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Additional Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the WALK light so short, and the flashing DON'T WALK light so long?

The flashing DON'T WALK signal for pedestrians is similar to a yellow light for vehicles. If a person has started to finish crossing a street and the flashing light appears, they will have time to cross the street. If the flashing DON'T WALK signal appears and a person has not started to cross the street, they should wait for the next WALK.

At some intersections, the WALK signal will not appear unless the pedestrian push button is pushed.

At some intersections, there is not a pedestrian push button because the WALK signal will automatically appear with the associated vehicle green light.

 

"Flashing Lights-Do they Really Slow Traffic?"

Flashing beacons (commonly called flashers or flashing lights) are frequently requested in the belief that they will reduce vehicle speeds. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case. The following discussion of flashing beacons is offered in the interest of broader public understanding of what flashers can do and what factors must be considered before they should be installed.

Effective Usage of Flashers
A flasher is generally installed at an intersection or in conjunction with a warning sign in advance of an area requiring greater than normal care by the average driver. Flashing beacons serve a useful purpose where the flashing yellow is used to alert drivers to unusual conditions that are not readily apparent, such as: obstructions in the roadway, uncommon roadway conditions, narrow bridges, or unusual conditions hidden from the motorists’ view. One of the more common locations where a flasher can be used effectively is at a signalized intersection located just beyond a vertical or a horizontal curve, when the intersection is hidden from the view of approaching travelers.

For any flasher to be effective, it must command the respect of the traveling public. In other words, immediately after seeing a flasher, the driver must consistently see an unusual condition which is being singled out for attention. Furthermore, the condition that the driver sees must be viewed as serious enough to justify his having been alerted.

Unjustified Flashers
When flashers are used improperly and installed at locations where they are not warranted, they soon lose much of their effectiveness. They simply cease to command the respect of the drivers.

What happens is that after continually being alerted to a condition which seldom, if ever, appears to be truly unusual, drivers actually stop "seeing" the flasher. When this happens, flashers which are truly needed may well be disregarded by drivers who have become conditioned to believe that flashers are just "window dressing. "Because of this normal human reaction, even one improper usage greatly reduces the effectiveness of essential flashers."

Symptoms versus Problems

Quite often, requests for flashers are emotional responses to symptoms, rather than attempts to solve underlying problems.
To put this into perspective, let's use an appropriate analogy: the case of measles. Obviously, to cure a patient who has measles, the disease itself (measles) must be treated - not the symptom (rash). In traffic control, it is not uncommon for public responses to be directed at treating symptoms.
For example, in cases where concerned parents are requesting flashers on pedestrian warning signs, a traffic investigation all too frequently reveals that:

  • There is no "safe route to school" plan for the school.
  • There is no pedestrian safety program in the school.
  • Very young children are allowed to travel to school by whatever route they prefer.
  • Parents are willing to abdicate their responsibilities by placing the entire burden for pedestrian safety on a traffic control device.
    Local law enforcement officials turn a blind eye to pedestrian traffic violations.
  • Where traffic laws are enforced by conscientious law enforcement officials, parents claim that the fault lies in inadequate traffic control devices, not in their children's actions.

Flashers that are installed when these unwarranted conditions exist result in the following:

  • The flasher soon becomes part of the normal driving environment and is ignored.
  • The community continues to avoid treating the real problem.
  • Other flashers, which are justified, are frequently disregarded by drivers conditioned to believe that flashers can be safely disregarded.

In summary, when flashers are properly located, they serve a useful function. When they are used improperly and installed in locations where they are not warranted, they soon lose much, if not all, of their effectiveness. More seriously, improper usage greatly reduces the effectiveness of other flashers installed in areas where there is a real need. Above all, it is essential to prove that there is a problem which can be solved through the installation of a flasher before actually employing one. Too often, flashers are installed when someone assumes there is, or is going to be, a problem. It is of the utmost importance that flasher installation beheld to a minimum in order to maintain a high degree of respect for the flasher installations that are truly needed.

