“Speed tables” are latest effort to slow residential streets

Starting next month, Cleveland will install 10 speed tables across the city and begin testing them in what officials hope will eventually be a central part of making the city’s streets safer.
A handmade sign on West 50th Street near the spot where Apolina Asumani, 5, was hit by a car and died on April 26. (Photo by Owen MacMillan)

Starting next month, Cleveland will install 10 speed tables across the city and begin testing them in what officials hope will eventually be a central part of making the city’s streets safer.

These raised rubber platforms are part of a pilot program initiated by the city to slow drivers down on residential streets.

“We expect [speed tables] to be effective at lowering speeds,” said Calley Mersmann, senior strategist for transit and mobility with the city of Cleveland. “We will measure to confirm that but based on experiences in other places we expect the traffic-calming impact to be documented through the pilot. In general, slower speeds are safer. So, if a crash does happen, it’s much less likely to result in a serious injury or fatality if it’s at a low speed.”

The streets included in this pilot program are: 

  • Judson Drive (East 160th Street to Lee Road)
  • Dickens Avenue (East of Larry Doby Way)
  • East 147th Street (South of Bartlett Avenue)
  • West 101st Street (Marginal Road to Madison Avenue)
  • West 56th Street (Denison Avenue to Storer Avenue)
  • Edgewater Drive (West of West 115th Street)
  • East 174th Street (Ozark Avenue to Nottingham Road)
  • Corlett Avenue (East of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive)
  • West 50th Street (Kouba Avenue to Clark Avenue)
  • Bohn Road (East 40th to Kennard Road) 

Mersmann said while speed tables cannot eliminate crashes, they will have a significant impact on reducing the damage when they do occur.

A speed table is a simple, raised rubber platform which includes a gradual incline of three or four inches, a flat middle section, and then an equivalent decline on the other side.

“The way that they work, the reason they exist, is that drivers slow down to navigate over that table,” Mersmann said. “So they are what we call a traffic-calming feature, basically slowing cars down.”

Effort to reduce injury and death

According to Bike Cleveland, every two weeks an average of 13 people are killed or injured while walking, biking, or driving Cleveland streets. 

In 2021, 74 people died in traffic crashes in Cleveland, according to Vision Zero Cleveland. As of July 3, there have been 20 traffic-related fatalities in the city in 2022.

Some residents have pushed for traffic calming as a way to reduce traffic fatalities and deaths on city streets. Residents of Franklin Boulevard on the city’s west side, where a $3.3 million re-do is underway, asked for speed tables, but the Jackson administration didn’t include them in the final project, saying they hadn’t yet been tested. Mayor Justin Bibb pledged in his 2021 campaign to make safer streets a priority, and has moved ahead on the speed tables pilot and new complete and green streets legislation as part of the long-range Vision Zero plan, which aims to eliminate traffic deaths in Cleveland. 

One of the locations that will get a speed table is West 50th Street between Kouba and Clark Avenues, where 5-year-old Apolina Asumani was struck and killed by a car on April 26. After the girl’s death, fed-up residents and activists installed speed bumps at the spot of the accident on their own and asked the city not to remove them. “This will slow down drivers and lives will be saved,” Mayele Ngemba, a leader in the local Congolese community, posted on Twitter. 

Jenna Thomas, advocacy and policy manager with Bike Cleveland, said she is glad to see the city move forward with testing traffic-calming methods.

“I think it is kind of one ingredient in the entire recipe of making streets safer,” she said. “We have been advocating for a traffic-calming program in the city for a long time, and speed tables are one tool in the tool box.”

A quiet moment on West 101st Street, where a speed table will soon be installed. (Photo by Owen MacMillan)

Speed tables, not speed bumps

The pilot locations were selected because they have medium traffic flow, are primarily residential areas, and have documented speeding issues, Mersmann said. The city’s website said other criteria like proximity to schools or parks and the number of crashes also influenced the selection.

She emphasized speed tables are not the same as traditional speed bumps because they don’t have as dramatic an impact on cars hitting them above the target speed.

