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An OpEd I submitted (reproduced below) was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Friday, July 31st, 2015. It was prompted by pedestrian deaths on a wide road in south St. Louis City caused by hit-and-run motorists. Most recently, this led to calls for action to address the problem amid suggestions for safety improvements from the public. In both cases the victims had left the Broadway Oyster Bar, shown on the left in the photo below, shortly beforehand. (Image taken from Google maps.)

Oyster Bar 730 S Broadway, St. Louis. Google maps view

Broadway Oyster Bar 730 S Broadway, St. Louis. Google maps view

The road here is approximately 50 ft wide with three one-way (southbound) lanes, and a 35 mph speed limit. The curb lanes are wide enough to also permit metered parking.

My preferred traffic calming measure would be to install speed cushions (described in my OpEd) on a trial basis, but that should be in conjunction with a reduction in the speed limit to 25 mph, which is what others have also suggested.

Speed humps can slow down traffic, protect pedestrians
Street safety:
Traffic-calming devices are a cost-effective way of preventing tragedies.

The deaths of pedestrians on South Broadway, St. Louis City, due to speeding motorists, most recently that of Mr. Ashish “Bapi” Gupta on June 28, have led to calls for an increase in pedestrian safety on this road. The campaign in support includes a website, “Bapi Safe Streets,” as reported in the July 13th St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Some suggestions mentioned in the article included ”perhaps using cobblestones.”

Pion

Pion

The idea of using cobblestones reminds me of the one occasion I bicycled around Laclede’s Landing where cobblestoned streets provide a retro look, but an awful ride.

Other techniques, such as speed “bumps,” are sometimes used in parking lots or private streets to slow down vehicles. “Bumps” are a brain-dead method. They jolt your vehicle mercilessly unless you drive either very slowly or floor the accelerator so that you fly over them before your suspension has time to react.

Finally, there’s the stop sign. It’s intended to define priority at intersections, not calm traffic, but it’s often successfully demanded by local residents for the latter purpose.

There are actually numerous traffic calming devices available in the transportation engineers toolbox. They include:
lane narrowing by simple pavement markings;
-chokers, including median islands, to physically narrow the lanes;
raised crosswalks;
traffic circles
chicanes forcing horizontal vehicle deflections;
speed humps, causing vertical vehicle deflections.

They have different operating characteristics, and some are more successful than others. The speed hump, and its more recent derivative, the speed cushion, offer a preferred solution, yet they are the least used locally.

I first became interested in traffic calming in England while a scientist working at ITT’s Central Research Lab. We had a speeding problem on the main campus road, and after learning about speed humps installed on a university campus, persuaded management to install two at strategic locations where they worked very effectively.

East London speed humps, 2002

Speed cushion on Keppel Road in east London

East London speed hump closeup

East London speed cushion closeup

At the time they weren’t approved for use on public roads, but later that changed, as I discovered on a visit to England in early 2002.

While bicycling through east London I encountered a series of speed cushions on a side street with a 30 mph speed limit, as shown in the attached photo. Each speed cushion is 6 ft. 8 in. long by 6 ft. wide, and 3” high, arranged in a line across the road but separated so that emergency vehicles can straddle them.

[Please review my blog featuring the speed cushion I bought for demonstration purposes at 2013-02-25: Ford F-150 truck Traficop “speed cushion” test. To just view the video of the test please visit https://vimeo.com/60523630]

The most comprehensive traffic calming pilot project in the metro area was implemented by the City of Chesterfield in 1999, centered on Schoettler Valley Drive, costing roughly $100,000. It included speed humps, a large one lane roundabout, and landscaped medians for lane narrowing. The speed humps proved too effective for a Chesterfield alderwoman on her preferred route to work. She persuaded the independent Chesterfield Fire Department to withdraw its initial support and the city was forced to tear them out.

A PowerPoint presentation I’ve prepared illustrates all types of traffic calming devices, including videotape of the Chesterfield project and a smaller one in Ballwin incorporating a chicane and mini-roundabout. The presentation includes the precursor of the modern speed hump, a design conceived in 1953 by Dr. Arthur Holly Compton, a Nobel Laureate in Physics, while he was Chancellor of Washington University St. Louis. There are examples of his single-hump design on Hoyt Drive, installed after his death.

I’ve shown this presentation, and a speed cushion I bought for demonstration purposes, to former Public Works Directors in my home town of Ferguson and also in Clayton, as well as to transportation engineers at Horner & Shiffrin in St. Louis, which had conducted a 2005 Traffic Calming Study for the City of Ferguson. Unfortunately none has adopted it for traffic calming.

However, in October 2009, the City of Wildwood purchased a set of rubber speed cushions to try out on Old Fairway Drive to deter speeding. They were replaced by asphalt versions before winter plowing and have proved sufficiently successful to have been duplicated at several other locations.

Speed cushions are a cost effective way of preventing such tragedies as the death of Mr. Gupta. Their use should be seriously considered.

Martin Pion of Ferguson is a scientist and 43-year cycle commuter, and a certified League of American Bicyclists cycling instructor.

Tags: Traffic Calming, Ferguson, Arthur Holly Compton, Washington University St. Louis, Martin Pion

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