by Michael E. Bregman, AICP
Introduction to Community Traffic Control
The realm of traffic control encompasses various means of "calming" traffic so that it moves more slowly. Many communities find implementation of these means desirable and the frequency of implementing measures that fall within this rubric has increased tremendously over the last ten to twenty years. Although some object to traffic control as an imposition on driving freedom, the popularity of these measures clearly indicates their widespread acceptance by communities as a whole.
Why Measures to Control Road Traffic are Important
The need for traffic control stems from the inherent conflict of various kinds of vehicles traveling at different speeds and pedestrians all sharing the same roadway. Speeding automobiles pose dangers to pedestrians and bicyclists using the street. On the other hand laws formulated to protect pedestrians and bicyclists curb drivers' convenience.
Due to the divide between planning for motorists versus pedestrians, a choice to favor one becomes necessary. For much of the twentieth century, American cities have favored designing roadways to favor automobiles. Blocks in many areas are long and straight and traffic lights spaced far apart. Many engineers also oppose planting trees, as they represent "deadly fixed objects" (DFO's) to speeding vehicles. In addition, curb cuts along roadways are often frequent, allowing vehicles quick access and egress to private lots and these points usually lead to large parking lots.
Patterns of driving habits show that motorists will go as fast as their comfort level allows and with much width to maneuver a vehicle that comfort level increases. Therefore, designing wide roadways encourages higher speeds. The numerous curb cuts also present dangers to pedestrians as they must compete with automobiles entering and leaving. The type of design geared toward automobiles induces dangerous conditions and generally lacks aesthetics.
Putting Together a Traffic Control Plan
In contrast to motorist-oriented roadway design, one of the most basic elements of pedestrian-oriented design limits the width of roadway used for vehicular travel. As opposed to the approach of "wider is better," pedestrian-oriented design relies on the concept of building scale. According to this principle, the distance between buildings abutting a roadway should closely match the height of the buildings. A ratio of 1:1 is considered ideal.
Scaling roadways to building height creates a sort of "outdoor room" and allows pedestrians to relate to their surroundings. The concept of scale relates to traffic control as the roadway seems narrower to motorists and therefore discourages high speeds. However, limiting roadway width is one of a plethora of methods communities may utilize to control vehicular traffic speeds.
Methods vary according to cost and physical substantiality. Some measures require little or no capital investment. Examples include drivers' education and road signage. Yet, while these methods cost little, they are often ineffective without rigorous enforcement.
Other measures may include heavy landscaping which reduce the perceived width of roadways. Trees placed along the edge of sidewalks also facilitate pedestrian mobility by providing a buffer between pedestrians and moving traffic and giving pedestrians psychological comfort. Other measures include flared sidewalks, special street pavers, speed humps, and traffic circles. All of these measures impede high vehicular speed.
Controversy Over Community Traffic Control
While traffic control presents an attractive option for many communities, others may object to its implementation. Often, in large American cities, commuters must traverse through other communities to reach their places of employment. Residents of these communities generally object to vehicles traveling through their communities at high velocities and propose traffic control to limit danger to their communities.
At the same time they may oppose others communities' attempts to implement traffic control. An example may be a resident of a suburb who supports traffic control in order to protect his own family and community, while at the same time objecting to the same measures in another city or suburb where he maintains an office that he wishes to reach expediently. In effect, this issue may strain relations between adjoining jurisdictions.
Traffic Control Conclusion
Traffic control represents a way for communities to raise their standards of living by encouraging lower vehicular speeds or impeding high speeds. Many different measures are available and implementing them also promotes pedestrian mobility. However, others object to traffic control as an imposition. The issue of traffic control may also become cross-jurisdictional in nature. For purposes of this article, sidewalks are considered part of the roadway space.
Michael E. Bregman is a city planner residing in Israel. He was formerly employed as Senior Planner by the Miami-Dade County Department of Planning and Zoning and is also the former chairperson of the American Planning Association Gold Coast Section.