Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Accidental Traffic Calming in the Neighborhood

Dateline: 4:18 pm July 26, 2013 Filed under:

Here’s a riddle. How do you calm traffic legally but without having to go through city hall? You have two options: have a road reconstruction project; or a major storm that knocks trees down and blocks streets. Standish-Ericsson got both this summer at the same time, causing undue stress and disruption. But alas, there is a silver lining and maybe some instructive ideas about better urbanism.

While it is true that the summer-long closure of 28th Avenue near my home has caused me and my neighbors some inconvenience, and certainly the storm ravaged yards and homes, I suspect I will look back on wistfully on 2013. The 28th Avenue closure has been somewhat of a blessing in my eyes. It has calmed the traffic and allowed my kids and I to walk down the middle of the street, not the sort of thing that happens too often. And the downed trees slowed traffic on my very own street. I’ll miss that.


First off, segments of 28th Avenue have been closed between 40th and 50th Streets since May so a new pipe can be installed under the street prior to resurfacing. When the segment between 40th and 42nd was closed, my family walked down the middle of the street on our way to Busters one evening for dinner. My kids had a lot of fun shouting through the pipes that were stored on supports awaiting installation.


Now, two months later, work continues and every journey down 28th is like a free field trip. My kids can watch the construction trucks digging, scooping, pushing, lifting, dumping and hauling; they can’t ask for anything more. Very few cars traverse the sections of road that are closed, and as long as one stays well away from active construction vehicles, what is safer for kids, a road full of holes or a normal 28th Avenue with free flowing traffic? I’ll choose the “holy road” any day! I just tell my kids not to fall in to a pit. I’m not the only one who enjoys this temporary closure. I’ve seen many people of all ages bike in the street when they wouldn’t do so in normal traffic conditions.

Arriving at Busters that first evening (before their June fire – they are remodeling and will reopen in the fall), we sat outside at the sidewalk tables and I was immediately struck by how profoundly pleasant it was to eat outside without the noise of traffic going by. Sure, I realize, 28th will reopen someday, but what really helped was the temporary four-way stop sign at 42nd Street and 28th Avenue. Part of the rebuilding of the street was installing new traffic signals, so for a month the intersection was a four-way stop sign, which calmed traffic immensely.

Why is this helpful? In the case of a four-way stop, all vehicles must stop. I frequently visit A Baker’s Wife and sit outside at a table near the corner of the intersection (I’m sitting there now), and my observation was when the traffic signal is working there is always traffic moving 30 MPH , either north/south or east/west. But when it was a four-way stop, everyone had to stop. This made the intersection quieter to sit near, saner to approach on foot or bike, and far easier to cross. Day after day I watched people cross the street and they were on much more even footing with cars, if you will. And now as I sit here with the light restored cars move faster through the intersection, race yellow lights, go around cars turning left and it is noisier and overall less pleasant.


The city and county should reconsider this intersection as a candidate for permanent four-way stop signs. Really, you say? Yes, I do, and here’s why. They sky didn’t fall when the four-way stop sign was in place. Sure, the construction itself was disruptive, but the four-way stop sign calmed traffic. But 28th Avenue wasn’t operating normally, you might argue. Yes, but 42nd was, and the stop sign didn’t cause the world to end. In fact, it made the world right around 42nd and 28th better in my opinion. It is hard to argue with a quieter, more pleasant environment where all vehicles are moving slower. Other intersections have been calmed by removing a traffic signal and replacing it with a four-way stop, 42nd and 28th should do the same. Some locals just treat it as a kind of “private drive.”

Who doesn’t complain about traffic speed on their residential street? We all do. When the June 21st storm knocked trees down, neighbors and I stood around watching big trucks with arms and claws grab branches, dig up stumps and either haul them away or throw them in the chipper right there. A sad loss of trees to be sure, but as we stood and watched the number of cars racing down our street was nil. Big trucks and equipment were free traffic calming.

So where does that leave us? We cannot predict storms and nobody really likes road construction, and I don’t wish either on anyone. Indeed, some businesses have suffered lower sales due to the construction, and nearly every street in my neighborhood has less shade than before. But storms and construction happen, so let’s learn from them. The fact is the unforeseen outcome of these negatives has been slower traffic and calmer, quieter and safer streets, undoubtedly a positive. So how can we harness what we’ve learned from this to keep some of these outcomes in place? I’ve discussed this before – the answer is to put s#!t in the way. But what s#!t and how? The permanent solution isn’t construction trucks, gaping holes in the street and downed trees, but I don’t want drivers to be lulled in to a sense of smooth, uninterrupted motion.

As with anything in life, all good things must come to an end. But I for one will miss our temporarily calmer streets.


    Look, there’s still people at the businesses despite no cars out front!

    Comment by Matt Steele — July 29, 2013 @ 2:56 pm

  2. Four-way stop signs are perhaps the most under-appreciated item in the street calming arsenal. Great observations.

    Comment by Jeramey Jannene — July 30, 2013 @ 1:10 pm

  3. You need a Woonerf!

    Comment by lori — July 30, 2013 @ 3:07 pm

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