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Traffic calming: Improving road safety for all users

Have you ever wondered why in some road intersections, there are roundabouts even if the area could actually do one without? For one reason, roundabouts or rotundas can keep our roads safer.

According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), roundabouts are more effective than enforcement in reducing speed, because while drivers can avoid being caught for overspeeding, traffic calming instruments such as rotundas cannot be avoided and will simply compel drivers to slow down.

We may have overlooked the importance of speed-managing infrastructure, such as humps, traffic circles, raised crossings, curb extensions, and the like, but if we look at the statistics on road accidents, we might want to consider seriously investing in safer road designs.

Based on data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), road traffic deaths increased by 39 percent within a decade. In 2011, there were 7,938 road traffic deaths. In 2021, this increased to 11,096 deaths. 

Moreover, road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among Filipinos 15-29 years old, and a major killer among children, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It also adds that, in the Philippines, road traffic injuries cost about 2.6 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

These road accidents are preventable, and one effective way to reduce these unfortunate incidents is through traffic calming measures. In the Philippines, we are familiar with roundabouts, and rumble strips, which are raised, indented sections of the road surface that vibrate and make noise when vehicles drive over them.

Other interventions that help reduce speed include raised crossings, intersections and midblock platforms, lane narrowing, chicanes (deliberate s-shape curves in the road), chokers (concrete curbs extended into the roadway), and gateway treatments, which mark transition points between a higher-speed environment and a lower-speed environment.

The Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety (the Alliance) compiled successful implementations of traffic calming interventions in different countries. 

In the United Kingdom (UK), chicanes, mini-roundabouts, speed humps, and lane narrowing in villages and at gateways reduced deaths and serious injury crashes by 50 percent. 

Australia recorded a 63 percent casualty reduction at raised crossings, 55 percent casualty reduction at raised intersections, and 47 percent casualty reduction at raised midblock platforms.

In Seattle, Washington in the US, there were over 54,000 road traffic crashes between 2007 and 2010, with 42 percent of fatal crashes attributed to speed. Implementing traffic calming measures such as lane narrowing and speed humps resulted in a 29 percent decrease in all traffic fatalities and about 55 percent decrease in pedestrian fatalities.

It is important to note, however, that planning is very much important in implementing traffic calming measures. 

The Alliance notes that the design and installation of visible traffic calming measures should encourage vehicles to slow down and effectively reduce their travel speed. It should be implemented across networks of streets, particularly in residential, public transport, commercial, health, educational, religious, and recreational areas.

These traffic calming interventions are meant to prioritize the safety of humans, veering away from the car-centric mindset. These are especially needed in areas where road-sharing—wherein pedestrians, cyclists, and motor vehicles can safely traverse our roads—should be the concept.

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