Uncalming: Traffic bumps causing damage, anger

news-speedbumpThis new concrete speed bump at Second Street NW has been gouged from passing vehicles.
PHOTO BY COURTENEY STUART

No one questions whether drivers should go slowly as they cross the Downtown Mall. But the speed bumps installed earlier this month as part of the pedestrian area's rebricking are doing more than just slowing drivers down– they may be damaging the vehicles that cross and are becoming damaged themselves in the process.

"Even when you drive forward slowly, you still drag," says J.R. Graves, who delivers prescription drugs for CVS pharmacy and drives across the Mall several times a day in either his Toyota Corolla or a Chevy sedan.

Graves says he isn't driving fast over the bumps, and indeed, on Wednesday afternoon, May 20, a Hook reporter on the Mall handing out free CDs heard dozens of cars scrape one of the raised concrete devices.

There is visible evidence of the dragging. Less than a month after installation, gouges and black marks mar the surface of the concrete bumps at both the Second Street NW and Fourth Street SE crossings.

"It's two inches too high," says Sam Rochester, chef at the Downtown Grille, who says he has scraped every time he has crossed in his station wagon. (Except on the day of Rochester's interview, when a Hook reporter warned drivers to come to nearly a complete stop.)

Are the bumps really too high?

According to one local mechanic, the height–- which a reporter measured at 6.75 inches above the blacktop of Second Street two feet past the bump–- is more than most cars can handle, even at slow speeds.

"You could do some serious damage," says Buck Dean, shop manager at Edgecomb's Imported Auto. Depending on the make and model, Dean says a car could sustain damage into the hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.

Unlike speed humps, which are used by the Virginia Department of Transportation as traffic-calming measures and are standardized to rise just three inches over 12 feet, the Mall's traffic slowing mechanisms are more like speed bumps– shorter and taller, and typically used only in parking lots.

Various traffic websites suggest that proper speed bump height typically remains under four inches tall and one foot deep– nearly three inches shorter and two feet shallower than the Mall bumps.

Cars aren't the only vehicles struggling. Hook reporters have heard the deep thump as the city's own free trolley has scraped. And wheelchair pedestrian Gerry Mitchell, who was infamously struck by a police cruiser in a crosswalk in November 2007 and has since become an outspoken advocate for pedestrian issues,  says he and others in motorized wheelchairs are unable to traverse the new Mall speed bumps at all– something he says is necessary when the sidewalks on either side are blocked.

"It's just dangerous," says Mitchell.

City engineer Tony Edwards says he's aware of the problem and says the City plans to investigate using a "low profile" vehicle. Says Edwards, "We're definitely looking at how we can adjust these if we need to do that."

Some, however, are saying the need is already obvious. Downtown building investor Paul Wright thinks a speed bump makes perfect sense on the way into a pedestrian zone but no sense on the way out.

"The damage and grooves," says Wright, "show that they are significantly too high."

–last updated 6:18pm, May 28

33 comments

I was wondering if anybody else was going to complain about these speed bumps. It's just another in the long list of the stupidest things the City of Charlottesville has ever done. Are there any competent department heads left anywhere in city employment? I have watched cars drag bottom on these speed bumps ever since the crossovers were opened back up recently. A friend of dragged his entire exhaust system on a new Corvette going across these bumps one evening. I would be surprised to learn there haven't been any damage claims filed against the city yet.

I think they will address it not because they care about people's cars but because it doesn't look nice after spending $7M on new bricks.

Ahh, the final nail has been driven into the heart of downtown, the speed bumps will keep the away.

Memo from staff to public --Sorry can't fix these would put us over budget

I should reread my posts before I submit them...

Whoever made the decision to use the 6 inch ones should pay to fix it.. unless they were on salary.. then they should just be fired.

"Investigate" lower profile bumps? How about fixing the problem.. tomorrow...? Take the speed bumps OUT until you can figure out how to do it right.

"Except on the day of Rochester’s interview, when a Hook reporter warned drivers to come to nearly a complete stop." These crossings represent the most intense interaction of pedestrians and vehicles anywhere in the city or county. Of course the driver should stop. I've driven over the ones at Second Street NW and I was going so slowly, afraid some toddler hidden by a store wall would run out in front of my car, that I didn't detect any scraping. The city should put up signs saying "Speed Bump." Problem solved, except for those who wish to determine how fast they will travel in crossing the mall.

M, I have a sneaky suspicion the speed bumps are there to discourage people from driving across the mall no more than absolutely necessary. There's a mixed bag of emotions about the crossovers even being on the mall in the first place.

"...to discourage people from driving across the mall no more than absolutely necessary." Seems wise to me, just like not having crosswalks at fifty-foot intervals along the US-250 Bypass.

I'm confused -- aren't there STOP SIGNS at all of these crossings? So why are the bumps necessary, and why does the story suggest that most people don't stop before going over at least the first bump? Is the true issue here that people are running stop signs and driving too fast when crossing the mall? Because I go down there a couple of times a week and have never witnessed a driver being anything less than very cautious when crossing. I think most people realize that that's one area where you cannot get away with driving recklessly, at least not for very long.

Just watched your Mr. Graves cross the Mall in his Timberlakes Chevy Sedan; he went nice and slow and didn't scrape a bit. Guess those nasty old speed bumps taught him a lesson, and he slowed down a bit.

"(Except on the day of Rochester’s interview, when a Hook reporter warned drivers to come to nearly a complete stop.)"

Hope Ol' Rochester is as smart as Mr. Graves!

I didn't miss that option, Mike.

It's my #3 above.

