Do speed bumps kill?

Telegraph
Screen capture Telegraph

The Telegraph and even the Guardian have big headlines claiming that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is recommending that speed bumps. The Telegraph goes so far as to say “Axe speed bumps to save lives”, because evidently all that decelerating and accelerating at speed bumps causes pollution. This question is of interest not just in the UK, as people complain about speed bumps everywhere. There are websites devoted to getting rid of them, claiming that they cause pollution, damage to vehicles (especially sports cars), back injuries to passengers and of course, they slow down emergency vehicles.

The Telegraph quotes a totally fair and balanced source, the Royal Automobile Club, whose spokesperson agrees:

The suggestion that local authorities should think again about speed humps which cause motorists to brake and then accelerate again is an eminently sensible suggestion and has the potential to improve the quality of air locally. Nice also acknowledges the importance of improving the flow of traffic – since air quality is often at its worst where congestion appears, a point that the RAC has made on a number of occasions.

Yup, get rid of bike lanes, speed bumps and everything else that they claim causes congestion if you want to get rid of air pollution.

Guidelines on speed bumpsNICE/Screen capture

But as Carlton Reid of Bike Biz notes, the report says nothing of the kind about speed bumps. Instead the report recommends that they be designed properly and that speed limits are enforced. Because in fact, if people are driving the speed over a well-designed speed bump they don’t have to decelerate; you can drive over them smoothly. That is point of them: to control speeding. And they are far more effective and less polluting than the stop signs used to control speed in North America.

Guardian coverThe Guardian/Screen capture

The Guardian also notes:

The draft guidance for England also contains proposals for “no-idling” zones around schools to prevent parents leaving their cars running during school drop-offs. Air pollution is a contributory factor to about 25,000 deaths a year in England, almost 5% of all deaths, Nice said, and road traffic is estimated to contribute to about a third of air pollution in urban sites.


But as Peter Walker, also of the Guardian notes, the Guardian article doesn’t mention their first and best advice: get people out of polluting cars. Except the report actually does; The ways to reduce air pollution and improve health are well known to urbanists and planners and are right there in the guidelines in black and white:

encourage walkingNICE/Screen capture

The report makes some silly suggestions, such as planting foliage between bike lanes and cars, (as if there is room for that) and siting cycle routes on highly polluted roads (which are usually the most direct.) Their architectural suggestions are ludicrous too:

urban design suggestionsUrban design suggestions/Screen capture

Because it is pretty hard to minimize the need for motorized travel unless you build to the density that creates what they call canyons, and even harder to have living spaces all face away from the road. But in fact, the report is pretty sensible and realistic. It is also right about speed bumps: design them properly and they work as promised.

Tags: Cities | Traffic | Transportation | United Kingdom

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