I live on what ought to be a quiet residential street in suburban Zeeland. It’s a neighborhood of families; in a quick mental tally of neighbors in the sixteen houses closest to mine, fourteen of these have children. The youngest is my own nine-month-old daughter, the oldest are seniors in high school.
Standing in the middle of the road, however, it’s not difficult to see what the problem could be on this street. Another view here…
My handy measuring tape indicates that our street is 30′ wide, and clearly designed according to forgiving design principles (a slightly more technical article here, another about safety and attentiveness here). In short, this means designing roads to be as safe as possible for the people in the car by straightening roads and removing barriers. On an expressway, this is an excellent – lifesaving, in fact – idea. This is the origin of the divided highway and crash barriers, and the reason why there are no trees right next to the highway.
Unfortunately, these principles have been built into neighborhood streets as well with much more undesirable results. Although the default speed limit for a residential area is 25 mph, few cars travel at this speed in our neighborhood. My guess is that 30-35 mph is the average, but I certainly see 50 mph or greater on a daily basis. Why does this matter?
To put it simply: when some people drive fast, other people die.
My children are not allowed to play in this street. They may not ride their bikes without ridiculously close supervision. If I let them play in the front yard, I do so with a sense of impending doom. My kindergartener is capable enough that she ought to be able to walk down to a friend’s house, but I won’t allow it when I know that a neighbor in a car could pass within five feet of her little self at 45 mph – while texting.
There are solutions for this, which I hope to address in future posts. All of them, however, require a sea-change in the way we live our communities. It requires us to change how we use our streets as drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists, as well as changing local, state, and federal regulations concerning how streets are built. That last bit I find overwhelming – who am I to influence the federal government in any meaningful way? – but changing how I use our street this afternoon? That I think I can manage. We all can.