Speed bumps, street markings, speed limits and other measures have all been used to create safer conditions for all users of the road. But what about trees?
Changes in transit design that aim to make roads and car traffic safer are one critical component of the complete streets movements underway across North America. Vehicle usage is responsible for staggering CO2 emissions, human injury and death, energy consumption, and more. Still, cars remain a part of the urban landscape, and street design that integrates them safely is imperative. Speed bumps, street markings, speed limits and other measures have all been used to create safer conditions for all users of the road. But what about trees?
Most of us like trees. These incredible organisms clean our air and water, provide valuable habitat for wildlife, increase our property values, and make us feel happier through their beauty. They also seem to make urban roads safer. Most of us don’t think of trees as infrastructure, but in an urban context they are just that. Research indicates that they can play a powerful role in traffic calming, especially through their impact on three vehicle-related risks: speeding, road rage, and pedestrian/bicyclist injury.
The Edge Effect
According to a 1999 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), speed was a factor in 30% of all traffic fatalities. That’s a scary statistic. Rumble strips, speed bumps, and speed limits are a few of the common measures taken to reduce traffic speeds to safer levels. It turns out that trees placed along streets can also play an important role in speed control. A 2006 study reported that using trees to line roadways brought down average speeds by up to eight miles per hour. Researchers theorize that streets with landscaped center medians or perimeter street trees may affect driver perception of lane width, causing something called the “edge effect.” This “edge effect” provides them with a psychological prompt to go slower.
Putting Safety First
Creating a safe environment for pedestrians and bicyclists who share the road with vehicles is also an important …
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