Traffic calming features are the curse words of the auto-centered thinker. The idea that barriers might be implemented to slow traffic and create a more “deliberate” driving environment is a severe threat to the motorist that just wants to get where he or she is going as quickly as possible.
I watched the laughable video below in a recent Strong Towns article. The truly hilarious part of this one-sided clip is the man that claims the traffic calming features make the intersection more dangerous, despite the fact that these types of initiatives have reduced accidents with injuries all over the country by reducing speeds and creating a sort of heightened awareness of drivers who navigate the intersection.
But this is often the perception, that people are going to crash into these features, causing more accidents. The key word here is accidents, because this is where I believe the misunderstanding occurs with regard to traffic calming efforts.
The goal of traffic calming features like the ones in the video are to reduce injuries and fatalities to drivers and pedestrians by limiting automobile speeds and prioritizing pedestrian access. Traffic circles, narrow streets, bump-outs, traffic balls and high curbing all work to minimize speed, which has been statistically proven time and time again to reduce the threat of injury and death via auto accidents. While we may be sick of hearing it, the truth is that “speed kills.”
So what is the disconnect with drivers like the ones in the video above? It’s that drivers rarely perceive their safety to be in danger when taking the wheel. Despite the fact that 40,000 people died from auto accidents last year, and millions suffer serious injuries from auto accidents every year, we continue to see driving as safe, routine and uneventful in general. What we do pay close attention to is damage to our vehicles… for example, it would not be out of the ordinary to see someone speed down a street, cut another driver off, fail to signal a turn, and then proceed into a parking lot where they pass up two spaces because there is a shopping cart adjacent to them. The thrust is that we consider dangers to the condition of our vehicles over the possibility that our driving, or the driving of someone else may cause us or others physical harm. With this in mind, drivers are likely see no need for traffic calming at all, thinking that they have greater potential to cause vehicular harm without considering that the intended speed reductions are far more important to the safety of themselves and the community.
Now that I’ve planted this seed, watch the video again and I promise you that you will see exactly what I’m talking about. When the average driver sees traffic calming features implemented to discourage mindless driving as unnecessary and unsafe, it is likely because they are considering the safety of their vehicle, not themselves or others.
The hardest sell for any kind of traffic calming addition is simply the fact that most drivers never consider that they or anyone else are in any kind of danger. The perception continues to feature a disconnect with the fact that driving a car is one of the most unsafe ways to get from one place to another in the United States. The result? Videos like these that negate the statistically proven safety efforts of these initiatives will continue to fester, as our fear of cosmetic vehicle damage outweighs the reality of proven personal and community safety efforts.