Council Postpones Vote On New Traffic Calming Policy

The Royal Palm Beach Village Council last week postponed adoption of a traffic calming policy until its Feb. 16 meeting so members can hear more public input.

In October, the council approved an agreement with the engineering firm Simmons & White to develop a traffic calming policy after residents complained about speeders and pass-through traffic in residential neighborhoods.

Village Engineer Chris Marsh said the consultant and staff have been working together to develop the policy.

Brian Kelley, senior traffic engineer with Simmons & White, gave a presentation on the draft policy.

“We researched best practices for federal, local and statewide, and other municipalities, to see what other places are building in reference to traffic calming policies,” Kelley said. “Not a lot of municipalities have a policy.”

He said the Institute of Traffic Engineers has a complicated definition of what traffic calming is, which is a combination of physical measures to reduce the effects of motor vehicle use, alter driver behavior and improve conditions for non-motorized street users.

“That’s a bit of a mouthful for what people commonly refer to as speed humps and other mechanisms that slow traffic down,” Kelley said, explaining that the purpose of the policy is to reduce speeding and cut-through traffic on local collector roadways by providing specific and predictable criteria to support the use of traffic calming devices, and justify the use of those devices on the streets.

“There are a number of benefits associated with traffic calming,” Kelley said, including providing a more consistent vehicle speed on a roadway. “That does improve safety and also quality of life.”

There are also negatives, with one of the most significant being increased emergency vehicle response time, as well as increased travel time and discomfort for regular users of the road.

“There is a cost associated with it, often maintenance,” he said. “There is noise and discomfort for people using it.”

Requests for traffic calming could come from a resident or a homeowners’ association.

“From that request, village staff receives it and does an area assessment to see if that roadway would be eligible for traffic calming,” Kelley said. “If it meets the need, it goes back to the petitioner, whether that’s an individual resident or an HOA, where they need to get approval of the impacted residents.”

The petitioner would have to get approval of 50 percent plus one of the residents affected by the proposed traffic calming. He said staff would help the petitioner with the necessary requirements for a valid petition. From there, data collection and traffic studies would be done, including a count of cut-through traffic, if appropriate.

“If it meets the criteria, then it goes through a technical staff review and approval, and also to the village council for approval,” Kelley said.

After the traffic calming is installed, an assessment of the effects is also conducted.

Roadways they looked at that might be eligible included those that have private residential driveways abutting the road and have speed limits of 30 mph or lower.

“Most of the roadways that we looked at that we thought might be possibly eligible for traffic calming are at 25 mph, so most of them would be eligible,” he said.

The roads must be maintained by the village or an HOA, be at least 800 feet long and have an average traffic volume of between 1,000 and 3,000 trips per day.

Consideration would also be given for unusual circumstances that do not meet the criteria from an engineering standpoint, Kelley said.

Speed humps, the most common method of traffic calming, are typically 12 to 14 feet long and 3 to 3.5 inches above the roadbed, he said. Speed tables are similar but longer.

“Studies have shown they can reduce speed by 7 to 8 mph,” Kelley said, adding that a single speed hump will not always achieve the desired effect. “Because of that, it’s recommended that you install them in a series. If you’re just installing one speed hump, the price might not be so bad, but if you’re looking at a long stretch of roadway, the price can get a bit expensive.”

Other speed calming devices include chicanes, a series of S curves that can be expensive due to additional right-of-way requirements and landscaping; roundabouts, which can also be expensive and confusing for drivers; and road chokers or bump-ins that reduce the width of the road.

Kelley said stop signs have not been shown to be an effective method of traffic calming because vehicles tend to speed up between the signs, and some drivers ignore them, causing a greater traffic hazard.

The complete draft of the village’s proposed traffic calming policy can be found online at in the agenda backup for the Feb. 2 meeting.

Mayor Fred Pinto said the policy was developed after residents’ complaints about traffic so the village could establish uniform, comprehensive guidelines before employing calming devices.

“We had to do it in a way that we would have the people, the residents in that area where we were looking to do something, able to say this is something we want to see or don’t want to see,” Pinto said.

Councilman David Swift said the caveat of traffic calming is that once it is in place, sometimes those directly affected have a negative reaction.

“We will have some people who really want them and, at the end of the process, we will have a group of people who really don’t want them,” Swift said. “To turn around and take them out is a significant expense.”

Village Manager Ray Liggins said the purpose of establishing a traffic calming policy is to have a process that the village can defend if complaints should arise.

“We haven’t had a policy in the past,” he said. “We haven’t allowed traffic calming in the past. Fifteen years ago, our attorney said, ‘Do not do this.’”

After more discussion, Vice Mayor Jeff Hmara made a motion to postpone approval to the Feb. 16 meeting in order to have the opportunity for more public input, which carried 5-0.