Stop signs, traffic control and practical economics

Vice President , The Regional Group of Companies Inc
  • Jul. 15, 2015

Ahh, summer. Lazy, hazy days meant to be spent outdoors. The kids are off school and long evenings beg for front-yard socializing with the neighbours.

John ClarkIf only the street wasn’t treated like a drag strip by motorists. Stop signs don’t do much to address the problem. They seem more like decorations than an effective means of traffic control.

Safety is always a concern where pedestrians and automobiles meet — not to mention cyclists. Homebuyers will pay a premium for quieter and safer streets. Effective traffic control may not improve property values, but they can help maintain them.

As a longtime resident of one of the older neighbourhoods in Ottawa — where small businesses, public schools and stately old homes share the street — I often find myself shaking my head at the misuse and abuse of the humble stop sign as a means to ensure that safety.

The original purpose of a stop sign was to ensure public safety and clarify rights of way at intersections not busy enough to warrant a traffic light.

But over the years, urban planners and municipal governments have come to regard it as a means to slow down traffic in situations where simply reducing the posted speed limit wasn’t effective.

Creating a worse problem

Instead of addressing a safety problem, this creates one. Drivers aren’t fooled. Rather than changing their habits, they build contempt for the stop sign and the law behind it. A stop sign that’s ignored by drivers is a bigger danger to everyone else than no sign at all.

Browse the Wikipedia entry for “stop sign” and it cites a number of studies that found multi-way stop signs don’t typically control traffic speeds. Instead, they can actually increase average vehicle speeds through a neighbourhood as motorists hit the gas to try to make up lost time.

The results of some 15 separate studies found the safety of pedestrians (especially small children) can actually come under greater threat since they expect vehicles to stop, but many drivers run what they deem to be “unnecessary” signs.

So, what’s the answer?

Just think back to March and April — that period of spring known as pothole season. Nothing controls driver speed better than a pothole, regardless of the posted speed limit.

Physical barriers are much more effective than visual deterrents. That can mean speed bumps. Love them or hate them, they work.

A more creative option is to narrow the street with designated parking spaces where vehicles aren’t allowed to travel. Alternate the parking zones on each side of the street. This zigzag also serves to control speed.

A boon to small business

But most importantly, it contributes to the vitality of dense urban areas.

More parking can mean more revenue for city coffers, where the argument can be made for pay parking. It also supports local business by making it easier for shoppers to visit. This increases retail sales, which increases the ability to pay rent, ups property values of commercial space and increases the amount of property tax paid on these retail buildings.

This is particularly important in areas of the urban core too dense with shops, bars, restaurants and the like to be supported by the number of customers who live within walking or cycling distance. In these instances, economic viability relies on customers who must make the trip from a distance.

Ottawa’s Little Italy (Preston Street) and ByWard Market are perfect examples of these kinds of urban areas.

While better public transit options figure into this as well, most of those folks from the burbs with money to spend are going to be coming in their minivans and SUVs. On a sunny Saturday with busy patios and lots of foot traffic, narrower streets with more on-street parking is the most effective way to ensure safety and provide a place for those vehicles to go.

Parking on neighbourhood side streets actually is a good thing.

It all comes down to common sense

It’s all about protecting a neighbourhood’s values and fostering respect for your neighbours with policies that don’t backfire and instead create a dangerous contempt for the law that erodes public safety.

Of course, there’s no substitute for common sense to keep you and yours safe. The responsibility rests with each and every one of us, either as driver or pedestrian, to at all times exercise individual responsibility.

To discuss this or any other valuation topic in the context of your property, please contact me at jclark@regionalgroup.com. I’m also interested in your feedback and suggestions for future articles.


John Clark is Vice President with The Regional Group of Companies Inc. He has more than 33 years of experience in the real estate appraisal field, is a fully accredited…

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John Clark is Vice President with The Regional Group of Companies Inc. He has more than 33 years of experience in the real estate appraisal field, is a fully accredited…

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