It was a pilot project about eight years ago and, today, there are 414 streets with these devices, a number growing every year. Yes, 414 — everywhere another reminder that speed kills.
Speed bumps and humps, speed tables and cushions, bulb-outs, raised intersections, a planter here, trees there, new zig-zag lines, 30 km/h speed limits, a digital board that flashes your sins, alarming green paint, warning yellow paint, flashing crosswalks, bike lanes, bus lanes, centre medians — all asking the motoring public to CALM THE HELL DOWN!
In other words, you do wonder if we’re approaching DEF CON 1 in terms of what we can throw on the road to lower driving speeds.
“What we’re trying to do,” explains Phil Landry, the city’s director of traffic services, “is create that environment where it’s less comfortable to drive at a higher speed.”
(And succeeding, we might add.)
Landry says the flex stakes are shown to slow down traffic an average of three to five km/h — and they’re relatively cheap, with a typical installation of about $1,500, much less than speed bumps or “bump-out” realignments that need engineering.
Ward councillors each have an annual budget of $50,000 for temporary traffic-calming measures. So, in response to complaints about speeding (which are endless), the quickest, cheapest solution are flex stakes and speed boards, of which the city has about 650.
Flex stakes are what traffic engineers call “vertical friction elements,” or up-and-down things on the side of the road that a motorist is afraid to hit, like a parked car. (The wider, the more unobstructed the road, the more natural it is to speed up.)
Landry says the flex stakes are typically installed about 3.5 metres apart. Given that an average car is about two metres wide, it does make for a tight squeeze, so slowing down is natural.
This might explain why some of the stakes, which are flexible and “pop” back up, look as though they’ve eaten a few grills and tires. The city will put the stakes further apart than 3.5 metres if OC Transpo traffic is involved and tries to accommodate on-street parking.
Landry says the feedback on the stakes has been generally positive and he isn’t aware of many complaints about vehicles being damaged or sideswiped by the upright pieces of plastic.
The city’s goal is to have traffic move at 30 km/h on residential streets and, on new builds, it tries to designing the roadway to achieve that mark at the start, rather than retrofit later.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that nearly 170 years after Ottawa was founded, we still haven’t settled on how to design a residential street that dictates the speeds we want, on a surface that all users can safely share, in four seasons?
(Neither do we forget, meanwhile, that on the open roads and highways, we are regularly driving like maniacs, as evidenced by the harrowing stories from the annals of Ottawa police traffic enforcement.)
A couple of urban councillors say they’ve had good success with the flex stakes.
“Generally speaking, these are effective and well-supported by residents,” said Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper.
“We put them on streets where we have complaints from residents about the speed of traffic. When they first go in, there’s sometimes some opposition from some residents, especially if there’s any parking loss, but, by the time people get used to them, they’re re-installed without much if any pushback the following year.”
Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney calls them just one more tool to combat speeding, a problem across the city.
“We have a real problem with high speeds in the downtown,” she wrote.
“Flex posts are an effective visual barrier that force vehicles to slow down to avoid. They are designed to be hit without damaging a vehicle, though they make a loud slapping noise when that happens.”
The one downside, she added, is that the posts need to be removed before winter and re-installed in the spring.
Landry, meanwhile, says flex stakes may not be the last traffic-calming innovation the city employs.
“We’re always looking. We’re open to trying new things.”
The total number of streets with the temporary posts grows by about 30 to 40 every year, he estimated.
So, keep calm and carry on Ottawa — the stakes are high, the stakes are many.