November/December 1998, p.4

Add Mini-Traffic Circles to the Traffic Tool Box

Flag-festooned mini-traffic circle (circa 1970) keeps the peace in Little Neck, Queens.Until recently, the mantra in NYC neighborhoods beset with speeding, aggressive traffic and dangerous pedestrian crossings was "GIVE ME A TRAFFIC LIGHT!" This cry is heard over and over despite the ironic reality: traffic lights actually increase the danger of a crash on streets with low traffic volumes. Philadelphia has responded to this fact by removing about 400 lights from neighborhood streets. Occasionally, communities would settle for a "STOP" sign. Then, with the introduction of speed humps in late 1996, the public gained a new tool to use in the endless quest for calmer streets. Humps have proved very popular: though the DOT has installed some 300, there still remain about 900 requests for the effective and low-cost speed control devices. Great as they are, speed humps are not always the answer.

Enter mini-traffic circles, which have been enormously successful in reducing crashes and through-traffic in cities across the U.S. A mini-traffic circle is a raised asphalt island in the center of an intersection, usually planted with trees or flowers. It forces cars to slow down and deters turning trucks. In Seattle, mini-traffic circles reduced crashes by 94% at the intersections where they were installed. Plus, at one-tenth the cost of a traffic light, mini-traffic circles are much less expensive.

In a report commissioned by the NYC DOT, a nationally prominent traffic engineer concluded that the circles would work extremely well in NYC. Unfortunately, engineers inside DOT have disregarded his strong recommendation (which we reported here in Nov/Dec 1997), and continue to ignore an enormous body of evidence and experience nationally. The time is right for the new and innovative Commissioner Chapman to keep the DOT moving into the modern era by adding mini-traffic circles to DOT's inventory of traffic calming tools.

Read the latest news about this issue.