Henry Ave Next for “Safety Improvements”

Speed bumps on Henry Ave? Hear all about PennDOT’s plans and projected completion times Thursday, October 8th at 6:30 pm in the Wolcoff Auditorium at Roxborough Memorial Hospital. But first! A crash course on traffic calming measures, and the controversy surrounding them.

Hey — people who live and drive on Henry Avenue:  sixty neighbors are demanding changes on this road deemed a “speedway,” and looks like PennDOT has plans to accommodate them. Googling for details was frustrating, not a whole lot of info out there but the good news is, PennDOT is holding another public meeting October 8th to recap everything before projects get underway.

Here are the details, fresh from the office of Pam DeLissio

We’re just guessing what PennDOT has in store but judging by the usual tools in their kit we’re thinking probably speed bumps humps or cushions… maybe some rumble strips or lane-narrowing here or there.  These are all different variations of the same concept: a mechanical deterrent for speeding. Do these things even help?

Ehhhhh…  Depends on who you ask, really, and what you mean by “help.”

Yes, “traffic obstruction methods” slow drivers down (at least while they’re going over them) and they also tend to divert cars to other streets without them. Works great at reducing traffic volume for one particular street, but others in the neighborhood? Not so much. It’s not uncommon, then, for secondary roads to encounter traffic issues that require their own speed bumps…

Seriously, these things can spread like an epidemic. In New Haven, Connecticut, for example, the whole town was pimpled with ’em — it got so bad they had to dig ’em up or face lawsuits.

Opposition comes from passionate bloggers, public service pdf’s, and property experts like RealtyTimes.com, who assert speed bumps aren’t just annoying to drive over. They:

Increase fuel consumption & emissions
Pollute the environment
Hinder snow removal efforts
Decrease property values & increase the length of time homes stay on the market
Encourage road rage and erratic driving

And they could cost you your life!

See, speed bumps — especially the wide “cushion” style proliferating in East Falls — enable cars to traverse at a consistent speed but larger vehicles like police cars, EMT vans, and ambulances still must slow down for every one, to the tune of 5 to 10 seconds per bump. Multiply that by a dozen speed bumps on your way to the hospital, that’s a delay of like 2 minutes. If you’re choking or having a cardiac event, every second counts.

In 2003 in London, the chairman of the city’s ambulance service pleaded with officials to find other ways to address traffic, “For every life saved through traffic calming, more are lost because of ambulance delays.”

Another report from Boulder, CO found a 14% increase in response time over speed-bumped roads, and concluded that for every life saved by “traffic calming,” as many as 85 people may die from emergency vehicle delays. Yeep.

So what does work, to help control speeders and keep our streets safe?

Of course, traffic cops would be the “champagne” of traffic calming measures but not many communities can afford to patrol their problem intersections 24/7.

Radar cameras are a mid-priced option used successfully all around Europe for years — and ticketing speeders this way can bring in beaucoup bucks — but it’s quite invasive, especially in a residential neighborhood. Plus, people often dispute the readings (with good reason).

Signs are the low end of the spectrum: cheap,  but not terribly effective. Who even sees them, after awhile? If you drive a road frequently, they soon sorta become a part of the scenery.

Now, though, an interesting new kinda sign’s making the traffic-calming rounds: the radar speed sign. Basically, a speed limit sign with a display underneath showing how fast you’re driving. Like those big displays cops’ll drag out to roadsides, only tidily added to the regular street signage. Sometimes with messages like “Kid Friendly” or “Slow Please” on ’em.

While most studies show speed signs are slightly less effective than speed bumps or radar cameras at slowing traffic in a specific area, they are exceedingly effective at calming traffic in the long termThat is, they literally train drivers & instill new habits.

How? First, the lighted displays regularly snap drivers outta the dangerous “autopilot” that occurs when we ride a familiar route. Most speeders aren’t lead-footed maniacs but daydreamers, multi-taskers, chatterboxes… It’s easy to forget to check your speedometer, but hard to ignore a glowing, animated sign. The human eye is just naturally drawn to moving lights of all kinds, we can’t help it.

We’re also social creatures, highly susceptible to basic empathy that connects us quite primally. Might sound naive to think reminding someone “Hey, we live here!” would trigger much response, but it does. Most people don’t want to be asshats. Especially in public, go figure. Speed signs gently remind drivers they’re in a community that takes road safety seriously.  Research suggests drivers instinctively comply.

Not all of these studies are funded by people selling this stuff, either. In a national survey of police officers, traffic engineers, and corporate safety officials, radar speed signs were named the “single-most effective traffic calming solution near schools, playgrounds, and neighborhood streets.”

Radar signs can collect data and track patterns over time, too — each one can be like a little traffic study (such info helps communities design more permanent traffic-calming measures, like traffic circles & “round-abouts“). These silent, solar-powered speed sentries seem to be gaining popularity in US residential communities for cheap, effective speed control & management.

Our ears will be open at the meeting October 8th, we’d love to hear some local feedback regarding speed signs, stay tuned. If you have strong feelings about speed bumps — for or against — we urge you to attend and speak up! 

Meanwhile, before you sign that Speed Bump petition



  1. It would also be helpful–and less of a suicide mission–if there were a left turn/green light signal at Phila U instead of simply a left turn lane. You generally can’t turn left on Henry Ave south until the light is turning red and cars are gunning from towards you from School House Lane. It is also the only place in the neighborhood where you can risk a left hand turn on Henry without drivers behind threatening to plow into the back of you.

    • Yep, it speeds up drivers from the other direction, and makes the ones behind you impatient too. Recently had a guy make his left turn from behind me even though I was ahead of him in the intersection waiting to make my left! Lucky for both of us there weren’t kids in the crosswalk.

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