Side Street Speed Bumps: Where is the Benefit?


In the last fifteen years or so speed bumps have been installed on many, perhaps even the majority of, side streets in the city.  There is a Chicago Department of Transportation program called “Traffic Calming” that is responsible for this.  In the end it seems neighborhood residents are paying for the right to live in a fantasy world while actually making things worse.

Was there a scourge of side street traffic incidents that preceded this era of speed bumps?  Probably not.  When there is a serious problem it is all over the news.  Whenever shooting deaths go up, for instance, we hear about it through all the major news outlets.

The underlying logic is that speed bumps make side streets safer by slowing people down.  But that seems dubious.  People tend to slow down just long enough to drive over the speed bump.  Then they speed up again.  Is that one or two second difference really going to save thousands of children’s lives?  Not likely.  Maybe once in a great while.  A better strategy would be teaching your kids to be careful about running into the street.  Someday they may live in a place where there are no speed bumps.

Maybe speed bumps encourage people to take an alternate route?  Not likely.  At this point there are so many that when you come across one it does not trigger a second thought.  If you went one street over there very well might be speed bumps there too.

Another issue involves automobile wear and tear.  Speed bumps definitely do not do suspension any favors.  In certain models it also seems that you could easily bottom out and cause damage.  Let us say the average city driver goes down a “speed bump street” once every two months.  People who live on such streets, and are supposed to benefit, drive on one every day.  Clearly they are giving their cars a good beating.

So why have so many streets had these things installed?  People like to have control, especially people who do not have much control to begin with.  Calling up the city to ask for speed bumps is a cheap way for someone to feel like they are master over their world.  People tend to move in herds.  So one street sees another street do it and copycat behavior begins.

Let us summarize.  Speed bumps do not really slow traffic much.  Speed bumps probably are not making children much safer.  If anything speed bumps are making children less safe because they are not learning how to be careful in the world.  Speed bumps put relatively little wear and tear on cars that only occasionally drive down the street.  But they give a significant beating to the cars that drive on that street every day.  And all of this is happening so that people can feel like they are controlling things that they really are not.

Who wins?  The broad economy does albeit in a minor way.  Materials have to be purchased for each of these projects and crews need to go out and do the work.  Local mechanics may also enjoy more suspension work than they did a couple decades ago.  That is the nice thing about capitalism in America: even when something silly is going on somebody somewhere is making money off it.  It would be far preferable, however, to have economic impact and a product that actually makes the city better.

© 2016

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