Traffic Calming

One of the most common traffic issues raised by Newburyport residents concerns speeding on local streets. This has become a particular issue on some of the cross streets between High Street and Merrimac Street, as we discussed in a recent blog post (Calming Traffic on Neighborhood Streets). Traffic speeds and safety are also concerns on arterials and connector streets throughout the city, including High St, Merrimac St, Hale St, Turkey Hill Rd, Moseley Ave, Ferry Rd and Pine Hill Rd. Increasingly, residents are bringing these concerns about traffic speeds to the Traffic Safety Advisory Committee (TSAC) and asking for solutions.

Although Newburyport has established a default speed limit of 25 miles per hour, the physical layouts of our streets often encourage drivers to go faster. And there are certainly some neighborhood streets where even 25 mph is too fast for pedestrian safety. When street design does not support the target speed, non-structural approaches such as increased enforcement and education will have only limited effect, if any. Design, not enforcement, is the best way to make streets safer and more comfortable for all users.

Because of the frequency with which speeding issues are arising, and the variety of conditions in each case, it may be helpful for the City to institute a formal neighborhood traffic calming program with a menu of measures and designs that can be implemented as appropriate.

What is Traffic Calming?

The term “traffic calming” refers to a group of physical measures designed to manage vehicle speeds and volumes, primarily through horizontal or vertical changes in the layout of the street. The Federal Highway Administration describes traffic calming this way:

Traffic calming consists of physical design and other measures put in place on existing roads to reduce vehicle speeds and improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists. For example, vertical deflections (speed humps, speed tables, and raised intersections), horizontal shifts, and roadway narrowing are intended to reduce speed and enhance the street environment for non-motorists. Closures that obstruct traffic movements in one or more directions, such as median barriers, are intended to reduce cut-through traffic. Traffic calming measures can be implemented at an intersection, street, neighborhood, or area-wide level.

Traffic calming started in Europe in the 1960s, particularly in the Netherlands and Germany where it is now a basic tool in neighborhood planning. Since the concept came to the United States in the early 2000s, traffic calming programs have become increasingly widespread in communities ranging from major urban centers like New York and Boston to smaller cities and towns. As a result, there has developed a body of knowledge about what works, and standards for how to implement traffic calming measures.

The image below illustrates some common types of measures used to calm traffic in residential neighborhoods. While the speed bump is the simplest and best-known of these measures, it is not always the most appropriate strategy for every street. Sometimes a measure that deflects vehicles horizontally rather than vertically — such as a mini-roundabout, choker or chicane — may be the right choice. It is important to evaluate the specific issues and conditions in each case to determine the best course of action.

Source: Iowa City, Iowa

Guides and standards on traffic calming are published by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Institute of Traffic Engineers (ITE), and especially the National Association of City and Transportation Officials (NACTO). Excellent overviews of traffic calming strategies can be found in NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide here and the Global Cities Design Guide here. For more information about these measures, see the Traffic Calming heading on the Guides and Manuals page of this website.

Municipal Traffic Calming Programs in New England

Newburyport is not alone among small cities and towns in facing the impact of traffic speeds and volumes in residential neighborhoods. Many communities in Massachusetts and across New England and the United States, recognizing the importance of addressing these issues, have established traffic calming programs that provide menus of traffic calming measures and processes for residents to petition for installation of such measures.

Among New England communities, Portsmouth NH and Burlington VT have particularly well-developed neighborhood traffic calming programs:

Both of the above programs provide excellent documentation upon which Newburyport could design its own traffic calming program. In addition, a number of Massachusetts communities have also implemented traffic calming policies and programs. Here are some examples: