Once popular, speed bumps are gaining detractors

Speed bumps - once popular for slowing traffic in residential neighborhoods - have lost their luster in some areas.

Other areas have outright banned them.

"We don't allow them on our city streets," said Tom Lanahan, Greenacres' planning and engineering director. "They can be a hazard. They delay emergency vehicles."

Four speed bumps were removed from Empire Way several years ago following complaints from residents. Before speed bumps were banned, residents often complained about them at city council meetings. A few residents threatened to sue the city but never did, said Mayor Samuel Ferreri.

"Most people hate them. Some residents told us motorists drove on their lawns to avoid them," Ferreri said.

Speed bumps were hot in West Palm Beach about six years ago when they were installed on Olive Avenue and Broadway, and other neighborhoods. But many business people and residents complained traffic was being tied up and pedestrians were being scared off.

Requests from neighborhoods for the speed-control devices - West Palm Beach City Commission approval is required - have since dropped off, according to city records.

"Drivers speed up between them. Big trucks go over them and there's a big ka-boom," said José Rodriguez, president of the Vedado Park Neighborhood Association.

Palm Beach Gardens Fire Chief Pete Bergel is another opponent.

"I'd like every one in the city taken out. They slow our response time. That's dangerous to the public," Bergel said.

But there are supporters.

"They get drivers to slow down. And it makes drivers more alert," Jupiter Landscape Architect Don Hearing said.

Love them or not, they're here to stay. The county has installed 407 speed bumps since 1997 in 113 residential locations. They cost about $1,500 each, said Dan Weisberg, director of the county's traffic division.

And they work, Weisberg said. County officials measure the speed of traffic before and after they install the humps.

About 64 percent of drivers exceeded the speed limit before the bumps went in on Roan Lane, on the north side of Northlake Boulevard just east of Interstate 95. That dropped to 30 percent after the humps were installed, Weisberg said.

Like the vehicles they slow down, the traffic-control devices come in different makes and models.

Some are short. Others stretch across the street. There are metal ones. Plastic ones. Permanent and portable. Yellow and black. Striped and plain. Fat and skinny. Grooved and smooth. Brick paved. Asphalt.

Speed bumps are the real bullies: They rise to between four and six inches, requiring motorists to slow down to about 5 mph. Go faster, and your head might hit the roof. About two feet wide, they are used mostly on private roads and parking lots.

Speed humps, like on Roan Lane near Palm Beach Gardens, have more manners.

Humps rise to about four inches above the residential roads. They are wide enough to allow the whole vehicle to rest on the top. That avoids the thump-thump when your front tires roll over a speed bump and another thump-thump when your back wheels go over. Spaced about 300 feet apart, humps are made to reduce speeds in residential neighborhoods to about 20-25 mph.

Speed tables, like those on Olive Avenue north of Belvedere Road in West Palm Beach, are downright friendly.

They ease up slowly for about six feet to a flat surface about four inches above the road. The flat top is about 12 feet wide, often decorated with brick pavers. Tables let the driver down easy on the other side. They are designed to keep motorists to about 25-30 mph.

Bumps, humps and tables are not the only speed-control devices thought up by traffic-control engineers.

There are speed cushions - humps installed across the width of the road with spaces in between them. Rumble strips - stripes of raised pavement to alert drivers they are off the traffic lane. And chicanes - half-moon-shaped landscaped bulges from the side of the road that force drivers on straight roads to travel in an S-shaped path.

Some of these gadgets can be bad news for motorists' wallets.

Twisted alignments that cost about $100 to repair come into South End Texaco Service Center in West Palm Beach at least twice a month. If a motorist dents a tire rim and ruins the sidewall on the tire - that happens if the driver hits a chicane or curb at a narrowed intersection - it can cost from $200 to $800, said manager Brad Moreland.

"We had a 2010 Mercedes the other day that needed a new tire and aluminum rim. The bill was $2,300," Moreland said.

Humps, bumps and tables all have their downside.

Big booms startle homeowners when trucks clatter over them. They are tough to see at night, and can be a menace to motorcyclists. Warning signs create visual clutter.

"Those big ones, they are ridiculous. They

almost tear the front end out of your vehicle," said Frank Caccavale, owner of B and B Sedan, a taxi service in Wellington.

Scott Carnegie, a 17-year resident of Beverly Road in West Palm Beach, said motorists cut through quiet streets to avoid roads with bumps and humps. His road has no speed-control devices, but they are on many of the east-west roads around him between Dixie Highway and Flagler Drive.

"People who don't live here come flying down our road. I know they don't live here because I recognize the people who do live here," Carnegie said.

Think your neighborhood needs a speed reducer? It's not simple.

In West Palm Beach, applicants must fill out an online application. Then, 75 percent of the residents on the street have to sign a petition to agree to have a speed bump installed.

City officials then check the speed of vehicles on the road. If traffic officials determine enough drivers are exceeding a safe and reasonable speed, the humps are installed.

"At least half the time, we find people think cars are going faster than they really are," said Brian Collins, a traffic engineer with West Palm Beach.

If the speed requirements are met, a public hearing is held. The 10-member traffic calming committee, made up of representatives of the city, public safety, utilities, neighborhoods and Palm Tran, make a recommendation to the city commission. The commission must approve all humps.

While inconvenient, bumps and humps are worthwhile for bicycle riders, said Bernard Kite, one of the 325 members of the Boca Raton Bicycling Club.

"Sure, they slow me down on my bicycle. But it's worth it to get the cars to slow down," Kite said.

That inconvenience doesn't rattle owners of Lamborghinis.

A button on the dash lets the driver of the Italian sports car raise the front end three inches when the vehicle is going up to 25 mph.

"It's good to know the option is there," said Jose Morazan, the general manager of Lamborghini Palm Beach on Okeechobee Boulevard.

He hits that button when he drives his Lamborghini over the speed bumps in his Delray Beach neighborhood.

Staff Writer Willie Howard contributed to this story.

bill_dipaolo@pbpost.com


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