“Speed bumps are found more in parking lots and areas that are extremely low speed environments,” she said. “[With those] you basically have to slow down to five miles an hour to avoid hitting your head on the ceiling. Speed tables are more gradual.”

Thomas thinks the most important effect the tables will have is on the mentality and attentiveness of those behind the wheel. “Anything that gets a driver to think about how they are driving and pay attention to the roadway and how it’s changing, makes them slow down,” she said. 

Installing 10 speed tables will not solve the issue of traffic fatalities in Cleveland, Thomas said, and she hopes the pilot program will serve as just the beginning of traffic-calming efforts from the city. 

“Ideally we would hope to see that this program expands and grows and scales up so that all neighborhoods are able to access these kinds of traffic-calming measures,” she said. “But I definitely think that this will be beneficial. It will help reduce the speed of cars, which is ultimately what causes so many traffic crashes, especially traffic crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists.”

Speed tables in other cities

In testing speed tables as a means to reduce speeds, Cleveland follows the example of other major cities in Ohio which launched pilot programs of their own in recent years.

The city of Akron recently announced plans to install 28 additional speed tables across the city’s 10 wards following the success of a 2020 speed table test. Akron’s pilot program showed that in areas where a speed table was installed, the percentage of traffic made up of speeders was reduced from 90 percent of all traffic to 67 percent.

Cincinnati uses “speed cushions,” which have a slightly different design and do not cover across the entire street but have nearly identical goals and functions.

The city launched a pilot program of its own in September 2021, focusing on the speeding problem of one street, Winneste Avenue. The city noted a marked decrease in speeding on the street, and in March of this year announced plans to build 10 new speed cushions around the city. The impact on speeding was even more dramatic in Cincinnati than Akron, with officials finding that Winneste Avenue saw its percentage of traffic which was speeding fall from 95 percent to just 11 percent.

Measuring impact

While city officials expect the roads where the speed tables are placed to become safer in the short term, the primary function of the pilot program is to test the speed tables through speed documentation and resident feedback. 

All speed table locations will have radar trackers to gauge the speed of drivers, and those speeds will be compared to data collected from radar trackers placed at the locations of the speed tables before they are installed.

Mersmann did not specify how long the pilot program would last, but the speed tables will remain in place unless it is determined they are a hazard to drivers or create an issue for city services.

With the exception of an asphalt speed table being installed on Dickens Avenue, the pilot speed tables are rubber and are relatively easy for the city to remove. The city does not expect them to increase accident frequency or to pose an issue for city services like waste and snow removal, Mersmann said.

An asphalt speed table will soon be installed on Dickens Avenue adjacent to Luke Easter Park on Cleveland’s east side. (Photo by Owen MacMillan)

Speed radar signs will be placed around the city to test if they also have an impact on speeds and to compare them to the impact of speed tables.

The speed radar signs will be removed from the new speed table sites to distinguish the impact of one speed abatement method from another. 

While both the signs and the speed radars located at the speed tables collect exact speed data, Mersmann emphasized they are not specific to vehicles and cannot be used to ticket speeders.

The city welcomes resident feedback, and residents can share their thoughts on the speed tables on the city’s website

Additionally, Mersmann said they will talk with residents of the affected streets. “We have a more targeted outreach and engagement strategy for the people who live on the specific blocks where the speed tables will be going in,” she said. “After they are installed, there will be a resident survey which will be promoted actively to the people on those blocks.”

All the speed tables will be placed on streets with a current speed limit of 25 mph, and they will come in two different widths that are designed to slow drivers down to targets of 15 and 20 mph.

The impact of Cleveland’s new speed tables will be realized through observation and data collection. But, based on recent experience in other cities with similar programs, Mersmann is confident that Clevelanders will see the benefit of speed tables.

“We hope that if there are any service impacts that we do discover that we can work through those and find solutions – and the same goes with any negative resident experiences that we can adjust to, to feed into a citywide policy that works,” she said.

Correction: An initial version of this story stated that speed tables would be installed citywide this month. Subsequently, city officials clarified that the timeline’s been pushed back to August. We’ve updated the story.

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