Bumpy ride

Mike Cherney

Life is slowing down on some of Evanston’s residential streets– to about 15 mph.

Speed humps — small bulges of asphalt constructed on top of aroadbed — have seen an increase in popularity in Evanston inrecent years, with more than 200 of them installed on variousresidential streets in the past five years alone, said RajeevDahal, the city’s senior traffic engineer. Although some residentssaid the humps create bigger problems than just a bumpy ride,others praised the protrusions for slowing down traffic and makingstreets safer for drivers and pedestrians.

“It’s probably the most successful program I’ve ever beenassociated with in relation to finding a problem and solving it,”said Ald. Gene Feldman (9th), whose ward has one of the higherconcentrations of speed humps in the city. “It’s dramatic in termsof reducing the speed that cars go down side streets.”

Shaping the hump

The city’s policy toward speed humps took shape in the past sixyears, with the first speed humps installed in the city about fiveyears ago. Alternative methods of traffic calming — such as stopsigns, one-way streets and cul-de-sacs — proved inadequate to stemspeeding on some side streets, and the city didn’t have theavailable police personnel to monitor the trouble spots, Feldmansaid.

Enter the speed hump.

The little mounds are so popular — and effective — becausethey control traffic in the middle of the block while stillallowing motorists to traverse the road, unlike stop signs orone-way streets, Dahal explained.

“If you look at speed humps, the benefit is that you’re slowingtraffic on local streets where people are walking and children areplaying,” Dahal said.

Evanston resident Barbara Wahle, who lives in south Evanston onPitner Avenue, said that since speed bumps were installed on herstreet a month ago, traffic certainly has slowed down — not onlymaking it safer for pedestrians but also decreasing noise levels inthe neighborhood.

“We had a lot of young people at night that drove at 1, 2 or 3in the morning with their radios blaring and they were goingquickly down the street,” Wahle said. “We decided it was not a safeplace for young children with these cars are tearing down thestreet.”

The city only installs speed humps on blocks where a majority ofresidents support the initiative. Residents can express interestthrough either a petition or a neighborhood meeting, and the citywill mail ballots to residents in the affected area. If the cityreceives a clear majority through the mail poll, the alderman ofthe ward supports the measure and the city’s traffic engineersapproves it, the speed humps will be installed.

Uneven response

The idea may look good on paper, but speed humps create evenmore problems than they solve, according to Jim Baxter, presidentof the Waunakee, Wisc.-based National Motorists Association, anadvocacy organization for drivers’ rights. He said humps only detertraffic from one side street to another, where those residentsmight clamor for additional traffic calming methods.

“You end up with a vicious circle,” he said. “I use the exampleof when people are sitting in a theater and someone tries to standup, pretty soon everyone is standing up and you still can’tsee.”

Baxter suggested city engineers like speed humps because theydisplay to local residents that something is being done about theproblem — even though they aren’t solving anything. He added thehumps can hinder emergency response vehicles, create more vehicleemissions because people must keep slowing down, cause more noiseas cars drive over them and create wear on drivers’ cars.

But Kent Knudson, owner of the car-repair shop The Auto Doctor,1600 Foster St., said he hasn’t seen anyone whose car was damagedspecifically by going over a speed hump. Although damage isunlikely, he said he has heard a lot of “negative feedback” fromhis customers — especially since there are speed humps on thestreet right outside his store.

“If you’re going over the speed hump the way you’re supposed togo over it, it shouldn’t do any damage at all,” he said.”Potentially it can cause damage if people don’t see them.”

But some city officials have expressed reservations aboutputting in the speed humps. Although they have had a positiveimpact in one case in his ward, Ald. Edmund Moran (6th) said heviews speed humps as a last resort. He said he opposes installingthem on large swathes of residential roads — precisely because thetraffic would just be diverted to other side streets.

“The concern I have with one set of humps is that you get thetoothpaste tube phenomenon,” Moran said. “You squeeze the tube inone place to try and ease up a difficulty, but the paste is goingto go somewhere else.”

Reach Mike Cherney at [email protected].