Stop signs not an effective deterrent (column)
London Community News
You’re sitting on the front porch or walking down the sidewalk in your neighbourhood when a car goes whizzing past. You think, “That guy’s speeding – something needs to be done to slow drivers down.”
If you’ve ever thought that you’re not alone. In fact, if you’ve subsequently tried to confront the problem you’re not alone either. Traffic complaints are among the most frequent received by city councillors and City Hall staff.
Inevitably, somewhere in that complaint will be a request for a stop sign.
“The city used to hand out stop signs like candy,” says John Lucas, division manager of transportation engineering, in particular noting the profusion of three- and four-way stop sign intersections in older neighbourhoods.
Not so much anymore.
Although stop signs remain popular with many councillors being harassed by impatient voters, City Hall staff has proof they aren’t as effective as you might believe.
“Some people think if you make a car stop you’ve slowed it down and now the street is safer,” Mr. Lucas say. “And that’s not true.”
Indeed recent studies conducted by city staff on intersections with four-way stops found many where only about 10 per cent of vehicles — and at one intersection only three per cent — actually came to a complete stop; the rest slowed down and rolled through.
“The safety concern we have is that pedestrians anticipate cars will stop.”
Instead the people in Mr. Lucas’s department, like Mark Ridley, a senior technologist in transportation planning and design, are fighting back against speeding drivers and dangerous intersections with both new and old ideas.
The old idea is the design of new subdivisions. Instead of long, winding collector roads — such as Blackacres Boulevard in northwest London where residents are demanding a four-way stop — planners are going back to the grid system.
“The grid system provides more connectivity in the subdivision,” Mr. Ridley says. “It gets rid of crescents and cul de sacs which don’t go anywhere. It’s not an integrated community that way. With the grid system you end up with a lot more access points rather than focusing on just one or two like the collector system.”
Adds Mr. Lucas: “We’re going back to the old for reasons of making the community more connected, in the process making it more of a community.”
And where collectors are necessary because of typography, those sweeping curves are gone, replaced by traffic circles. Mr. Ridley says, “They are good for traffic because drivers don’t have to stop, good for safety because drivers have to go around it slower. So it has a traffic calming effect.”
Traffic calming devices are among newer ideas being applied to neighbourhood streets. These includes road bumps and the more recent road cushions — essentially road bumps split into four pieces which allow emergency vehicles and buses to pass through but slow cars. More controversial are curb extensions which narrow a street near intersections. Motorists — and snow plow operators — don’t like them, but studies show they work.
But are speeds actually increasing? “We were wondering the same thing,” Mr. Ridley says, “but honestly the studies are not bearing this out. Social media is making it easier for people to express their concern about speeding, but the numbers are not showing an increase.”
Philip McLeod, a longtime London journalist, can be reached at email@example.com.