November 28, 1992
Berkeley City Council
2180 Milvia Street
Berkeley, California 94704
Re: Speed Bumps
I understand that you voted to build speed bumps all over Berkeley, in order to get drivers to slow down. I think that this decision was very short-sighted, and should be reversed.
Think ahead! Most oil experts agree that by only 2020, we will have used up all economically retrievable oil reserves in the U.S. (i.e., the energy needed to get any more oil out of the ground will be greater than the energy that that oil will provide!). (Globally, oil will run out around 2040.) At that point, we won't have enough energy available to keep anywhere near the current number of vehicles on the road. (I am assuming that we will want to reserve our natural gas for heating our homes, that burning coal would be too dirty and contribute too much to global warming, and that nuclear energy would still be considered environmentally unacceptable.)
And even if the oil weren't going to run out, for environmental, health, economic, and many other reasons, we still need to drastically reduce our use of private motor vehicles. The real problem is not that a few of them are driven too fast. The real problem is that they exist at all!
That leaves mostly human-powered vehicles (bicycles, etc.) and electric vehicles. For both of these, bumps in the road will be unnecessary and a great nuisance. We will just have to remove all of the bumps.
Actually, the bumps will be a nuisance long before 2020. They are already a nuisance for bicyclists, and they are more than a nuisance for emergency vehicles. I have worked in an ambulance. Bumps in the road are anathema to ambulance personnel. Can you imagine trying to get a victim of spinal injury quickly and safely to the hospital while having to go over speed bumps? Too much jerky motion can paralyze them for life!
And bumps are very expensive. The money to build one speed bump will pay for two bicycle lockers. A speed bump only slows down vehicles over a small section of a single road. Are we going to put bumps on all residential blocks of all streets in Berkeley? The expense would be enormous.
A much cheaper solution (in fact, one that would make money) would be to tax automobile ownership, storage, or use, which could reduce auto ownership and use to any level we desire. This should be done anyway, because the present system, which subsidizes auto use, is not equitable: the poor are required to pay (through sales taxes) for highway construction that doesn't benefit them and in fact destroys their health and their communities. Even people who aren't poor, but who choose not to own an automobile, are forced to pay for the repair of streets that others damage. Then, some of the proceeds could be used to provide more traffic police to enforce the speed limit, without inconveniencing nondrivers.
Speed bumps solve the wrong problem. We don't just need to slow cars down a bit, we need to get rid of them! And the quicker, the better.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.