Oliver Cole said each quarter-mile strip of roadway in his northwest Detroit neighborhood was essentially a drag racing track until he began petitioning the city to install speed humps.
Cole dubbed himself “Mr. Speed Hump” for his efforts to convince city officials to deter street racing by building traffic calming infrastructure. Five years later, Detroit is on track to install 10,000 speed humps in locations requested by residents. City officials say Mr. Speed Hump was on to something; the strategy has made neighborhoods noticeably safer.
“We had people drag racing from one end of the subdivision to the next every single day,” said Cole, who serves as president of the Grandmont #1 Improvement Association. “That hasn’t happened anymore. The speed humps have done their job.”
Cole said the new infrastructure prevents drag racing, but the neighborhood still has a problem with cars driving too fast. He said Detroiters want to see a stronger police presence on the west side to enforce traffic laws. Cole also expressed frustration with the redesign of Grand River Avenue, which he argues hasn’t calmed traffic as promised.
“The humps are a lazy way of doing things,” Cole said. “Speeding has been a problem in Detroit for years, however it is something that isn’t enforced at all. Go down any street in Detroit and there is no such thing as a speed limit.”
But, the city is touting progress. Residential streets where speed humps were installed since 2021 experienced a 36% drop in crashes, said James Hanning, deputy director of Complete Streets, an initiative of the city’s Department of Public Works. Detroit recorded a 22% reduction in vehicle crashes on residential streets across the city since the speed hump program started in 2018.
“(The speed hump program) was done in the name of slowing things down on residential streets and addressing concerns around speeding and reckless driving that residents were sharing with the department and mayor’s office,” Hanning said in an interview. “We’ve been seeing really positive results. We know it’s having the intended impact.”
A list of streets where 289 speed humps are planned this year was recently released by DPW. Residents have until April 27 to opt out by submitting a letter from a block club or neighborhood organization. Hanning said plans for street humps were canceled by residents only 34 times, while the city has received more than 25,000 requests to install them.
Hanning said the program had a surge of requests in recent years, rising from 500 requests for speed humps in 2019 to 5,300 in 2021 before dropping to 2,800 in 2022.
DPW has $3.2 million budgeted for its street hump program this year. Hanning said DPW is expecting a decrease in requests in the coming years as many of the high-demand areas have already had speed humps installed. Detroit planning standards also emphasize design elements that reduce traffic speeds, like raised crosswalks and extended bulb-outs at intersections.
Slowing down traffic remains a priority for residents who weighed in on budget conversations for the upcoming 2024 fiscal year. A community outreach report shows residents want better enforcement of speed regulations and greater police presence in their neighborhoods alongside speed humps.
Alice Haliburton, a resident of the Evergreen Lasher 7/8 Mile neighborhood, said speed humps have helped prevent vehicles from racing between city blocks. However, she sees older rubber barriers on Livernois Avenue that need repairs.
Haliburton said a lack of police visibility is contributing to speeding problems. She said Deroiters should also take responsibility and report it when they see someone driving too fast through a residential area.
“On my block, in my area, it has helped,” Haliburton said of the speed humps. “I’m still concerned about all these accidents happening in neighborhoods.”
I can see why the Grand River Avenue redesign hasn’t had the intended impact. It still has four lanes dedicated to car driving on top of additional space for car storage. They could’ve put in a BRT or at the very least a bus lane to help calm traffic better. But maybe this is just a phase 1 situation.
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