Calm Down! Taming Traffic in a Speedy St. John's

Lately in St. John's there's been a lot of talk about traffic. There are more cars on the road, the drive to work seems longer, and the news seems to have more stories about accidents and collisions.

Let's start with the first issue that comes to mind when we hear the word "traffic": namely, that there's too much of it. With lots of new development in the region, we've got more vehicles on the road, and we're starting to see the first signs of gridlock and traffic jams.

This issue gets everyone frustrated -- no one likes to sit in traffic when they're trying to get from one place to the other. Cities try to alleviate this kind of problem by getting traffic to flow better. Roads are widened, special lanes are added, and new highways like the Outer Ring Road are built.

Accidents are the second major issue we tend to think of when we talk about traffic. It's one thing to free up traffic so that it flows more freely, but when cars and trucks are moving faster, they're more likely to hit things with fatal results.

What causes accidents? Lots of different things: impaired driving; inexperienced drivers; distractions like texting or adjusting the radio; poor road conditions due to ice, rain, or snow storms; wildlife; and many other factors.

But the main issue in the news today is speeding. Let's take a closer look.

First, it's important to distinguish between two types of speeders. There are some who wilfully disrespect and ignore the legal speed limit. These are the drivers who need law enforcement to show them that speeding has consequences (hopefully before that consequence is a collision).

Then there are those -- likely in the majority -- who drive "faster than conditions dictate." When road conditions are less than perfect (e.g., when it's raining or it's dark), they sometimes drive at a speed that doesn't give them enough time to react should something happen on the road in front of them. Maybe they're not paying attention to the speedometer as they talk on the phone, or maybe they haven't noticed the road has suddenly become a whole lot icier.

This second group of drivers are those who are most likely to respond to reminders or warnings about speeding. These are the folks for whom education -- like road condition reports and speed limit signage -- go a long way.

Enforcement and education are two ways that we can help reduce speeding, but there are other ways that we can make traffic safer for everyone. Many of these ideas involve changing the design of our roads to better manage the flow of traffic, a strategy called "Traffic Calming".

Traffic calming measures are things like speed bumps and roundabouts -- they force drivers to pay attention to the road and alter their speed or driving behaviour. Speed bumps are usually what's offered as a solution to residential street speeding, but are they really the best approach?

There are lots of options for traffic calming, and the city is starting to explore them. These include different versions of the speed bump called "speed humps" or "traffic tables," which are raised sections of road that aren't as jarring as speed bumps.

Other options include modifying the landscape of the street, like making lanes narrower or building curb extensions. These changes in the environment make us more attentive as drivers, and so we naturally adjust our speed to safe levels.

There are many other ways that we can help calm traffic, and the staff at St. John's City Hall are testing a lot of them right now on Old Topsail Road. So take a quick scan of this readable document about traffic calming from Sunnyvale California, or search online to find out what other cities are doing to help curb speeding.

What do you think? Have you noticed speeding or other traffic issues near your home or on your drive to work? What solutions do you think are most likely to reduce speeding in our city?

Written by Dave Lane, Alain Lusignan at 18:28
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