Dump the Speed Bumps – Punishing the innocent for actions of the guilty – David Brussat

by David Brussat, Architecture Here and There, contributing writer

I doubt that social-justice warriors are on the warpath against speed bumps. Speed bumps are a prime example of punishing the innocent for the sins of the guilty. But punishing the guilty for the sins of the guilty is rational, and so these days probably verboten, so don’t expect it in Providence anytime soon.

I am at war against speed bumps, however, and I admit it’s my bad that I waited until the speed bumps showed up in my neighborhood.

Shortly after they appeared on Rochambeau Avenue, which was my most frequent route from Hope Street to North Main and back, I switched over to either Doyle Avenue or Cypress Street. So I wonder how many Hope and Blackstone neighbors will adopt similar “bypass” strategies, and how many families on Doyle and Cypress will worry about their increased traffic.

Recently, mayoral candidate Brett Smiley sent out a campaign statement about the speed-bump crisis. He raised questions about the planning process for speed bumps but did not come out against speed bumps. He lost my vote.

Speaking of process, I’m glad to find that I did, in fact, write a post against speed bumps back in 2015 (see “Speed bumps on Blackstone?“) I attended a public meeting at Nathan Bishop Middle School, where 190 of 200 attendees opposed a plan to place speed bumps on Blackstone Boulevard. I wrote: “It now seems, if the city is serious about paying attention to public input,” that the speed bumps are “very likely to be abandoned.” Indeed, they never were installed. The lesson learned by the city was not to hold public forums on controversial issues.

So far as I know, and I could be wrong, there was no public input or forum to gauge community reaction to the plan to place speed bumps on Rochambeau. They have been installed, and they have also been installed on tiny 12th Street, which ends at Hope just before India restaurant. 12th Street?!

Who knows what other streets have or will soon receive a dose of such aggravation? Speed bumps are the most irksome form of traffic calming, as planners call these strategies for slowing down vehicles on streets. In some European cities, planners have found that reducing or even eliminating signs – “signage” in planner speak – reduces traffic speeds as drivers must pay more attention to how they’re getting to where they’re going.

City officials already know that speed bumps create dangers of their own. People speed up between them out of anger or to make up for (minimal) lost time. People dodging between gaps in the bumps designed to let ambulances pass through might swerve into an oncoming car or one parked to their right. People may lose control of their vehicles when they strike an unexpected speed bump. One thing’s for sure: they pay more attention to avoiding the bumps than they do to the street environment. People who live near a speed bump are irked by the scraping or crashing sound of such unexpected encounters. Is there a straw that breaks the camel’s back for such people? Do these dangers pose more risk than speeding to pedestrians? Has the city done a study? Maybe speed bumps are appropriate and effective in some places, but not on Rochambeau.

Cartoon courtesy of Brent Brown Graphix

There is a class of misguided residents who apparently support speed bumps, presumably in the mistaken opinion that it will make them or their children safer. That is unlikely. What it will do is to punish the innocent for the sins of the guilty. However effective, that is wrong. The proper and more effective response to speeding is an officer of the law handing out tickets, and if that doesn’t work, hike the fine two or three hundred percent. A ticket or two that makes news will stop speeding in its tracks, or most of it – and, as a bonus, punish only the sins of the guilty, leaving the innocent alone. The best form of traffic calming is a cop.

But wait! Defund the police!

By the way, utility contractors seem unable to properly repair trenches dug to lay or fix utilities below pavements. Do our increasingly washboard streets qualify as speed bumps? Why does the city not force contractors to do their jobs?

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David Brussat

David Brussat – My freelance writing and editing on architecture and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call (401) 351-0457