Writer. Warning: opinions. My lawyer advised a disclaimer, but didn't include any jokes to go with. Damned if I can think of any either.

Traffic Calming, Cyclist Alarming

My neighborhood is remarkable for a lot of reasons, not least of which being because I live in it. It is also very beautiful, has what I consider to be the city’s best entertainment district, and is situated close to pretty much anything that a person would want to do in Atlanta, which means that it is a great place to live as a cyclist. In fact, it is simply a great place to be, which means that people from all over the city come here to explore our shops, partake in our fine cuisine and entertainment, and cut through our streets while driving like maniacs.

Virginia Highland, home of Eccentric typeface and blogonauts
Yes, we are close to so many of the city’s finest features, which means that we’re actually situated in between a few of them. This, in turn, means that a significant portion of our neighborhood traffic seems to be non-residents trying to get from one place to another. These people are like uninvited dudes at a fraternity party, wrecking the ratio and drinking up the girl beer.

Let’s say you own a house on one of the streets in this neighborhood. You probably have a couple of kids and a wife, potentially even a dog, any one of whom is liable to wander into the street. There they are sure to get struck down by one of these marauding passers-by who are in a haste to get from one of the city’s arm pits to the other without even taking so much as a second to admire the city’s voluptuous breasts in between. You can’t gate off the entire neighborhood, so what do you do?

One answer seems to be traffic calming devices, although you’ll notice that they’re not called “Driver Calming Devices” because using roadway features to calm a hasty driver down is like trying to placate a hasty Cheryl by telling her to “calm down”. It just makes things worse, although sometimes it results in hilarity if you’re willing to brave potential bodily harm.

Credit: Richard Drdul
A traffic calming device is a hump in the roadway, or a curb made to narrow the street, or an island installed in the middle, or any similar roadway feature. The idea is that if you make a street a little harder to navigate, people will drive more slowly through it. Based on what I have seen, in actuality they just endanger their car suspensions by driving at the same speed over the humps, but studies show that traffic calming does reduce speed.

Unfortunately, some times “traffic calming” also means “cyclist danger”, primarily when the method chosen to calm the traffic is roadway narrowing. Such is the case on Lake Avenue NE, where the roadway has been narrowed by means of an island and a curbed area. If you happen to be on a bicycle on Lake and you are overtaken by a car in that corner, I can assure you that you will not feel calm.

I’ve cut and pasted a car into the narrowed area using an image manipulation program in order to demonstrate the lack of sufficient area.

Because of the traffic I have observed in my own neighborhood, I can understand the homeowners on Lake Ave wanting to take some sort of action to slow down cars. It is a beautiful area of the city and I enjoy it often, quietly taking in its pretty houses and shady hardwood trees as I pass. I’m just hurt that I am being endangered by the newly-narrowed Lake, and I think that promoting cycling on it could actually help solve the issues its residents must have with noisy, dangerous car traffic.

It seems to me that attempting to calm traffic and simultaneously endangering cyclists is like switching to a lighter cigarette at the onset of emphysema. There is a better option that is being ignored.

Oh, and smoking is gross. Just saying.

6 thoughts on “Traffic Calming, Cyclist Alarming”

  1. Robert Olson

    I just came across the blog. This post is simultaneously encouraging and enraging. The encouragement part comes from seeing that there are people in this city who actually seem to have a bit of common sense and a desire for it not to continue to suck. But it’s enraging to know that the city has and will continue to make truly foolish choices, despite the existence of people such as you.

    Oh well, please keep writing and maybe some day someone will pay attention.

    And I loved the line about the arm pits.

  2. jim

    Thanks, Robert. Glad you liked it!

  3. Tony Bullard

    I work on Peachtree Hills Ave, which installed “traffic calming” devices a couple years ago. (Google Maps image: http://bit.ly/czfl3y)

    The speed bumps I understand, but, just as you point out, there are a series of useless islands that cause the road to be more swurvy and narrow. It ends up pushing me further out into a lane of a road that was already infamous for having drivers cross the center line.

    To top it all off, the road has a turn on top of a hill, meaning visibility of on coming traffic is close to zero. So I often have to ride slowly up the hil in the center of the lane, to ensure that cars don’t try and pass me and slam into on coming traffic. I’m potentially saving their lives, but they just see it as me being an asshole, hogging the road while I ride slowly up a hill (much like that QT commercial).

    They COULD have put in bike lanes on both sides of the street and gotten an identical traffic calming effect.

  4. Cynthia LaLuna

    Amen. Atlanta doesn’t seem to make any real, LOGICAL provisions for cyclists OR pedestrians. I cross Piedmont Avenue at 7th every day on my way to the Park, and there has been no crosswalk there since they resurfaced the road almost a year ago. The speed at which cars fly through there between Ponce and 10th – a highly pedestrian area with cars parked on both sides of the street – is alarming and infuriating.

    As much as I hate those speed bumps throughout VaHi, I’m thinking that stretch of Piedmont sorely needs them. And I vote NO on excess curbage for any purpose. That’s just silly and dangerous.

  5. Roger3B

    Jim, you have my vote!