Fake Speed Bumps

Pound foolish in Philly


Philadelphia, the home of founder and aphorist Ben Franklin, has taken an old cliché—"penny wise, pound foolish"—to a new level. The city doesn't want to spring for real speed bumps, so it's hoping fake ones will do the trick, despite hard evidence that they won't make any difference.

The faux bumps are flat pieces of plastic painted to look like small pyramids rising out of the road. Preliminary tests have shown that the fakes, which cost about $100 each, are effective only for a month or two before repeat drivers get used to the trick and resume speeding along. Undaunted, the city plans to install them on 60 to 90 streets.

Residents of the test areas didn't notice a change in the speed of traffic; nor did they slow their own driving. Richard Blomberg, a private contractor employed by Philadelphia to help conduct the study, argues that the "conspicuous effect" of the fake speed bumps will remind people that they should slow down. Never mind that statistically speaking, they aren't.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration first tested the fake speed bumps in Phoenix. Terry Sills, traffic coordinator at the Phoenix Police Department, doesn't understand Philadelphia's decision. "When people traversed the same roadway every day," he says, "they learned that the bumps weren't real."