January 20, 2010
TRAFFIC CALMING INITIATIVES IN CONNECTICUT
By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst
You asked for an update of OLR report 2005-R-0692 to discuss traffic calming initiatives in Connecticut that have been implemented more recently.
This memo defines traffic calming and identifies commonly used measures. It describes recent traffic calming initiatives in New Canaan, New Haven, Newtown, Stamford, Wallingford, and Windsor. These initiatives include (1) procedures for receiving and acting on requests from residents and other interested parties to adopt and install traffic calming measures (New Canaan and Newtown); (2) measures to develop “complete streets” that ensure that all transportation users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users, can travel safely and conveniently on city streets and sidewalks (New Haven); (3) the process for developing a city-wide traffic calming plan (Stamford); and (4) the process used by two municipalities (Wallingford and Windsor) to address traffic concerns along specific roads in residential neighborhoods. The report also discusses other initiatives in the state to promote traffic calming.
As noted in our earlier report, traffic calming refers to a wide range of measures designed to reduce traffic speed, discourage motorists from cutting through residential areas, and reduce the number of accidents. These measures can include physical changes to streets, such as erecting speed humps (segments where the street is raised by several inches for a length of several feet), bump-outs (extensions of the sidewalk to narrow the traffic lanes, particularly at crosswalks), and chicanes (changes in the alignment of lanes). Other measures affect how drivers perceive the roadway, e.g., painting lines on the road to make lanes appear narrower and planting trees or shrubs along roads. Traffic calming can also involve education and speed limit enforcement, programs.
The Institute of Transportation Engineers has a traffic calming library, available on line at www.ite.org/traffic/. The library contains a searchable database of reports, articles and other documents related to traffic calming.
The town's Police Commission, which serves as the local traffic authority, has adopted a process to receive requests from residents and other interested parties for the adoption and installation of traffic calming measures. Requests may be submitted by letter or e-mail.
In response to such requests, the commission will seek the opinions of other town departments and traffic engineers through a Traffic Calming Working Group. The commission will use a report prepared by the Southwestern Regional Planning Agency (SWRPA) on the application of various traffic calming measures and recommended standards. Traffic calming measures must comply with the standards and practices of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the Connecticut Department of Transportation. Traffic calming devices must conform to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices as well as the ITE “Guideline for the Design and Application of Speed Humps.”
Traffic calming measures may not inappropriately delay emergency responses to fires, medical, or other emergencies. The commission has identified certain streets and roads as emergency response routes where traffic calming devices that increase response times will not be considered.
Under the procedures, traffic calming must be neighborhood driven. Residents of an area proposed for installation of traffic calming measures must be given the opportunity to participate in the discussions leading to the implementation of such proposals. Informational meetings will be held with residents to present and discuss individual projects as the commission deems necessary.
In October 2008, the city's Board of Aldermen adopted an order to establish a steering committee to develop a “complete streets” policy for the city, implement a complete streets program, and propose a complete streets ordinance. Specifically, the order seeks to establish a complete streets policy to ensure that all users of the transportation system, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users can travel safely and conveniently on city streets and sidewalks. Under the policy, the needs of vulnerable users (children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities) would be given priority so that they can travel safely within the public right of way.
Under the order, the city will develop a manual to provide specific design guidelines for the construction of complete streets. The manual will include design standards to (1) establish a street classification system; (2) increase the safety and walk ability of city streets through tools that slow vehicle speeds; (3) create high visibility pedestrian crosswalks; (4) create safe, connected bike facilities for cyclists; (5) narrow travel lanes; and (6) address on-street parking policies.
Under the order, the city will:
1. establish a process for including community members in the planning and design process for streets in their neighborhoods;
2. give affected communities an opportunity to advocate for changes that will best serve their interests, including the opportunity to obtain input from landscape architects and economic development professionals;
3. coordinate educational campaigns targeting all users of the public right-of-way on their rights and responsibilities, with the goal of increasing the safety and civility of the streets; and
4. support the Police Department's traffic enforcement efforts and work with it to develop benchmarks for evaluating and measuring progress.
