May 6


Traffic Calming History

By Mike Spack

May 6, 2008

I attended a luncheon last week where the topic was "place making."  Basically, what defines a good neighborhood vs. a blah neighborhood.  An interesting tangent was a story about the beginnings of traffic calming (which is simply doing things to the road to make cars go slower).   I did some digging to find something official on the topic.  Here is a brief paragraph from Traffic Calming: State of the Practice, Chapter 2 (ITE, FHWA, 1999):

"European traffic calming began as a grassroots movement in the late 1960’s. Angry residents of the Dutch city of Delft fought cut-through traffic by turning their streets into “woonerven,” or “living yards.”
What were once channels for the movement of cars became shared areas, outfitted with tables, benches, sand boxes, and parking bays jutting into the street. The effect was to turn the street into an obstacle course for motor vehicles, and an extension of home for residents."

The Dutch hijacked their street by having a picnic.   Miraculously, I couldn’t find anything in the literature that said people died in the process.  How did they do this safely without having giant barricades, cones, flashing beacons, etc?  Civil engineers are taught in college that we have to use our "engineering judgment."  Sometimes, I think it is easier for engineers to hide behind regulations than to use this professional judgment.  Food for thought.

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Mike Spack

My mission is to help traffic engineers, transportation planners, and other transportation professionals improve our world.

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