Speeding seems to be the biggest component to reckless driving. You rarely see a reckless driver driving the speed limit. So area civil engineers have been looking at ways to control this aspect as another prong to the solutions combatting reckless driving. The third “E” of the three pronged approach is ENGINEERING.
“The most commonly used ones in residential areas are speed humps, speed bumps or speed tables, which are a physical change in the road surface that is going to force the driver, typically, to slow down,” says Wisconsin state traffic engineer Bill McNary.
Perfect! So problem solved… well not so fast…
“I think they do cause some concerns with snow plows or emergency vehicles,” explains McNary.
“So it’s important that when those devices are being considered, that the traffic engineers reach out to their stakeholders to make sure that everybody is comfortable with the proposed solution.”
So there’s a lot of things to think about when making these changes. You have to look at the solutions from many different angles.
“One of the key pieces of doing research on new designs or devices is the human factor aspect of it,” says McNary.
“How do people react to that new situation? Do they react the way we anticipated or does it surprise them and they’re reacting in a way that was unanticipated and potentially dangerous?”
The last thing you want is for reckles drivers, who tend to not pay attention to the traffic laws anyway, to get spooked… take their already wrecked car because of the speed bump, and decide to drive on the sidewalk to get around the speed bump and potentially killing people in the way.
The way these types of changes work can be psychological or it may be flat out treacherous to speed on roads that have been re-engineered. And that’s on purpose. If you perceive the road narrowing, you’re less likely to speed.
“So, for example, when you’re out on the interstate, there’s no curb and gutter, people tend to drive at a higher speed,” states McNary.
“You get into an urban situation, things are a little bit closer, you’ve got curb and gutter, you’ve got crosswalks. That tends to create a more confined environment for the driver and so they tend to drive at a slower speed just naturally.”
So you have the common options of speed bumps etcetera, changes in elevation basically. Of course there’s the round about… no I’m not going to get into THAT one here other than to say people do tend to slow down approaching them, but have you ever heard of a CHICANE?
You probably have if you follow car racing, but this traffic calming measure can be put into place to get people to slow down. A chicane horizontally diverts traffic through alternating roadside islands from the left to the right. You may remember them along North avenue in Wauwatosa. They were eventually removed as they were doing too good a job, interrupting traffic flow and impeding parking.
Another option to look at is what’s called “Road Diets”.
“Which is a reducing of the actual footprint of the roadway for example if you have a road that has two lanes in each direction, with no dividing median in between them, then potentially you can go from a four lane undivided segment to a single lane in each direction with what we call a ‘twin left turn’ lane down the middle,” McNary says.
Many times they actually are able to add a bike lane in the process, helping out with alternative transportation initiatives. Or even adding more parking, which tends to make everyone happy. Curious as to what those look like? Just take a look at Hawley rd between Vliet and Wisconsin, or Kilbourn ave right in front of UW Panther Arena.
Another idea is to use optical illusions. Back before they redesigned the Mitchell interchange, they had chevrons painted in varying patterns on the ramp from Northbound 94 to Westbound 894. They gave the illusion you were travelling faster than you actually were. The outcome being you tap on the breaks without even thinking about it.
Whether the options are to change the elevation of the surface with speed bumps, narrow the lanes by adding curb push outs at corners or simply change the paint scheme on the road, physical re-engineering of the roadways is just another tool in the toolbox for community and government leaders to use when trying to finally get a handle on our reckless driving problem.