Q: Speeding is a terrible problem on my street. Why shouldn’t I do something about it?

A: Because a higher speed doesn’t increase the probability of an accident. A jetliner isn’t more likely to crash because it flies faster than a helicopter. Recently, Amtrak didn’t spend billions of dollars on the high speed Acela train knowing it is more likely to derail than the slower trains. Speed by itself doesn’t change the odds of a crash. Besides, research has shown that people routinely underestimate their own speed and grossly overestimate the speeds of passing vehicles.

A proper speed limit is an engineering decision – just like the proper distance between storm drains or telephone poles. It should not be politicalized, legislated or influenced by amateurs. If you are concerned with the poor driving skills of the general public, do something about the drivers’ education system.

Q: Don’t the experts agree the faster you go the longer it takes to stop?

A: In 1995 the often-quoted experts at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety publicly predicted 6400 additional fatalities a year, if the states were allowed to set their own speed limits. They were wrong. Earlier this year, New York State officials reported that in the last three years fatalities were down significantly on the roads where the speed limit was increased from 55 mph to 65 mph. Meanwhile in California, a AAA study showed that the higher speed limits (65 and 70 miles per hour depending on the type of roadway) set during the mid 1990s did not increase the rate of fatal and injury traffic crashes. And the national fatality rate declined for the ninth year in a row. So much for the ‘experts.’

Q: You mean it doesn’t take longer to stop at higher speeds?

A: I mean a lower speed isn’t some kind of an ultimate safety device that will protect you and your loved ones. Most automobile accidents occur in the 30 – 40 mph range and are caused by distractions, poor observation, lack of mechanical maintenance, faulty judgment and low driving skills – not by this or that speed.

Q: But I don’t like some strangers speeding down my street!

A: A city street or a road does not belong to the people who live on it. Living on any particular street also doesn’t qualify the residents as safety experts or urban designers. Do all these people so quick at pointing a finger at their neighbor follow the rules themselves? Do they cross the road at a crosswalk and always on a “walk” signal? When riding a bike, do they follow the same rules of the road as a car ? Are their pets leashed? The road is not a playground and the sidewalk is not a bike path. Streets are built for transportation – for recreation we have parks.

Q: Why are you defending these commuters cutting through my neighborhood? Why can’t they go somewhere else? I want my children to be safe!

A: What is so good about selfish, xenophobic and divisive behavior specifically designed to irritate others? Isn’t this close-minded, short-sighted and mean-spirited approach to problem solving teaching our children how to deliberately annoy others? Wouldn’t teaching them not to play on the road present a more valuable lesson? Wouldn’t addressing the reasons why commuters cut through any particular neighborhood be a more constructive solution? (It may be as simple as retiming some traffic lights or always keeping construction and accident delays to their absolute minimum.)

Q: So what if a car gets delayed ten seconds…

A: The increased emergency response time, vehicle damage, town liability issues, increased noise and pollution aren’t just some theoretical downsides – they present very real problems. A ten second delay in an ambulance arrival can be the difference between someone’s life and death. There are a number of lawsuits pending for damages caused by unmarked, unexpected “neckdowns” extending into traffic lanes. And those cost-effectiveness figures used to justify traffic irritating devices never include the increased cost of equipment wear and tear, air and noise pollution, and lost time.

The traffic-calming measures double the carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption by forcing drivers to brake and accelerate repeatedly, according to a study commissioned by the British Automobile Association. A car that achieves 58.15 miles per gallon travelling at a steady 30mph will deliver only 30.85mpg when going over humps.

The results, calculated by averaging the performances of the two cars, also showed that reducing the speed limit from 30mph to 20mph resulted in 10% higher emissions. This is because car engines are designed to be most efficient at speeds above 30mph.

Previous research by the Transport Research Laboratory found that air pollution rose significantly on roads with humps. Carbon monoxide emissions increased by 82% and nitrogen oxide by 37%.

Q: If the town doesn’t lower the speed limits, I’m going to push every ‘walk’ button whether or not I have to cross the street!

A: That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.