With each passing day the speed bumps look even more unattractive. It's a big ugly pimple on the city's new bricks.

Outskirts: Oh, it'll cost a half-million that we can't afford? That nearly ensures that it'll get done, then. Fun for skateboarding? Then another 5 figures to put them in at the likely-doomed skate park!

your right! I need to proof read from now on ; )

Hey people. This is a pedestrian mall (according to the local PR machine), so stop driving across it. Did anyone die when the two crossings were closed? I think not.

I predict it will cost half a million to change the bumps, plus another three months of construction time. I hope they can't afford it, since I like the bumps. They are fun for skateboarding.

All that it will take for it to be fixed in ONE DAY is for someone to scrape a hole in an oil line, transmission pan or worse.. gas tank...

If this were Barraks Road shopping center doing this the same idiots that attacked the balloon guy would be all over it.

Apple, I can see that happening. Many cars have plastic gas tanks now!! Speed bump cracks open gas tank, gas hits hot exhaust system and ignites. What a mess as the car sits there burning. HAHAHA!!!

In all seriousness, to prevent such a not so far-fetched thing from taking place, the city really should close the crossovers until the repairs are finished.

Does this bump pass the building code? Would they allow a developer building roads in a new neighborhood to do this? doubtful....

Yeah, my car hit too, creeping over them. The worst part is hearing the transmission hit and knowing you get to do it all over again at 40 feet away

John D, most of my vehicles will cross the mall without dragging. But most of them are also large SUVs. I do have one car that drags the dual exhaust system and gas tank even when moving 1 mph. There's no excuse for this.

CVille Eye, I agree with you. Crosswalks on Rt 250 should be at least 100 foot intervals :-)

Sick Of The Local Rambos, that low-riding vehicle you're talking about muist have a difficult time every time you ride acroos an old storm drain or old curb cut.

C'ville Eye, I think you're missing the point. A significant minority of the cars that go over the speed bumps will hit the bumps regardless of their speed. They don't have enough ground clearance. The bumps are no problem for SUV's or most sedans. But if you've a smaller, or older, or sportier car you may have a real problem. And I don't think the city is willing to pay for new oilpans and transmissions for every car that hits these.

Where the hell was the engineer on this project? This is such a standardized item. And at the risk of being a bit of a nudge, I'm pretty sure that the technical name is actually "speed hump".

CVille Eye, I have no "low riders". It's actually a large 4 door Cadillac passenger sedan. As soon as the front wheels clear the hump and are going downhill, the exhaust system drags. And as soon as the rear wheels clear the hump and are going downhill, the gas tank drags.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Look at the picture at the top of this thread. There's hundreds of people dragging bottom while going across these speed humps.

I still think there was a special covert reason involved in making these speed humps so tall in the first place. Or some pretty simple minded people were involved.

quote: "Where the hell was the engineer on this project?"

Sitting in his/her office calculating how much his/her retirement check will be? Been there, have seen it many times.

Speed bumps are usually found in parking lots; speed humps are usually found on city streets. There is a standardized speed hump somewhere in the area of town that has a great many Xmas lights. This feature appears to be a speed bump. I was in a Honda Accord when I experienced no problem. As I said before, the city should put up a sign that says "Speed Bump" and there would be no grounds for a lawsuit. However, if the city gets rid of the bump and somebody mows down a child, there just may be sufficient grounds, since that area is officially a "pedestrian" mall.

Just slow down. I've been over this thing in a buddy's Civic and it cleared fine. Complain. Complain...

To those of you that don't drag bottom in your cars. So the hell what. There are plenty of others that do. And just because you don't, does not mean there isn't a problem for others. What a bunch of selfish people you are. Apparently you also cannot comprehend what you read. No one has said they are trying to speed over the bumps. They are creeping along trying not to bottom out. Next time, try to fully understand the issue at hand. Instead of mouthing off and telling them to slow down. Also, putting up a sign that reads "SPEED BUMP" does not get the city off the hook for doing damage to private property. The city knows there is an issue and is now trying to cover their assets. The most likely outcome will be to close the crossovers. It's the cheapest way to fix the problem and the right thing to do.

@Steve, you obviously have your panties on backwards. If they close the crossing then the people who are having a problem will have to take another route. So, here's the no-dollar solution: those people who are having a problem at that croosing will take another route. This is a win for those who are having a problem and a win for those who are not. Thongs are always to the rear.

What are we all arguing about? It's obvious that the city either needs to...

1) Fix the problem, or

2) Close the crossovers, or

3) Have unsightly speed bumps with chunks of concrete chipped away by vehicle suspensions next to their new $7 million bricks.

#3 is just plain unattractive. I don' think you will see #2 happen. So that only leaves option #1. :)

you missed one option Sick, that's do nothing which I think will be the most likely solution considering the FAIR amount of people that get over it with no problem.

the small amount of traffic caused by those who must go around to avoid damaging their vehicle shouldn't be too much of a problem. I would think those people would find a different route after a while, surely some have done so already.

I also agree with your suspicions about the planning of this speed bump. Pretty ingenious if I do say so myself

Well, lets see... a 2009 Camry LE has a ground clearance of 5.5 inches... in other words is should rub... not a sporty car by ay stretch of the imagination. I don't know if the ground clearance spec is measured at a fully loaded weight, or if it includes items that are directly between the wheels which for this instance would help the clearance, but still, you shouldn't need to drive an SUV to cross the mall.

With the new fuel economy standards cars will be getting lower. It helps the aerodynamics...

The speedbump has been shaved by a few inches...now let's see how fast you drivers can be moving when you hit someone. Go!