The city has also installed traffic calming measures in several neighborhoods. For example, it has installed four speed humps on River Street in Fair Haven to address drag racing that commonly took place there. It is installing a roundabout to slow north- and southbound traffic at West Park Avenue and Elm Street in Westville.
In the spring of 2009, Newtown established procedures for the town's Police Commission to implement a traffic calming program. Under these procedures, the commission may use measures to reduce speed, enhance pedestrian safety, and reduce traffic diversion in residential neighborhoods. The procedures are intended to make efficient, cost- effective use of town resources by screening and prioritizing requests for traffic calming.
If a neighborhood requests traffic calming measures, the commission will request that the police chief or his designee research the request and determine a prudent course of action based on the Police Department's available resources and report these findings to the commission within 60 days.
After the chief reports his findings, he will be asked if the issue can be resolved using the resources that are available to the department. If the chief feels that the issue can be resolved within the department's resources, the chief will be asked to implement his plan for 120 days and report his findings to the commission.
After completing this process, the commission will decide if the department has satisfactorily addressed the issue. If the commission decides that the issue has been addressed properly, the chief will be asked to monitor the area, when resources are available, to ensure traffic compliance in the area of impact.
If neighbors in the area still feel that the town needs to put additional traffic calming measures into an area, they must submit a detailed written description of their traffic concerns with the signatures of at least 20 voters living in the area. This petition to request additional traffic calming measures must be presented to the commission at a regularly scheduled meeting.
After verifying the signatures and addresses, the commission must hold a hearing. Before it recommends installing neighborhood traffic control devices or traffic calming measures, it must request funds for a traffic study by a professional engineer to identify how best to address the concern for reduced speed, enhanced pedestrian safety, and reduced traffic diversion in the neighborhoods. The study may consider traffic and intersection volumes, traffic speed, and the extent of bicycle and pedestrian activity, among other things.
When completed, the study must be submitted to the commission for review. The commission will decide on a course of action, establish the plan's priority, and advise the Department of Public Works to request the appropriate amount of funding for materials and labor based on the most recent available cost estimates in its next budget. It may request funding sooner if such improvements are deemed desirable and consistent with the commission's plan. The commission may authorize a temporary course of action before moving forward with a permanent traffic calming solution.
The commission may request a demonstration of interest and support from neighborhood residents in the form of a petition signed by more than 60% of the residents on the affected streets. The petition must specify the area under consideration, the nature of the problem (speed, traffic volume, through traffic) and the traffic calming solutions being recommended to the commission.
The Police Department will monitor the effectiveness of any traffic calming measures that are installed. After one year, the commission will review the installation and decide if the measures were effective. The commission reserves the right to remove any traffic calming installations at any time that have not produced a desired or intended result, or are deemed dangerous.
The city is developing a traffic calming master plan for all of its residential neighborhoods. Once developed, the plan will show street improvements that can help slow speeds through neighborhoods, reduce cut-through traffic, and better manage traffic. The plan will create an environment where pedestrians, vehicles, and bicycles can coexist.
The master plan is being developed through a process in which residents engage in a series of workshops (charrettes) where they discuss the values they wish their neighborhood to exemplify, the traffic-related problems that they wish to resolve, and the possible solutions for these problems. The input obtained from the residents provides the framework for the project team, led by Urban Engineers, Inc., to complete the master plan.
The city's comprehensive approach towards traffic calming seeks to avoid moving problems such as speeding and cut-through traffic from one neighborhood to another in order to ensure safer, friendlier, and quieter roads throughout the city.
The Master Plan is being developed based on the comments received during the charrettes, phone calls, and e-mails. Further information about the city's planning process, including the final draft plan, is available at http://www.stamfordtrafficcalming.com.
