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Love 'em or hate 'em, speed humps are in vogue

Speed bumps' longer cousins are popping up on residential streets, though they can end up just shifting a problem.

By MAUREEN BYRNE

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2001


Speed bumps' longer cousins are popping up on residential streets, though they can end up just shifting a problem.

SEMINOLE -- People living on Passage Way breathed a sigh of relief a year ago when speed humps arrived. But soon afterward, the folks on Yacht Club Boulevard began feeling the effects of the traffic-calming devices a block away.

To avoid the humps on Passage Way, drivers began using Yacht Club Boulevard to get to and from Hamlin Boulevard. And many went at least 10 mph faster than the 25 mph speed limit.

So the county installed speed humps on Yacht Club Boulevard. And guess what happened?

Traffic started increasing on Neptune Road, a street sandwiched between Passage Way and Yacht Club Boulevard. And the cars speed there now, too.

"It's really terrible over here," said Joseph Mallia, who lives on Neptune Road. "We are bearing the brunt of all this."

But there is good news for Mallia and others who live on Neptune. Help is on the way.

And most likely it will be, well, more speed humps.

To curb speeding in residential areas, county and city traffic officials are installing speed humps -- raised areas in a roadway that look like oversized speed bumps. They are 12 feet from front to back. Speed bumps are sometimes just 2 to 4 feet wide. Humps are about 31/2 to 4 inches high, while bumps are sometimes higher.

Some people love them, saying they slow traffic and deter drivers who would rather not go over them. Others think they are an annoyance and say they can cause accidents, damage vehicles and drive down property values.

But like them or not, get used to them. Speed humps are one of the most popular devices used to control traffic in residential areas.

"What we're trying to do is encourage drivers to stay out on the major streets," said Pete Turgeon, county traffic operations manager.

But are they doing that?

Opponents of speed humps say they just shift the traffic from one residential street to another.

"Sometimes that's true," Turgeon said, as in the case of Neptune Road. "And we've had to go back and address the traffic changes that have resulted."

But it's residents who are requesting the speed humps for their streets, Turgeon said. "We don't necessarily promote it," he said.

There's nothing new about cut-through traffic and speeding on residential streets, Turgeon said. But since the county approved the Residential Traffic Management Program in October 1997, requests for devices to control excess traffic and speeding in residential areas, such as speed humps, have increased.

"We are dealing with about 80 different locations right now," Turgeon said.

The county installed speed humps on one street in 1998. The next year, it was two roads. Last year the number of projects jumped to 14.

So far this year, speed humps have been put on eight streets, Turgeon said.

"We expect that at some time it will taper off, but as the program becomes more known, more people are calling wanting to get relief in their neighborhood," Turgeon said.

About $200,000 is budgeted each year to provide at least 20 types of traffic-calming devices for areas that qualify. Devices include raised crosswalks, diverters (islands) and road-narrowing measures.

There are seven steps to qualify for the program, including petitions, traffic engineering studies, a public hearing and approval by the Pinellas County Commission.

Speed humps, part of a movement called traffic calming, began in Europe in the 1970s and later spread to Australia and Canada before taking hold in the United States in the 1990s, Turgeon said.

Hillsborough County has had traffic-calming devices since 1988. So have Clearwater, Dunedin, St. Petersburg and several other cities in Pinellas County.

In Largo, though, don't expect to encounter a single speed hump on a public road. In fact, the city doesn't have any traffic-calming devices. Yet it recently hired a consultant to study vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian activities downtown. After the $40,000 study is done early next year, the Largo City Commission will determine how best to manage traffic in residential areas, said Chris Kubala, the public works director. But will it be speed humps?

Probably not, Kubala said. "What we've noticed is that you usually are just moving a problem to somewhere else," he said.

In Dunedin, traffic officials have steered clear of speed humps and speed platforms, a wider version of the hump.

"We don't put them in," said Bob Brotherton, the city's director of public works and utilities.

Brotherton said the speed humps can damage cars and the city doesn't want to be held responsible. Instead, Dunedin uses other methods to calm traffic, such as narrowing a road or installing diverters in a street.

"They will give you the same result, but don't cause damage to the car from the bump," Brotherton said.

Clearwater's 2-year-old traffic calming program is similar to the county's, with petitions, studies and public hearings. The city uses speed tables, which also are wider than speed humps, and raised intersections to deter and slow traffic, said Paul Bertels, traffic operations manager.

"But generally they create more problems than they solve," he said.

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