Chelmsford, Essex, England

21 January 1999

Speed humps drive me mad! Not because I'm opposed to measures to reduce traffic speeds in built-up areas, but because they are causing damage to my car.

In my part of the UK (Chelmsford, Essex) the local authorities have been installing speed humps all over the place, ostensibly to reduce speeding and stop drivers taking short cuts away from the major roads.

However, it is my observation that they are not working. In my immediate home location, the roads authority put what they refer to as 'speed cushions' on the road - raised squares around 4 foot x 4 foot x 4-5 inches high, with angled edges and painted markings. It has been said (unofficially) that this design was chosen so the busses and emergency vehicles can get along the road unhindered by straddlng the hump. However, any medium sized car (Ford Mondeo, Chrysler Neon etc) can also do this, and as such is largely unaffected. Smaller cars (Ford Escort and smaller) have to slow down, then run up over the hump. This is fine if the car has enough ground clearance, otherwise you are reduced to driving two wheels over the hump at approx 5 mph, and even then the jolt up and down is quite unpleasant.

My own personal experience of these humps is somewhat unpleasant. When I have passengers, or luggage in the boot, the exhaust system of my car scrapes on the hump if I try to straddle it. This damaged the heat shield on the catalyst (not the cat itself as originally feared) and dented the exhaust silencer. I see drivers race up to the first hump, jump on the brakes, bounce over, then accelerate rapidly to the next one, where they repeat the process. This increases local pollution and noise over what is evident on the surrounding hump-less streets.

This particular traffic 'calming' measure was the second try at reducing traffic speeds and volumes after a young boy was knocked down and killed a couple of years ago (he ran across the road from between two hedges, without looking, while wearing a personal stereo). This was picked up by a local councellor at an election, and his votes were used to show the rest of the council how many people supported his ideas, which were subsequently rushed though. The first attempt - narrowed sections of road - just blocked traffic during peak times, and provided no speed reduction during quieter hours.

The same local authorities are also installing humps on the access roads to some of the local parks. One in particular near my place of work is now out of bounds to me because I cannot actually reach the designated car park because the humps scrape the bottom of my car. When the centre of Chelmsford was pedestrianised, one road was left open to traffic, but huge ramps were installed to slow traffic and dissuade drivers from using the road. These ramps are the full width of the road, about 8 foot long, and 4-6 inches high. Traffic levels have NOT reduced. Another road got several similar humps, but with gentler ramps. It is still possible to drive down this road at 40mph (10mph faster than the limit) without much discomfort. Indeed, local residents tell me the problems with youths racing cars up and down at night hasn't abated.

I try to avoid roads with speed humps now, out of mechanical sympathy for my car. I can only surmise that those drivers who bounce over these humps without slowing must either (a) have no concern for their vehicles or (b) have company provided cars that they don't have to repair.

I must admit however, that Chelmsford is not too bad with regard to speed humps. Many of the local borough councils in London have taken a much harsher stance, and it seems that any residential road is likely to get this type of traffic calming measure.

I believe a better solution to speed redution is to introduce variable speed limits in sensitive areas - such as around schools. During the week when children are present, the speed limit would be reduced to 15-20mph, and rigorously enforced by Police officers, but returned to 30-40mph at other times.

I would like to point out once again that these are just my personal opinions. You may be able to get more information by doing a UK web search for the "Transport and Roads Research Laborotory", or perhaps post a mesage in the newsgroup for more feedback.

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