Can increase street maintenance costs.
Speed bumps and humps impede plowing and street cleaning equipment. Removable devices may soon be available, although they will require additional labor to install and remove them. Municipalities must maintain and repair stop signs and traffic signals, at taxpayer expense, of course.

May cause physical discomfort, even pain, for disabled persons or persons with physical ailments.
Being jolted or jostled by speed bumps and humps can be painful for persons with injuries or painful illnesses.

Create neighborhood friction.
Not all persons (not even most persons) on a given street will appreciate having to run an obstacle course every time they drive to or from home. Some traffic obstruction opponents blow their horns or yell verbal insults when having to slow or stop for speed bumps or humps. Frequently, the response to unnecessary stop signs is to ignore them, which is extremely dangerous for anyone who’s not familiar with driving in that area.

For an example of how one person convinced his neighborhood to abandon their traffic calming plan, check out this article: How A Simple Flyer Turned The Tides.

Editor’s Note: The Secret Behind The Popularity Of Traffic Calming first appeared on the NMA blog in January 2008.

If you have any questions or need help in advocating against a road diet or traffic-calmed street or intersection, please contact the National Motorists Association at [email protected] or Keep the US Moving at [email protected].

The Keep the US Moving blog is a collaboration between the National Motorists Association and the Keep the US Moving (KUSM) group written and curated by NMA Communications Director Shelia Dunn (with some guest authors as indicated). The KUSM weekly blog focuses on road diets, traffic calming, and programs such as Vision Zero and Complete Streets.

The NMA and the KUSM believe that it is important to include stories that oppose our viewpoint. We try to indicate those as needed.

Keep the US Moving Blog Resources

Check out the NMA Facebook Page called the War on Cars Watch! If you are interested in joining the closed group, follow the directions on the page. If you would like to know more about the National Motorists Association, check out our website at Also, if you would like to contact the NMA with a question or a link, feel free to contact us via email at [email protected].

Keep the US Moving is a grassroots organization dedicated to publicizing the detrimental effects of arterials road diets. We connect people who want to share experiences and information to help their communities craft truly safer roads. KUSM has a very active and closed Facebook group. Connect with them at [email protected] and find additional information on their website at

Here are a few NMA Blog Posts that might interest you:

Road Diets and Traffic Calming

Vision Zero and Complete Streets

If you would like to keep track of the many issues currently involved with the War on Cars and road diets, take a daily peek at the NMA’s Driving News Feed or subscribe to Driving News Daily, a five times per week email.

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