Slow the Cars. Protect the People.

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I’ve spoken to many people in Cleveland Heights who tell me how frustrated they are because of cars speeding through their residential streets. Multiple times I’ve watched residents shout, “SLOW DOWN!” I’ve seen them walk to the edge of the street and wave their arms to get drivers to brake.

Cleveland Heights did pass a Complete and Green Streets policy through a resolution in 2018, but so far our city’s efforts have focused on increasing bike infrastructure and pedestrian access on more well-traveled streets, particularly in and around business districts. While accommodating all users of our streets in higher-density traffic areas is important, so too is keeping us—and our children—safe when we’re close to home.

Can we get the police to just put a car here?

For many people, when they think traffic enforcement, they automatically think police. However, we don’t have anywhere near the number of police officers to put a squad car at every residential street in Cleveland Heights that reports speeding cars. Nor is that a good idea, for many reasons.

While it is true that the sight of a police car causes most drivers to slow down, a police car is only one of many ways to get people to take their foot off the gas and tap the brakes. It is, however, one of the most expensive and resource-intensive mechanisms for achieving this response from drivers.

Moreover, a punitive approach to traffic law enforcement has not been proven to have a permanent or even long-lasting effect on many drivers’ behavior. But an aggressive police-dominant approach to cracking down on speeding drivers does have a negative impact on community trust. At a time when our city’s leadership needs to work toward building community trust in our police, we should explore all other options for changing driver behavior and slowing cars down in our residential areas.

Besides, when we are still experiencing an increase in crime—particularly violent crime—we should be prioritizing putting our police resources toward responding to and investigating violent and property crimes. This is the best use of the service that police provide—and it’s why our police officers signed up for the job in the first place.

How else can we get drivers to slow down?

Most people drive at a speed at which they feel safe. Based on roadway, weather, and traffic conditions, we all unconsciously judge what is a reasonable and safe speed to drive. This means that if most drivers on a certain street are going faster than they should—not just above the speed limit but also endangering others—that’s a design problem. And design problems need design solutions.

Generally, people drive faster on wider, distraction-free roads. And they slow down on streets that are narrower (or feel narrower) and where there are a lot elements that are catching their mind’s attention and telling them they need to be more vigilant within their surroundings.

Here are a few design methods to make a street feel narrower and to increase visual activity to signal to a driver’s unconscious that they need to go slower:

  • The city can paint roadside and center lines that create lanes that drivers need to stay within, as well as crosswalk lines at intersections.
  • On busier streets, the city can add bike lanes and medians to also narrow the lanes and create more visual cues to slow drivers.
  • At residential intersections where there are many speeding drivers and drivers failing to adequately stop at stop signs, installing a mini-roundabout in the intersection and/or a curb extension at the corners can make drivers slow down.
  • As the city repairs and replaces corners, making them less rounded (car-centric) and more angular will cause cars to slow down more when they need to turn.
  • Plant lots of trees to line the streets and create a feeling of the street being narrower than it is. (And this is good for our tree canopy and health too!). If your tree lawn needs more trees, call or email the Cleveland Heights Forestry department to request a tree planting.
  • Create more visual engagement for drivers on residential streets by adding art, benches, decorations, landscaping, and so on. Landscaping on your tree lawn that is more than 4 inches high will break the monotony of the endless roadside lawn, creating an unconscious signal to drivers that they need to pay attention more and, thus, slow down. (Consider planting a Pollinator Pathway!)
  • Request a radar speed sign from the police department. These are the signs that detect how fast oncoming drivers are going and then flash their speed when they are driving over the speed limit. Radar speed signs have been found to be nearly as effective as a police car in getting drivers to hit the brakes—and they can be there ALL the time at a tiny fraction of the cost of a salaried officer and their squad car.
  • Request a visit from our Transportation Advisory Committee, a citizen committee that advises our city officials on how we can ensure the safety and convenience for ALL users of our built transportation infrastructure. We have civil engineers and people who work with Vision Zero on our city’s TAC. They can help put together a plan for what you and your neighbors can do as well as advocate on your behalf to City Hall for resources and infrastructure to change drivers’ behavior in your neighborhood, such as street painting, roundabouts and/or curb extensions, or even a stop sign that begins flashing if approaching cars are traveling too quickly to stop in time.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of ways that cities and neighborhoods are changing driver behavior through a design approach. Some of these can be done by individuals, and some need to be done by our local government.

And some are more expensive than others. Luckily, there is also an ever-increasing number of grants available for projects aimed at increasing walkability and decreasing traffic-related injuries and deaths for pedestrians. What’s more, many of these grants prioritize projects that are aimed at equity and sustainability.

(Also, with so many grants out there for many initiatives we want to do here in Cleveland Heights, we need a full-time grant writer on staff at City Hall.)

Through a renewed commitment to traffic safety for everyone—and one that doesn’t overlook our residential streets—we must make sure that not just cars but also walkers, runners, kids, strollers, wheelchairs, scooters, and bikes are ALL WELCOME on our streets.