Homemade Traffic Calming in Mexico’s Yucatan

From Wired Magazine co-founder Kevin Kelly’s web site

Throughout Mexico "topes" or speed bumps, are ubiquitous. These can be metal pods arrayed across the road, or asphalt humps, or even significant concrete wedges. You really do have to slow down, and
almost stop to crawl over them. There is usually a sign warning they
are ahead, because if you hit one going fast you can total your car. In
other words, the topes are effective. Small towns will have one coming
and going, because they are more effective than speed limit signs,
which everyone would ignore. But even highways have them, near
intersections or bus stops.

Along the southern coast of the Yucatan, beyond the last electricity
and asphalt, at the end of the road, the Mexicans still want the
benefit of a tope, but what to do on an unpaved mud/sand road? Well
along the coast, where old ship ropes can be found, the solution is to
lay a big fat rope across the road. It works, at least for a while, but
it is easily replaced. This one is strung across the road in the small pirate town of Xcalak, Yucatan.

  • My first thought when I saw the photo: it’s a noose for cars!

  • ddartley

    Only good if they can’t cause a car to lose control.

    Also only good in my opinion if they’re installed by gov. Would hate to see citizens installing their own. Don’t know the story on the one pictured, but it kind of looks like someone taking the law into their own hands. (And it looks dangerous to bystanders.)

  • I saw something very similar to this when I was in travelling from Delhi to a small city in Uttar Pradesh in India.

    Every town had unmarked speed bumps that forced you to slow down to 5 mph. When our driver saw buildings come into view, he would slow down instinctively – for fear of hitting one of these covert bumps.

    I think they were made from tar, mud, brick, rock, and anything else that could withstand a severe beating by the many different types of vehicles plying the road.

  • alex


    Why would it be so terrible for citizens to drop a rolled up rug or ships rope across their road in an attempt to slow down traffic? This sort of thing accidentally ocurred for a couple of hours on W. 80th over the summer. A brownstone was being gutted and a large piece of folded rug ended up lying across the width of the street. Lo-and-behold, cars were unable to race from Amsterdam to Columbus to try to beat the light. Since that day, I have pondered citizen enforced traffic calming.
    If blocks around NYC got together and implemented a sort of vigilante traffic calming, I assume that Bloomberg’s office and the NYPD would take action – both against the vigilantes and the speeding vehicles.
    For example, what if a couple of street lights stop working, thus creating a dark and dangerous portion of a particular street, After months of complaining and several muggings, the city refused to install lights or have the NYPD patrol the area. So, the neighborhood gets together and places several bright (albeit not quite up-to-code) lights to illuminate the once-darkened street which in turn results in a well-lit and safer street. In this case the lights may present a fire or electric shock hazards but the potential risk is outwieghed by the reduction of realized risk (decreased muggings). Should the citizens have allowed the neglect by the city to continue at the expense of their personal safety?
    In the end, because pedestrian and cyclist safety concerns are not being addressed by the city I think small acts by concerned citizens will ultimately have a positive effect. I realize this sort of logic may lead to unsafe conditions, but would such potential hazards be any worse than the present dangers of cars driving 45mph on narrow cross-streets between avenues. Weighing the risks of ubiquitous wreckless driving in NYC versus a handful of citizen organized traffic-calming devices, I will take my chances with the citizens.

  • This should be an inspiration for the search for cheap, provisional solutions to problems.

    In my experience, money (or the lack thereof) is often a bigger problem than political will or community support.

    We have to have more cheap tools in the toolkit.

  • david

    I actually say this in Belize and often think of implementing this on my street in Brooklyn….I wonder how long it would take for DOT to remove it.

  • ddartley

    People, putting stuff in the road can seriously injure people. Don’t do it!! WTF??

  • alex


    Perhaps I am dense but unless you offer some examples or reasonable scenarios in support of your position, how am I to know that putting stuff in roads will seriously injure people. Perhaps stuff in roads will slow cars down and save lives?
    Again, I am a dummy and need to be walked through other’s logic every so often – please enlighten me.
    For example, do you oppose speed humps/bumps as traffic calming devices on residential streets? Would speed humps/bumps qualify as “stuff”? What if speed humps/bumps are put in by residents instead of DOT, does their classification change?
    Your unfailing logic will help us answer these questions.

  • ddartley

    Alex, I’m in favor of reducing car speeds in most places you can think of by various means, but yes, there’s a difference between, say, NYC DOT-installed traffic calming, and Alex & Ddartley’s Old-Fashioned Homemade Speed Humps®.

    As slow and opaque as DOT’s operations can seem, I believe that when THEY install speed humps, they employ engineers and often install warning signage. That’s for safety–not only motorists’, but bystanders’. My faith in DOT is not limitless, but I’m sure they would do a better job of making such installations safe than my neighbors and I might, as we go out into the road in our Dickies and try to build some homemade speed humps (before the police, rightly, arrest us for illegally altering the road).

    For an example of possible unforeseen hazards of maybe-too-creative traffic calming, check out Streetsblog’s post “Bollard Porn.” An SUV bounces as it hits a retractable bollard, and almost lands on top of a baby stroller. No, that bollard was surely not “homemade,” and yes, the first serious problem is the driver’s driving, but his/her driving alone did not cause the near miss:

    Can you imagine the consequences of putting an even worse-conceived device in the road? How about an intersection where a–hole drivers regularly turn at dangerous speeds. Put a rope or plastic speed hump down to “get” them, and watch one of them lose control and plow into pedestrians.

    Private citizens’ installation of such stuff would amount to taking the law into their own hands, and that’s generally a bad idea. Until we live in a utter chaos, it’s better to make the compromise of petitioning our officials for public improvements.

  • I agree with ddartley. I think there’s a reason you see these things regularly in the places mentioned so far. These places are not chaos and anarchy, but they’re a far cry, politically and structurally, from New York City.

    Yes, NYC itself is a far cry, politically and structurally, from a reasonably functioning democratic metropolis, but it’s closer to the latter than the former, and I think it’s probably best for streets advocates to avoid becoming vigilantes until the city is much closer in type to the aforementioned far away places.

    A rope across the road is probably not a huge safety hazard, unless it’s, you know, not the right kind of rope and gets caught in someone’s wheels and…

  • Which is not to say I don’t like the idea, I just don’t think it’s right for New York.

  • But what about the fact that even though some areas have majority interest in traffic calming in the form of speed humps, but the DOT ignores their request?

    Is the counter-argument that the DOT has an obligation to encourage the highest possible rate of speed on surface streets regardless of the potential detrimental impact it has on the residents?

    There is no right to fast driving.

  • ddartley

    Miss R, it would seem like in the past, for decades, the DOT’s main interest was indeed in encouraging fast driving. I think they’re starting to wake up from that foolish dream, but yes, everyone knows they can act frustratingly slowly, and sometimes wrong.

    Nevertheless, I would hope that in an area like you describe, the residents would organize even more strongly, demonstrate, do plenty of creative things to get their grievance addressed (or even to slow the cars–maybe hold up warning signs, or install illegal ones near the trouble spot), but still NOT do anything on their own to the road bed itself!



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