Traffic-Calming Measures Around Hartford Have Cut Accidents,
May 8, 2005
By TONI GOLD
I ran into one of my favorite neighbors recently,
and asked him what he thought of the traffic-calming measures
that have begun to appear on Hartford streets - and specifically
the most obvious one in our neighborhood, the newly painted
stripes on Whitney and South Whitney Street.
The stripes delineate sections
of the street into alternating one-side-of-the-street parking
areas, a treatment known as "parking
chicanes." It has the effect of creating a winding, or weaving,
driving lane, which is also narrower, where once there had been
a wide, straight shot, with parking all on the same side, or
no parking at all, from one intersection to the next.
Knowing my enthusiasm for
traffic calming, the neighbor chose his words carefully: "Well, it does slow the traffic. And
it sure makes you pay attention." Exactly.
Unknowingly, he had hit on
the basic behavioral premise and the underlying genius of traffic
calming: It makes you pay attention. David Engwicht, an Australian
who was one of the earliest proponents of the art of traffic
calming, argues that controlling a driver's natural propensity
for speed is futile. A more effective approach is to engage
the driver by emphasizing "uncertainty and
intrigue" in the street environment - for example with parking
chicanes, as on Whitney/South Whitney Street, or by raised and
planted medians, as West Hartford has done on Asylum and Farmington
Having to actually pay attention is a challenge for many American
drivers. They assume that on the street, autos have priority,
and aren't these created obstacles making it less safe? Well,
no, as it turns out.
Many studies, such as the
exhaustive 1999 "Traffic Calming,
State of the Practice" by Reid Ewing for the Institute of
Traffic Engineers, show that thoughtful traffic calming can have
a dramatic effect on speed and safety, which are closely related.
These studies have looked at the costs of traffic calming - such
as increased trip length, emergency vehicle delay and traffic
spillover onto other streets. But they have also have looked
at the benefits of traffic calming, which range from the obvious
ones of slowing speeders and reducing crashes, (especially fatalities),
to increases in property values, more walking and cycling, noise
and pollution reduction, and increased neighborhood interaction
that helps reduce crime.
An evaluation model for traffic calming proposed by one transportation
think tank suggests how to measure these repercussions, and further
proposes how to calculate the financial value of each factor.
Traffic calming comes out as a net benefit in most cases. This
kind of sophisticated research is not done much by most local
governments, but West Hartford and Hartford have both done some
informal measuring of their own. Dave Kraus, the town engineer
of West Hartford, said he's been told that citizens like the
widened sidewalks and reduced speeds.
"Drivers can have too much flexibility," he
said, adding that traffic calming is inexpensive. He reports
reduced crash rates at Farmington and Mountain Road, where
left-turn lanes have been added. Next year, West Hartford will
continue building medians, eliminating lanes and widening sidewalks
on Farmington Avenue, this time east of the town center. The
town will also begin to experiment with bump-outs - curb extensions
at corners, which narrow the pedestrian crossing distance - on
Boulevard between Farmington and LeMay streets. Kraus says the
town has no overall traffic-calming plan, but it does have an
aggressive street reconstruction program, which allows it to
look at each street as its turn comes up.
Hartford, following a citywide
plan developed with the neighborhoods last year, has also begun
to implement traffic calming on many of the city's arteries,
mostly in the form of re-striping lanes to narrow them, often
accompanied by added parking and bike lanes. The city is also
experimenting with a "mini-circle" at
Coventry and Cornwall streets, after one such experiment at North
Beacon and Fern streets got a thumbs-down from the neighbors.
After seeing the parking chicanes on South Whitney Street, the
residents of Charter Oak Place, a short residential street, asked
for the same treatment to slow speeders, and have been pleased
with the results. The residents and businesses on Franklin Avenue
also asked for road striping after seeing what was done on Maple
and Wethersfield avenues.
Hartford's "road diet," or narrowing of the streets,
has had positive results, said city public works director Bhupen
Patel. His department has documented fewer crashes and less speeding
as well as smoother traffic flow and general public satisfaction.
For example, speeds dropped overall an average of 6 mph overall
on streets that have been "calmed."
But it is the crash data, or rate of traffic accidents, that
are most interesting. The largest impact occurred on Capitol
Avenue - a 60 percent reduction in accidents per month, according
to numbers from two years before traffic-calming steps were taken
and 13 months afterward.
On this wide street, parking lanes on both sides were delineated
by striping, and bike lanes were added as well. The remaining
two auto lanes, one in each direction, moved smoothly - but more
slowly - confirming the research finding that traffic flow optimizes
at 25-30 mph. Similarly, Main Street experienced a 38 percent
reduction in crashes, Tower Avenue a 35 percent reduction, and
Whitney/South Whitney a 25 percent reduction. Only Maple Avenue
experienced no reduction in crashes or speed. Apparently Maple
Avenue needs a closer look; it is probably a candidate for a
different traffic-calming treatment.
Patel reports that state Sen.
Billy Ciotto D-Wethersfield, co-chairman of the General Assembly's
Transportation Committee, initially complained about Franklin
Avenue, but after driving it a few more times, he reported
being impressed at the more orderly driving behavior. However,
Patel warns not to assume that Hartford's dramatic improvements
could be attained in a suburban town: "We
were starting from a higher level of chaos," he said. "There
was lots of room for improvement."
One interesting change has been the elimination of reversible
one-way traffic on Asylum Avenue at rush hours, a longtime practice
much detested by neighborhood residents who found reaching nearby
destinations difficult if not impossible at those times. Since
the resumption of two-way traffic at all times, there have been
minimal backups except at one bottleneck, where parking will
be eliminated. How could this be, when nothing else has changed?
Walter Kulash, a consulting
traffic engineer and the dean of new urbanist street designers,
says when planners widen roads to meet projections for more
traffic, they get more traffic. This is known as "induced traffic." By
the same token, when road capacity is reduced, traffic volume
is reduced. Where does it go? Kulash asks.
"Nobody knows," he says, answering his own question
with a twinkle in his eye. And then he explains: "Traffic
is not like sewage disposal, or educational services for schoolchildren
- you don't have to accommodate everyone."
Toni A. Gold of Hartford is a Senior Associate with the Project
for Public Spaces and a member of the Place board of contributors.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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