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May 03, 2010


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Are speed bumps considered chicanes?

Karen: In a general sense, yes. By the way, in the UK a speed bump is called a sleeping policeman.

Here in Northern California, the Bay Bridge, which is in the midst of seemingly permanent construction, has installed "rumble strips" (a new-to-me term) to force cars to slow down before a treacherous S-curve. True to their name, the strips cause a loud rumbling noise as your wheels pass over them.

Rumble strips are related in function to Botts' Dots, the non-reflective lane divider bumps on highways developed by Dr. Elbert Botts, I kid you not.

What chicanes always make me think of, naturally, are the disputed lyrics from the Electric Light Orchestra's breakthrough single "Can't Get It Out of My Head". The poetic lyric's first verse, according to the lyric sheet included with early vinyl pressings, includes the line, "Walking on a wave chicane", but this line is almost universally noted as "Walking on a wave she came".

And the lyric sheet is not the final authority for some:


Though I am familiar with chicanery, I have never heard the word chicane in reference to a roadway obstacle.

As far as speed bumps, I have lived in Michigan all of my life and we have always called them sleeping policemen.

Additionally, in Michigan rumble strips are commonly found on the shoulders of expressways, state and county roads (and sometimes in between two lanes of opposing traffic) to alert inattentive drivers who may nod off and drift out of a lane.

Urban Legend or Real Truth?

I haven't taken the time to investigate this one, so I'll just tell the story the way I heard it....

"A bunch of engineers get the idea that they could make a series of rumble strips 'play a tune' by changing the sequence so that a car traveling over them -- its speed diminishing in predictable arc -- would cause the strips to play 'music.' They installed said strips; it worked; it drove the locals crazy; the strips were de-installed."

Now, as to which "music" the rumble strips played, I've heard several candidates (which does suggest the Urban Legend half of the equation).

In any case, as the child of an engineer, I found it funny. *grin*


Colleen_C_: Not quite accurate, but not an urban legend, either:

Super, Nancy, thanks for finding the reference for me!

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