Speaking of “Special Knowledge

The Curious Case of the Speed Bumps

Allow me to regale you with a tale of “special knowledge” that revolves around the design and implementation of the now-famous barriers that grace the streets of Berkeley. I know the person who conceived, designed, and implemented the system. He was a genuine nice person.

If you’ve been a long-time resident, you might recall the era when the grid system of the neighborhood roads provided a convenient escape from the main thoroughfares during the chaos of major commutes. A simple drop down a few blocks, and you could journey north, east, west, or south without a hitch.

For Berkeley residents, these barriers might be viewed with favor, as they bring about safer streets and slower-moving cars. However, for those seeking to outmaneuver traffic jams, these barriers are nothing short of a labyrinth, forcing one to memorize a convoluted web of routes that bypass these roadblocks.

A few years ago, one of my neighbors embarked on a quest to address the issue of speeding cars in our residential areas. Signs alone didn’t seem to do the trick, and even the acquisition of miniature plastic figurines brandishing warning flags failed to deter speedsters.

Then, like a beacon of inspiration, someone resurrected the age-old saying, “Watch out for the speed bumps of life.” Ah, speed bumps, the solution seemed clear—install them on every long, straight road where drivers had a tendency to accelerate, and serenity would prevail.

Of course, such a plan came with its own set of challenges, primarily the cost. The actual speed bump wasn’t exorbitant, but the warning signs were another matter entirely. There were dual signs on both sides of the road—one forewarning the impending bump and the other declaring its immediate presence. That meant a minimum of four signs for each bump, not to mention the generous application of paint to make sure no one missed the bump.

Nevertheless, the neighborhood embraced the plan. Local drivers slowed down and navigated the bumps with finesse. As for those who either failed to read the signs or simply disregarded them, they would hit the bumps at 25 miles per hour or more, producing resounding noises that echoed for blocks. I confess to remaining somewhat befuddled about the exact placement of these bumps.

Then, a curious revelation surfaced thanks to my daughter. At first, she suspected a typo, but upon closer inspection, it became evident that all the signs echoed the same phrase: “Speed Humps.”

“What signs? What typo?” I inquired.

“The speed bump warning signs,” she explained, “They say ‘Speed Humps.'”

“Speed Humps?” I repeated in bewilderment. “Since when did the Department of Transportation become involved with…rapid dating?”

Suddenly, the local birth rates took on a whole new perspective. Perhaps it wasn’t the COVID lockdown that was responsible. Perhaps it was the signs that nobody truly reads—working their magic in the subconscious. Or could it be that a hump is simply a larger bump? The mysteries of the local speed “humps” persist.

I just looked it up on a transportation web site. A bump is bigger than a hump! Who would have thought?

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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