When driving through neighborhoods these days, I'm finding it's a good idea to slow down. Gone are the glory days of finding a nice shortcut through a neighborhood and barreling through, gleeful that the freeway used by the commuting masses is a backed-up wait-fest; a needless, boring delay.
But then people in these neighborhoods got tired of watching drivers fly through their neighborhood as if it were a Grand Prix commuter race course. It rubbed them the wrong way that they could die crossing their street during rush hour. No thanks, they said, the party's gotta end for all those bug-eyed, cellphone-talking, caffeine-swilling speed freaks.
These residents, with rage seething beneath their calm demeanors, gathered forces with likeminded neighbors and went to the local electeds. They declared in harmonic unison that they weren't going to take it anymore. So do something about it, they said. Give us back our neighborhoods, and turn all these speeding bleeps away from our streets.
And though it took years, city planners finally came up with something. A traffic deceleration dynamic solution, which they liked to call -- in a bold splash of doublespeak -- traffic calming.
Now, traffic calming measures are meant to slow, demoralize and turn away shortcut-minded drivers. But let's be frank. It doesn't calm them at all. It makes them rage until they find another shortcut.
These calm-inducers include half-street closures, roundabouts, center divide planters, and fancy red brick crosswalks. These obstacles foisted upon would-be speeders -- annoying, petulant, mefirsters -- are aimed at transforming them. These mad bombers are expected to become smiling, benevolent kiddie-ride engineers, who wave adoringly at all the nice folks crossing on the crosswalk in front of them. Those newly dosed with traffic calming are suddenly in a timeless, wonderful world where pedestrians and bicyclists wave back enthusiastically, without any fear in their eyes.
My Sacramento neighborhood doesn't have traffic calming yet, but fliers in the mail indicate that someday it will.
Great. But for many years in my neighborhood, the city has already had slowdown engineering in place for the fly-bys. They are two successive asphalt bumps in the road with white lines painted on them.
Several years ago, when I first encountered a pair of these bumps, put about 15 feet apart, I slowed down. And I really didn't mind. After all, these bumps were called "undulations" on the yellowand-black sign introducing them.
Undulations. Now that's a calming word. Say it a few times. Un-doo-LAY-shuns. It's one of those words, like "mellifluous" or "Oprah," that sounds best when spoken by the dramatic basso profundo of James Earl Jones. It's a calming, poetic interlude in the harsh world of speedobsessed, white-knuckle drivers.
Daily, I gladly slow for the undulations, roll over smoothly, and continue through the neighborhood somehow feeling transformed and refreshed. The engineer who conceived of undulations was a genius. He or she should have been called The Maestro.
But other nearby neighborhoods have roads with single asphalt bumps. They have none of the lull of undulations. They have a much harsher name, one just as crude as undulations are graceful. "Speed humps," growl the signs announcing them.
Speed humps are offensive. They dare speeding drivers to take them as fast as their cars can, without throwing sparks. I always bounce my car over speed humps.
City engineers must have been alerted to too much speeding over the neighborhood speed humps. Their latest remedy, however, wasn't taken from a page out of The Maestro's drafting book. They didn't build more undulations. Not in my neighborhood.
No, a city engineer, probably called The Enforcer, came up with a new kind of speed bump; a cutting-edge paradigm of speed bump dynamics. One that makes sure you slow down. Or else.
Picture a speed bump that goes up a few inches. But unlike the rounded tops of undulations or even speed humps, this thing is flat on top for a few feet. So most of your car is on top of it for a short time before you're back down to road level.
Take it too fast, and it'll scrape up and rudely smash your car's undersides. But drivers of Hummers, or trucks that need a stepladder to get into, risk nothing other than a couple of nice big bounces.
I was fortunate enough to see city workers steamrolling this asphalt barge into place on my daily route. I hit the brakes before my first ride over it, and yes, I will continue to.
When it was put in, unlike undulations or speed humps, this thing had no sign announcing it. Until one night on the way home I saw the sign, set coyly on the curve leading to the new asphalt monster lurking ahead. This mother of all slowdown bumps wasn't a bump at all.
The sign, with a black graphic depicting it, said this: "Speed table / 20 mph."