Soooo Over Speedbumps

More speed bumps? Community Council’s traffic committee considers “traffic calming” measures for Penn, Midvale & Schoolhouse Lane while we take a crash course on the road obstruction controversy. 

To bastardize Frost: Something there is that doesn’t love a speed bump. Or hump or cushion… These are all mechanical deterrents for speeding. In other words, they’re ways we take a perfectly efficient road and muck it up on purpose. Engineering giveth, and PennDOT taketh away.

But it’s for our own good, though, isn’t it? Ehhhh… Depends on who you ask. 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 driver advocates like the National Motorists Association, who assert speed bumps aren’t just annoying to drive over.  They increase fuel consumption, pollute the environment with noise & exhaust, frustrate snow plows, lower property values, and encourage erratic driving.

Plus they could cost you your life!

See, speed bumps — including the wide “cushion” style proliferating in East Falls — allow fire trucks to speed to emergencies but smaller vehicles like ambulances & EMT vans 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.” A 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?

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

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 incorporated into street signage.

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 term. That 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. Hard to believe just reminding someone “Hey, we live here!” can trigger much response, but it does. Most people don’t want to be asshats. Speed signs gently remind drivers they’re in a community that takes road safety seriously.  Research suggests drivers instinctively comply.

TRUE STORY: A national survey of police officers, traffic engineers, and corporate safety officials named radar speed signs 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.

Heads up: Community Council is considering speedbumps for Penn Street, Midvale and more on Schoolhouse Lane.  If you have strong feelings about speed bumps — for or against — we urge you to complete the new East Falls Traffic & Parking Survey. East Falls Forward will share results online and with community organizations to help inform neighborhood planning.




  1. We live on Queen Lane and the speeding traffic has been nearly eliminated by the speed cushions. Residents can actually come out from their driveways with a car coming down the street. That was not possible before the cushions were installed. The noise of the speeding cars was much worse before the cushions were installed. The cushions sometimes cause some noise for certain vehicles if they are going too fast but the driver will take it slower the next time through.

    • Yes, thank you — like we said, speedbumps *do* work for the road they’re on but unfortunately traffic just tends to divert to other roads nearby. And sure enough, soon after Queen Lane’s “improvements,” they were “needed” on Schoolhouse and then folks on Penn started asking for them at Community Council meetings, too, complaining about overflow thru their street…

      Speedbumps beget more speedbumps. Do we want a community full of speedbumped roads? Is the goal to divert traffic entirely around this part of East Falls, make it a neighborhood of “country lanes” with big houses and NO PARKING signs?

      I dunno, honestly. Just scratching my head…

      I’m no traffic expert but after a few days of googling, I haven’t found anything to support their proliferation in East Falls. Not that we don’t have speeding/traffic issues but speedbumps are looked on as a crude, cheap solution (with many detractors). I’d like to think we’re more advanced than “Put a lump in the road so cars can’t go fast!”

      I’m glad your street is safer & quieter, though!

  2. If they would post the speed limit at the 85th percentile, it would be safer. Disagree with speed cameras and using radar. Too many errors, speed limits too low, and tickets barely over them.

    • OK. Just to clarify — we’re not suggesting using radar signs to ticket but rather, as the article states, to gather data to develop effective solutions and instill better driving habits.

  3. As a Queen Ln resident who has seen the street “before” humps and “after,” I have seen first hand that these humps work and hope they stick around indefinitely. You could really run an analogy comparing it to the Wild West vs. a nation of laws. Early on you would observe motorists from other parts of the city passing each other on our street (while laying on the horn), shooting down the street at 60 miles an hour+, and others never stoping for our neighborhood school busses. With the humps, some of these antics have subsided which to me is a big win and brings me some calm when my children are in the front yard or my wife and I simply back out of our driveway. I would encourage residents who live on other proposed “hump” streets to embrace the opportunity. Really what these speed calming tools provide is some sort of traffic law accordance in a community where there isn’t a whole lot due to our cross-town location and lack of overall traffic enforcement resources.

    I remember hearing from the streets department early on that this was sort of a first test and would be considered for additional community streets in the future. I appreciate the counter opinions in this article around the affect on alternate streets and am all for a comprehensive strategy. I support efforts to obtain additional humps on these alternate routes and would also support additional calming strategies that go beyond the existing / future humps – all with a goal to make our community streets safer.

  4. As a resident of Henry Avenue, I have seen more than my fair share of traffic disasters, including fatal accidents. Speed bumps DO slow traffic in my experience. The bumps on Schoolhouse have calmed traffic.

    Those who oppose the bumps have not caught up with the younger generation: they don’t want cars at all. They want bikes & efficient public transport. In my dream of East Falls, electric streetcars would return & I would ride them instead of breathing the gas fumes of buses & cars.

    • Hello Ellen: Thank you for giving us your take on such an important issue. We too are eagerly looking forward to moving beyond (or at least drastically reducing) individual car ownership in favor of alternate modes of transportation. And yes, the younger generation seems to be embracing that idea. Neighbor and contributor Brian Donovan wrote an article about driverless cars here. Exciting stuff! BTW, we’re encouraging all neighbors to weigh in on parking and traffic in our area by taking this survey. We hope to use it as a first step in a community-wide discussion about traffic and parking solutions. Thanks again for chiming in!

  5. About how cushions affect biking to school on Queen Lane. Traffic on Henry is heavy and fast and you can’t cross until a traffic light, so you bike the sidewalk on Henry to get to Queen. “Sharing the road” with cars on Henry is a joke as it would be very dangerous with the speed and density of traffic and no real bike lane. Thank God for speed cushions on Queen. Without them, biking on that road would be too dangerous. Queen and Henry are bike roads, but they don’t really seem much like it. Limiting speed cushions to east-west roads and leaving north-south roads like Henry without them is a viable compromise.

    • Queen and Henry are bike roads?? Wow, that has not been our experience. And while I’m glad the speed cushions on Queen are working for you, they do divert traffic to other streets where it is a problem. Like School House — we *hate* the speed cushions. We used to have occasional issues with drivers rolling thru the stop sign at Gypsy/School House but now it’s much more frequent. Drivers seem angry about the speed cushions and ready to make up lost time. The only solution using this model would be to extend the speed cushions, gah!!! No!! Disagree strongly that speed cushions are anything but a nuisance when you consider the big picture.

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