Montgomery County's aggressive campaign to tame residential street traffic by building speed humps has hit a detour.
The County Council voted yesterday to place a moratorium on construction of the so-called "traffic-calming" devices, saying residents raised enough questions at a hearing last month to warrant additional study.
Montgomery is the state leader in speed humps, with 950 on the road and 58 more being built this year.
Initially, the 2-year-old program was applauded by residents who had grown tired of motorists using side streets as shortcuts and by parents who worried about the safety of their children.
The difference between speed humps and bumps is about 1 1/2 inches in height. Generally, humps are smooth mounds of asphalt 3 1/2 inches tall that slow traffic to 20 to 25 mph. Bumps, meanwhile, are kidney-jarring blobs about 5 inches high installed in parking lots and on private roads.
Requests in Montgomery for the asphalt humps, which cost about $1,500 each, grew until traffic engineers had a waiting list of 90 streets.
But lately the program has been attacked by critics who say humps damage cars and slow response times for ambulances and firetrucks. Residents also complain that the county made petitioning for speed humps too easy.
Council member Gail Ewing agreed, noting the speed hump guidelines led to "too many, too close, too quick."
"There are circumstances that are critical, that absolutely demand speed humps," said Ewing, a Potomac Democrat. "I don't think that every street that has a problem warrants speed bumps."
Ewing said a study of the program by fire and rescue staff and county engineers will probably be completed in January, giving the council time to determine if it wants to continue funding humps.
Speed humps also are the subject of a federal lawsuit by a disabled veteran in Bethesda who believes the humps violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Randy Slager, who is 60 percent disabled with spinal injuries he suffered during a 1979 Army training exercise, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt last month, claiming speed humps deny him the same access to neighborhood streets as his able-bodied residents. Slager, 44, said the mounds cause him excruciating pain, and a plan by county engineers to install humps on his street will keep him from getting to his job in Washington.
He said there is a cheaper alternative: stop signs.
Signs might be cheaper, but they don't accomplish the same thing, said speed hump expert C. Edward Walter.
Walter, Howard County's chief traffic engineer and author of articles about speed humps in engineering magazines, was an early supporter in this country of the obstacles known as "sleeping policemen" in England, where they were developed.
"I prefer to call them 'the insomniac policemen,' because they're always working," he said.
By comparison, Howard County has just 70 humps. "We've been very selective in their usage," Walter said, "They're very good when they've been used intelligently and not installed willy-nilly."
Pub Date: 7/23/97