As the former New York governor Mario Cuomo liked to say, politicians campaign in poetry, but govern in prose. If we were to revise this statement for Chapel Hill, we’d add a caveat—but not without a study, a community engagement process, and a policy first.

That said, we were delighted to learn late last week that the Chapel Hill Town Council is set to adopt a new traffic calming policy on Wednesday, one that replaces the previous policy (adopted in 2002) and is in keeping with the town’s Vision Zero resolution (adopted in 2021). The new policy has been in the works for several years, at least, and we’re hopeful that the town will expedite the work that was put on hold while they were developing a new approach to implementing traffic calming requests.

While the old policy placed the burden on property owners to petition for any improvements designed to slow down traffic, the new policy is simple and evidence-based. Here are the highlights:

The town has set clear criteria for traffic calming requests

While any member of the public, whether they’re a renter or homeowner, or live here or just spend time in our community, can make a request for traffic calming, the town will only go forward with the request if it meets several criteria: the street sees more than 500, but less than six thousand, cars a day, and at least fifteen percent of cars travel seven miles over the posted speed limit.

We imagine these criteria are put in place to make sure that the town is implementing traffic calming measures where it is most likely to be effective. Busier streets will likely require more significant interventions, and very low traffic streets don’t require investment. We also like the emphasis on controlling vehicle speed, and appreciate that the bar is set low enough that it will be easier to lower the speed limits in our neighborhoods.

Only town-owned and controlled roads will be considered

Almost all of the dangerous roads in our community are owned and controlled by the NCDOT. This policy will not apply to those roads.

No speed bumps, stop signs, and traffic signals will be considered as part of this policy.

While speed bumps, stop signs, and traffic signals are the most obvious ways to control car speed, they’re not being considered here. This is in part because the Chapel Hill Fire Department, like most fire departments, does not like speed bumps because they believe it slows emergency response time. (For more on fire departments and their reluctance to support safer streets, see this article).

But the town is open to almost every other tool to slow traffic.

We’re delighted to see so many interesting traffic calming options now on the table, from chicanes to striping for walking and bike lanes. Here’s what’s outlined in the new policy:

This is how we get to zero traffic deaths in Chapel Hill

Our community, like many others, is no stranger to death on our streets. In recent years, pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers have all died on our streets, and almost all of these deaths were easily preventable. Even getting people to drive just 10 miles slower on our neighborhood streets will make a major difference. And, while we wish we could implement these policies on NCDOT roads, having safe streets in our neighborhoods will make it easier and safer for all of us to get around. Kudos to Chapel Hill’s staff, and the town council, for adopting this traffic calming policy. Let’s make sure there’s money in the budget to support making streets safe for all.

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Martin Johnson lives in Chapel Hill. He teaches film studies courses at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is also a member of NEXT Chapel Hill-Carrboro and the Bicycle Alliance of Chapel...