City Cafe, Local

Do The ‘Slow Down’ Signs Around Atlanta Work?

Unofficial signs telling drivers to slow down are common in neighborhoods all around Atlanta.
Unofficial signs telling drivers to slow down are common in neighborhoods all around Atlanta.
Credit Stephannie Stokes / WABE

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Signs telling drivers to “slow down” are all over Atlanta neighborhoods. They’re not official, from the city or state. Residents put them up themselves to combat speeding cut-through traffic.

So, do the signs work?

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The signs come in all different forms. There are bright yellow ones that say “Kill Speed, Save Lives.” Red signs that say “Drive Like Your Kids Live Here” are also common.

Recently, one popped up in Atlanta’s Morningside neighborhood that looks more like an art project. It’s a mask of Sylvester the Cat hanging from power lines on the side of the street. A placard just below the mask states, “Go slow.”

“Obviously what they’re trying to do is get anyone’s attention,” said Georgia Tech’s Kari Watkins, standing in front of the sign. “They’re just trying to be visible so that people would actually read the sign.”

Watkins, who is a professor of civil and environmental engineering, said that’s the tough part with these signs. They can do a little good. She said research on specialty speed zone signs shows they slow drivers down by a couple of miles per hour.

But that’s only if drivers notice them, and if the signs become commonplace, people may not.

“The more of those kinds of signs that you put up, the less people pay attention to them. And signs in general just start to become background noise,” Watkins said.

So, in that respect, the weird hanging cat sign might work more than some of the more prevalent yard signs. And with all the traffic on this road, Morningside residents, like Irina Swift, are glad it’s there.

“It’s unusual and I think people would pay attention and at least respect that it’s a side street,” Swift said.

That does get to one thing these signs can do in large numbers, Watkins said — change perceptions around speeding. In general, she said, speeding doesn’t have the same connotations as, say, drunk driving.

“So I think what these signs do is they come back to this idea of social acceptance, that it’s not okay with me if you’re going to speed in front of my house,” she said.

Ultimately, though, to really bring down speeds, Watkins said, local governments have to step in. And she said just enforcing the speed limit can go a long way.

“If people are afraid that if they do disobey the speed limit a cop is going to pull them over, then they slow down,” she said. “The other thing that works is designing the road right in the first place.”

So, she said, the road is narrow, has sidewalks and just feels more like a neighborhood street than a highway.