Residential driving and suburban streets can be more hazardous than it seems.

According to a recent article posted on,
roughly 60% of the pedestrians killed in the Toronto area, were killed on suburban streets, not busy city streets.

As in the picture above, residential streets, especially newly constructed ones, are often very wide, allowing traffic to go at speeds of 35mph or more. The wider streets make it easier to take turns at higher speeds where pedestrians might be stepping off the curb.

Most older neighborhoods have streets using the grid system, where the roads are narrower and right turns can be taken safely at about 10mph.
A wider, rounded curb could possibly be taken on a right turn at 15-20mph.

Keep in mind a collision at 15 mph has 2 1/4 times more impact than does a collision at 10 mph with the same vehicle.
That could make the difference between broken bones or no broken bones when hitting a pedestrian.

Also remember pedestrians immediately to the right of you at an intersection are the most difficult to see, if you are in the right lane.
This is because they are closer to your vehicle, at the side, where you must turn your head to see them.

The history of the design of neighborhoods is quite interesting.

In the early part of the 1900s the street traffic was mostly pedestrians and public transportation (street cars).

Therefore the streets were designed to give pedestrians easy access to public transportation and other parts of the city.This design was the grid design and is seen in the older parts or downtown parts of most cities.

Once personal cars and vehicles became popular, there was less need for public transportation and roads to accommodate pedestrians walking long distances.
People also started moving further away from the heart of the city to more residential areas and suburban streets.

There was also an increasing need to consider pedestrian safety with motorized vehicles on the streets, and to accommodate drivers.

You can see an older design of neighborhood streets on the left below. It's a basic design of streets going north and south or east and west, occasionally a diagonal street, usually an arterial, would be in the mix.

The design on the right is a very modern design for suburban streets. I was thinking of a specific neighborhood where I had to pick up one of my students, when I included this picture.

Notice there is one, large, square rounded loop surrounding smaller residential streets with only one road on each side to connect to a main arterial road. To make it even more confusing, they gave this 2 mile loop three different names after three of the corners.

After three or four times of picking up this student I finally started learning how to navigate around that loop!

The engineers designed it this way on purpose to discourage through traffic from cutting through the neighborhood to get to one arterial from another!

Traffic Calming devices

Traffic calming devices are structures on roads to keep traffic going slower. These structures are usually found on suburban streets and neighborhoods.

One such device is the speed bump.

Speed bumps the width of the one seen in the pictures below are meant to be taken at about 20 mph.
The smaller, higher speed bumps, usually found in parking lots, are meant for about 10 mph or less.

The smoothest way to drive over a speed bump is to brake slightly BEFORE going over the bump
(unless you are already at 20 mph or less) and coast as you drive over it.

Don't drive much slower than the suggested speed diving over a speed bump, other drivers behind won't expect it, risking a rear end collision.
I had a student fail a drive test for going 5-10 mph over all the speed bumps on the test.

Notice the speed bump on the left is split in two places. I have been told this is so motorcycles can get over them without losing control.

Suburban streets may also have roundabouts or traffic circles.

You may be wondering, what is the difference between a traffic circle and a roundabout. The top pictures below are a traffic circle, the bottom pictures are a roundabout.

The differences as seen below are a traffic circle is just a circular island in the center of an intersection.

A roundabout has a splinter island on every street approaching the center circle, as seen in the bottom right picture. This makes it clear to the driver no left turn is permitted, as shown in the bottom left picture, making it safer.

A few years back a driver, on a suburban street in the Portland area decided to try a short cut and turn left around a traffic circle to get to the street immediately to the left.
unfortunately a driver was coming around the circle from the left and she was hit and killed.

since then, all new circular islands in the Portland area have been roundabouts with splinter islands to avoid this kind of tragedy.

A good rule to remember is:

stay to the right at any traffic circle or median that divides a road, unless directed otherwise.

(In countries where you drive on the left side the rule may be to stay left)

School Zones

School zones on suburban streets can be difficult for drivers, especially in unfamiliar residential areas because some school zones are in effect from 7 AM to 5 PM, others only when children are present, and still others when the light is flashing, and a few at all times.

A driver needs to be close enough to read what the sign says to know if 20 mph is the speed limit at that time or not.
For this reason:

when you see signs warning of a school zone, or even if you notice you are approaching a school, slow down until you know if 20 is the speed limit or not.

Also remember even if you see no school zone sign, and are passing a school, you still might be driving in a school zone, especially if you made a turn onto the street by the school, the sign might be behind where you turned.

This florescent yellow sign does NOT necessarily mean the you are entering a 20 mph school zone. Some roads have these signs without lowering the speed limit to 20 mph.
When you see this black and white regulatory sign, it will mean you ARE entering a school zone.
*This is in the U.S. other countries may be different.

More to come on suburban streets