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Traffic calming, an essential part of urban planning and design, tends to focus on horizontal measures such as narrow roads, chicanes, and curb extensions. However, an equally crucial aspect that often gets overlooked is the role of vertical speed control elements in managing traffic speeds and enhancing pedestrian safety. This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of vertical speed control elements, delving into their benefits, appropriate application, and effective design and installation.

Vertical speed control elements broadly refer to physical interventions like speed humps, speed cushions, speed tables, and raised crosswalks. These measures are designed to reinforce safe driving speeds and are an excellent tool in the urban planner’s toolbox for creating pedestrian-friendly environments. Unlike their horizontal counterparts, these vertical interventions disrupt the driving surface vertically, compelling drivers to reduce their speed to navigate the obstructions safely and comfortably.

Vertical speed control elements are particularly apt for a range of street types. They find their most widespread application in neighborhoods and residential areas where the streets are primarily low-speed zones. Freight traffic, which can be disruptive to the calm nature of residential streets, is discouraged in these areas. These elements may be used in conjunction with horizontal traffic calming measures, such as curb extensions or chicanes, or implemented individually on streets with a limited right-of-way.

The decision to use vertical speed control elements is contingent upon the situation where conventional traffic calming elements fail to achieve the target speed of the roadway. Streets with a speed limit of 30 mph and under are prime candidates for these vertical interventions, especially where the operating speeds are higher than desired or regularly used by cut-through traffic.

Vertical speed control elements not only serve to slow down traffic, but they also contribute to creating a safer and more attractive environment. Data and research have shown that the application of these elements has a direct, positive impact on slowing down vehicle speeds. However, the most effective implementation of these elements is witnessed when applied at a neighborhood level rather than sporadic installation on individual streets.

In conclusion, vertical speed control elements, when applied correctly, can be a game-changer in creating safer, more harmonious urban spaces. The ensuing sections of this article will delve deeper into the application, benefits, and considerations, design, and installation of these elements to provide a more in-depth understanding of their roles in traffic calming and pedestrian safety.


The application of vertical speed control elements is a crucial measure in traffic calming, particularly in areas where traditional elements such as medians, narrower roads or lanes, curb extensions, or strictly enforced speed limits have proved insufficient in achieving the target speed. These elements are specifically designed for roads where the current speed cannot be effectively reduced using other standard methods.

Vertical speed control elements tend to be most successful when applied to streets that have a speed limit of 30 mph and under. However, this does not mean that their application is limited to these streets alone. They can also be used on roads where the average speed of traffic is higher than preferred, or where cut-through traffic is prevalent. Such streets usually encounter high levels of traffic as they are frequently used as shortcuts to avoid congested main roads.

Implementing vertical speed control elements necessitates a thorough understanding of the road’s characteristics. This involves understanding the street’s function, the type of vehicles that primarily use it, and the frequency and speed of traffic flow. With this knowledge, the most appropriate type of vertical speed control element, may it be speed humps, speed cushions, or speed tables, can be selected to manage the speed effectively.

Applying these speed control elements also requires careful consideration of the environment around the street. The presence of schools, hospitals, residential areas, and other sensitive zones can greatly influence the target speed and, therefore, the type of element to be implemented. For example, near schools, where pedestrian safety is paramount, speed tables that double up as pedestrian crossings might be the ideal choice.

Moreover, the presence of freight traffic can also affect the application of these elements. As per the general guidelines, streets with high freight traffic are discouraged from using vertical speed control, mainly due to the potential for increased noise and vibration levels. However, with the advent of newer technology and design, certain types of vertical speed control elements can be used without causing significant disruption to freight traffic.

In conclusion, the application of vertical speed control elements is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It requires a comprehensive understanding of the road, its function, the traffic it encounters, and the surrounding environment. With careful thought and planning, these elements can be instrumental in achieving the target speed, thereby resulting in a safer and more pedestrian-friendly environment.

Benefits & Considerations

The effectiveness of vertical speed control elements in managing traffic speed cannot be underestimated. These elements are specifically designed to downscale velocity, thus creating a safer and more attractive environment for both the motorists and pedestrians. Across the globe, the application of these traffic calming measures has shown to significantly decrease accident rates and improve the overall safety of neighborhoods.

One of the key benefits of vertical speed control elements is their potential to slow down traffic. They act as a physical reminder for drivers to maintain controlled speeds, especially in areas where pedestrian traffic is high. The introduction of vertical speed control elements like speed humps, speed tables, and raised crosswalks, make drivers more cautious, hence reducing the risk of accidents and enhancing pedestrian safety. With slower traffic, the streets become more pedestrian-friendly, offering a comfortable and safe space for residents to move around.

