Traffic Calming?

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Jonathan Strauss' useful contribution on a sustainable transport policy skirts an issue that crops up frequently in urban communities: traffic calming. 

In most instances,traffic calming consists of deploying engineering measures to slow down traffic in selected urban areas. Traffic calming as practiced does two things: 

  1. Forces traffic to reduce speed along targeted roads; and 
  2. Usually seeks to physically separate car traffic from other road users like cyclists and pedestrians. 

The problem with an engineered approach is that it divides the urban environment into “calmed” and “non-calmed” neighborhoods - while leaving the dire consequences of traffic and congestion unaddressed. 

It's piecemeal, and tends to encourage privileged neighborhoods at the cost to others. Selective traffic calming is also deployed as a sop to communities while a program of freeway and tunnel construction continues unabated. 

Rather than fall victim to this game I urge the Socialist Alliance to support the introduction of a default 30 kph speed limit for urban streets. No physical calming is required. Instead a 30 kph speed limit is implemented across a whole suburb or region. 

It doesn't follow that because the speed limit is reduced by, what may be, 20 kph, then traffic will move that much slower. Already, despite massive outlays, traffic congestion is such that transit speeds in Australian cities are slowing with many cities facing gridlock during peak commuter times. 

Under a 30 kph regime not only is it safer and more appealing to cycle or walk, but, as research suggests, traffic flows are more consistent and less erratic. This also means that any public transport sharing the carriageway, has less impact on, and can more easily enter and leave, the traffic flow. 

I'm not suggesting that 30 kph be rigidly imposed on communities by local councils. Campaigns like 20's Plenty For Us  (ie: 20 mph approximates 30 kph) in the UK reflect a significant community groundswell that is gaining momentum because the impetus is all about empowering communities to decide how they want to live. In most instances, speed reduction is introduced by gradations and only proceeds with continuing community sanction. 

Speed reduction like this, broadly and democratically introduced,  changes the dialogue at the local level and suggests that community control can indeed begin at your front door without any recourse to NIMBYism.