 

What is Traffic Calming?

The term "Traffic Calming" is used to describe methods of altering the behavior of traffic to suit the character of the area it moves through. The most apt example of this character occurs where a local street is used by motorists as a short cut from one arterial to another. Because cut-through traffic often moves faster than neighborhood traffic and there is a lot more of it, this use can severely degrade the character of the street. Increased volume and increased speed can lead to a more dangerous, less pleasant street and discourages its use by bicyclists, pedestrians and children.

As concern over safety and the desire for improved pedestrian and bicycle safety increases, communities across the country are looking at installing traffic calming measures to improve safety and reduce vehicle speed.

Traffic Calming is a form of traffic planning that seeks to equalize the use of streets between automobiles, pedestrians, bicyclists, and playing children. This is accomplished through the use of devices and techniques that reduce traffic volume and speed in neighborhoods while maintaining maximum mobility and access. Traffic calming also attempts to make drivers aware of the fact that they are sharing the space of a street with other users.
- Cynthia Holye, Traffic Calming, 1995.

Here in East Baton Rouge Parish, the need for traffic calming was brought about by the increased requests by neighborhood groups to "do something" about the quantity of traffic using their neighborhoods as cut-through thoroughfares.

Other Benefits
The overriding purpose of traffic calming devices is to discourage non-local traffic from cutting through neighborhoods. There are several other benefits to the process as well. Because many traffic calming strategies reduce vehicle speeds for all the traffic on the street, safety on that street is increased. Because many traffic calming strategies use landscaping and pavement treatments, these may serve to enhance the aesthetic look of the neighborhood.

Need for Traffic Calming
The need for traffic calming stems from an increase in complaints about traffic on neighborhood streets. Increased traffic through neighborhoods threatens the integrity and character of the neighborhood and puts non-motorized users at risk. Limited resources of the City prevent comprehensive enforcement of speeds, volume, and safety.
The increase in traffic through neighborhoods is likely caused by one or more of the following:

  1. new development in neighborhood creating increased traffic,
  2. cut-through traffic avoiding congestion on arterial streets,
  3. re-routed neighborhood traffic due to obstacles at other outlets.

 

Traffic calming. What is it?


Traffic calming is an attempt to strike a balance between vehicular traffic and everyone else who uses the street: pedestrians, bikers, business people and residents.

That balance tilts away from cars. Some see traffic calming as a way of "reclaiming" local streets from a traditional domination by automobiles. Others see it more modestly as a way of trying to restore the safety and peace in neighborhoods that are becoming overwhelmed with speeding traffic.

In many ways, this approach upends the traditional goals of traffic engineering, which strive to move auto traffic quickly and efficiently. Roads have been designed as wide, straight routes, with few obstructions to the motorist's vision or progress, and strict barriers or space between vehicles and pedestrians.

Traffic calming, by contrast, seeks to do the opposite.

What is the point?

The goal is to slow vehicular traffic, and in some cases discourage drivers from using certain roads.

How is that done?

By altering the design of the road, introducing obstacles, and otherwise making the path a bit more difficult for vehicles, motorists will be forced to drive more slowly and carefully. There are dozens of techniques for this, ranging from narrowing the roadway, to creating medians, to allowing on-street parking, to installing speed humps.

Does it work?

Yes. Before-and-after traffic studies in many municipalities show a reduction of speed and a reduction in the traffic volume after calming changes are made. Many proponents believe it also reduces accidents, though that claim is less well documented.

Are there drawbacks?

Yes. Police, fire and ambulance response times will be slowed. Some designs bring pedestrians, parked vehicles and bicyclists in closer proximity to moving cars, which may increase safety risks. Slower vehicle traffic could create traffic back-ups. Not all drivers will navigate the obstacles designed to slow their speed. Roadway alterations require construction costs.

Is it popular?