Vertical speed control elements are not just an advantageous safety feature for individual streets; their benefits can be amplified when implemented at a neighborhood level. By creating “Slow Zones” across a neighborhood, vertical speed control elements can collectively bring down the overall speed of vehicles. This comprehensive approach helps to reinforce a culture of safe driving in the entire community, as opposed to a single street.

However, while designating these “Slow Zones”, a careful consideration should be given to the specific needs and characteristics of the neighborhood. Factors such as the presence of schools, parks, elderly population, and others should be taken into account. By doing so, traffic calming treatments can be targeted at areas where they are most needed and will have the most impact.

Furthermore, the design of the vertical speed control elements themselves should be carefully considered. The design needs to be effective enough to slow down traffic, yet not so disruptive as to cause unnecessary discomfort or safety risks to drivers. Some motorists, cyclists, and emergency vehicles can find extreme vertical speed control designs challenging to navigate. Therefore, the design must strike a balance between being effective and being user-friendly.

In conclusion, while the benefits of vertical speed control elements are significant, their implementation should be carefully planned and coordinated. A comprehensive, neighborhood-wide approach that considers the specific needs of the area will yield the most effective results. With thoughtful planning and implementation, vertical speed control elements can play a vital role in fostering safer, more pedestrian-friendly communities.

Designing Vertical Speed Control Elements

The design process for vertical speed control elements needs to be meticulously thought through as it impacts a variety of road users, ranging from vehicle operators to cyclists and pedestrians. A comprehensive design approach should consider the particular characteristics of the street, including its size, the nature of surrounding buildings, pedestrian traffic, and existing traffic patterns. The ultimate objective is to create a street design that naturally encourages drivers to maintain safe speeds.

There’s a wide array of designs and applications for these control elements. Some popular designs include speed humps, bumps, and cushions, each differing in size, shape, and impact on vehicle speeds. The choice of design should take into account its effect on different types of road users. For instance, speed bumps, while effective in slowing down cars, can pose challenges for cyclists. Hence, incorporating designs like speed cushions, which allow for safe passage of cyclists and emergency vehicles, could be a more appropriate choice in certain circumstances.

Installing Vertical Speed Control Elements

The installation of vertical speed control elements requires careful planning and consideration. Key steps include identifying the appropriate locations based on traffic patterns, speed data, and community input; selecting the right type of vertical speed control element based on the street’s design, usage, and the desired speed reduction; and properly installing the element to ensure durability and effectiveness. It’s essential to work closely with engineers and city planners during this process, as they can provide valuable insights into the best methods of installation. Furthermore, the maintenance of these elements should not be overlooked. Regular check-ups and necessary repairs must be carried out to maintain their efficiency and longevity. This ensures the vertical speed control elements continue to serve their purpose in slowing down traffic and improving pedestrian safety.


In summation, the strategic implementation of vertical speed control elements is a crucial aspect of traffic calming and pedestrian safety. These elements exist not merely to slow down vehicular movement but to create an environment that is safe, pedestrian-friendly, and accommodating of different modes of transportation including biking and walking. They redefine the rhythm of our streets, prompting drivers to respect speed limits and consider the safety of those on foot or on bikes.

Vertical speed control elements serve as potent tools for managing traffic speeds. They are particularly applicable on streets with speed limits of 30 mph or below, providing a practical solution to reduce higher than desired operating speeds and cut-through traffic. The introduction of these elements can transform a neighborhood, making it more inviting to residents and visitors alike, and fostering an ambiance that encourages walking and biking.

However, it is important to remember that the effectiveness of these devices is not isolated to a single street. Implementing vertical speed control elements at a neighborhood level is proven to yield better results, creating a network of slow zones that provide a coordinated approach to traffic calming. Such a neighborhood-wide strategy ensures a consistent driving behavior and amplifies the safety benefits of these elements.

Designing these elements requires careful consideration. The form and application should be tailored to the specific street context and should account for the effects on all road users – drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. To strike the right balance, it is critical to engage in thoughtful design practices that prioritize safety while maintaining the smooth flow of traffic.

The installation and maintenance of vertical speed control elements are equally significant. Proper installation ensures the optimal performance of these elements, while regular maintenance helps to prolong their lifespan and efficacy. It is a proactive approach towards traffic management, one that underscores the importance of sustained efforts in ensuring pedestrian safety.

In conclusion, vertical speed control elements hold great potential in shaping our streets into safer, more enjoyable spaces. They indeed serve as a testament to the notion that traffic calming is not just about enforcing low speed limits, but about creating streets that respect and encourage all forms of movement. It is about redefining our streets not as mere conduits for vehicles but as public spaces that serve all of us – drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians alike.