In 2008, the South Central Regional Council of Governments (SCRCOG) conducted a pilot traffic calming study in Wallingford. The purpose of this pilot was to highlight the traffic calming study process developed as part of SCRCOG's Traffic Calming Tools Resource Guide (described below). Wallingford requested assistance with a traffic calming study on North Elm Street between Curtis Avenue and Christian Street. Adjacent land use in the study area includes housing and Choate Rosemary Hall School. Choate was building a new dorm on North Elm Street across from Curtis Avenue. As a result of this project Choate requested the town to install stop signs on North Elm Street at Curtis Avenue. The town responded that they would like to consider other options to slow down traffic and improve pedestrian crossings in the vicinity. The resulting traffic calming study sought to provide a “complete” street that accommodates traffic flow and provides pedestrian crossings in a safe environment.
The consultant team began the study by meeting with the town to gather input and information. The town supplied accident history and traffic count information. Initial field observations and meetings were conducted with the town Engineering and Police departments as well as Choate. To better understand traffic and pedestrian operations in the study area, information was collected on traffic volumes (daily, peak hour, and intersection turning movement counts), pedestrian volumes (at key cross walks), traffic speeds, and accident data. Existing roadway signing, pavement markings, and pedestrian activity were also observed. Information was also collected on the adjacent land uses.
An initial community meeting was held at Wallingford Town Hall. The consulting team gave a brief presentation that described the study team, study purpose, existing conditions, and traffic calming toolbox. It was also explained that the purpose of this meeting was to solicit input on issues and concerns in the study area and to identify opportunities to address the problems. The attendees were divided into small groups to discuss the issues and ideas for addressing them. After the discussion each group summarized its findings. The project team, including members from the town, met with members of the Choate Student Council. A brief presentation and work group session similar to the first community meeting was conducted as part of one of the regular student council meetings.
Additional meetings were held with the town staff (Engineering, Police, Public Works, Electrical Division and the mayor) and Choate to solicit feedback on preliminary options. A second community meeting was conducted at Town Hall to discuss the progress on the study and to present the study options. The consultant team gave a brief presentation outlining the issues and options. Following the presentation, a discussion was held on the options the community liked and other items to consider.
The consultant team prepared a final report for the town to consider as it moves forward with funding, approvals, and design. The options were presented for short-term and long-term considerations. Options for Choate to consider, such as pedestrian education programs, were also included.
Windsor has considered a variety of traffic calming options for Rainbow Road, a collector (medium traffic) street that connects a residential area with a commercial area. Over an 18-month period in 2007 and 2008, the Health and Safety Committee of the Town Council considered such options as installing stop signs, installing medians to discourage truck traffic, and restriping the road. Town staff recommended against installing stop signs or speed humps on the road, arguing that they would be ineffective. In addition, they argued that speed humps would significantly delay emergency vehicles when they respond to calls from the several hundred households and businesses along the road.
The committee's July 27, 2009 meeting included an extensive discussion of its deliberations on traffic calming. The discussion is summarized at www.townofwindsorct.com/pages/government/towncouncil/documents/meetings/2009-07-27_1830_HS_agenda.pdf.
The town ultimately installed three small medians and several other traffic calming measures. As a pilot, it installed barriers to make the road one-way for part of its length. The latter measures prompted approximately 400 comments from motorists, overwhelmingly negative. The town took down the barriers to permit snow plows to pass, and town staff have recommended that the barriers not be re-installed in the spring. The council is continuing to address traffic issues in the affected area.
In 2008, SCRCOG developed a regional traffic calming resource guide. The guide (1) develops a systematic approach to traffic calming, (2) identifies key locations throughout the region, (3) describes how to engage the community in designing traffic calming measures, and (4) identifies and develops cost effective solutions and preliminary design concepts which could be permitted and constructed. The guide is available at www.scrcog.org/toc_files/TrafficCalming_ResourceGuide_Final.pdf.
In July 2009, the Connecticut chapter of the American Planning Association offered a course to help municipalities establish traffic calming programs for their roads. The course described various traffic calming devices, outlined potential positive and negative impacts on a neighborhood, and reviewed a sample traffic calming program. It also investigated related issues, such as impacts of traffic calming devices on liability, roadway maintenance, and emergency services. Participants performed case studies applying traffic calming measures to address traffic concerns. The course was offered to public works directors, highway superintendents, road foremen, town engineers, and town planners.