Citizen surveys in some municipalities show traffic calming to be the most requested and most popular government program. Other city councils have been stormed by irate residents demanding the removal of speed bumps or traffic circles. The difference seems to lie in having a clear and predetermined program, objective criteria for adopting traffic calming, a variety of options, and extensive public participation in the planning phase.

There are dozens of variations of traffic calming techniques, limited only by the imagination of architects, motivated residents and road engineers. For a more thorough list and definitions, please see the glossary. Here are some of the more common techniques, with tips on their advantages and disadvantages.

Types of Traffic Calming Methods.

  1. Speed bumps, humps and tables.
    All in the same family, they raise the pavement three to four inches. Although the terms are popularly used interchangeably, engineers refer to speed "bumps" as narrow and abrupt, best confined to parking lots. Speed humps and speed tables are more gradual, often 22 feet start-to-finish, usually with a flat top. They are comparatively inexpensive. Effective in cutting down speed. Self-enforcing. Make drivers think about their roadway. Also noisy, aggravating, and tough on emergency vehicles.

  2. Traffic circles.
    In residential areas, may be as small as 16 to 25 feet in diameter; just enough to cause motorists to slow and alter their path. Rotaries are larger versions used at major intersections. Both can be attractively landscaped. Keeps traffic flowing. May confuse motorists and make pedestrian crossing more difficult. Bicyclists sometimes find them difficult to negotiate.

  3. Chicanes, bends or deviations.
    Roadway redesigns that make motorists drive around fixed objects, usually curbs extending alternately from opposite sides to form a serpentine pathway. Visually pleasing, better for emergency vehicles. Expensive.

  4. Neckdowns, chokers, bulbs.
    Various forms of narrowing the road at midroad or intersections, usually by protruding sidewalks into the street from one or more sides. Can be aesthetically pleasing. Helps pedestrians cross. Can be a problem for bicycles, snow removal.

  5. Narrow roads.
    Using sidewalks, landscaping or striping to narrow lanes to about 10 feet. Drivers instinctively slow. Pedestrian-friendly, creates neighborly scene. Can be tough on bicyclists. Eliminates on-street parking.

  6. Raised intersections, changes in road texture.
    Can use grooved asphalt, colored paving stones, brick, (or for the ultimate effectiveness, cobblestones). Gets drivers' attention. Good for pedestrians. Noisy for neighbors. Can be bumpy for bicyclists.

  7. Direction changes.
    Accomplished by "diverters" that diagonally bisect an intersection, traffic barriers that force cars to turn one direction, sidewalk "bulbs" that block access to one lane. All force drivers out of straight-line routes. Effective in stopping short-cut and cut-through traffic. Can be costly, confusing to strangers and add to commutes and emergency response times

Street Classification

The street network is constructed in a hierarchical manner to provide efficient and effective routes from one’s origin to destination. Arterial streets form the backbone of the street network. These high-capacity roadways serve as direct links between different areas of the city. Local collectors feed into these arterials allowing motorists quick and easy access to the major roadways while at the same time allowing pedestrians and bicyclists to move about their neighborhood and to move from one to another. The majority of streets in the city are local neighborhood streets. These streets provide residents access to their houses.

Design Characteristics of Seven Roadway Classifications

 

Use

Dimensions

Volume

 

Trip Length

Design Speed*

Pavement Width

# of Lanes

Average
Daily Trips

(miles)

(mph)

(feet)

(#)

(ADT)

Freeway

> 5 miles

70 mph

72 – 96

6-8

80,000

Expressway

> 5 miles

60 mph

72

6

75,000

Principal Arterial

1-2 miles

45 mph

83 – 120

6

15,000 – 50,000

Minor Arterial

> 1 mile

40 mph

60 – 72

4-5

10,000 – 25,000

Major Collector

1 mile

35 mph

44

2-4

3,500 – 10,000

Minor Collector

1 mile

30 mph

36

2-3

1,500 – 3,500

Local Street

< 1 mile

25 mph

34

2

200 – 1,500

* Design speed refers to the design specifications and can differ from posted speed limit.