DIY speed bumps: Traffic control for neighborhoods
Take note, drivers who treat pretty much any stretch of asphalt as a highway despite the kids, the pets or the speed limits: Throughout neighborhoods far and wide, fed-up residents are reclaiming their streets, or at least trying to. It’s something of a global obsession, actually, and the solutions go far beyond the much derided speed hump, which some traffic experts say actually encourages bursts of speeding between the braking.
In West Vancouver, Canada, traffic safety groups painted holograms on the ground so that as cars approached, a child appeared to rise from the ground. (Never mind that detractors have said the holograms could cause cars to swerve and hit something real.)
In London, artist Steven Wheen converts potholes into miniature versions of English gardens. The idea: guerrilla landscaping as traffic-calming tool.
Here in Southern California, some other strategies are gaining traction:
Dava Waite lives on a relatively quiet dead-end street in Sherman Oaks, so when cars peel up and down, she’s pretty sure that they’re residents. “It makes me cringe,” Waite said. “We have people, babies and dogs hiking that street all day long, and I never understood how someone could go that fast without thinking about the safety of their own neighborhood.” So last year Waite hung signs that had messages such as, “Slow down. You’re almost home!”
The result: “The signs have helped a little, and other neighbors have loved having them,” Waite said. Now she wants to hang a banner that screams: “No squirrel should die on this street! Please slow down!”
Joe Linton, artist and organizer for the L.A. walking and biking event CicLAvia, has lived by the busy intersection at Koreatown’s Eco Village apartment building for 16 years. He rallied neighbors to paint an enormous road mural in 2005. After the road was repaved in 2009, Linton and about 100 others took to the street again, repainting the brightly colored, Olympic-pool sized creation. Linton, pictured here, said he asked City Council members for support but was denied a permit. He moved forward anyway.
The result: “I think it really works to slow cars down,” Linden said of the mural at the T intersection of Bimini Place and White House Place. He said the artwork helps to take drivers out of their typical “just-have-to-get-to-their-destination” frame of mind and makes them realize that “streets are public spaces where people can really interact. This was a way of reclaiming some of that space back for people who aren’t in cars.” The paint faded over time, Linden said, so “we refreshed it and added new parts last March.”
Then there are the screamers, fictional or otherwise. Take Claire Dunphy, played by Julia Bowen, pictured above with Ty Burrell, who plays husband Phil on "Modern Family." In Season 2 of the sitcom, the “Modern” mom used a bullhorn to try to shame a repeat offender on her street.
Real-life vigilante Eric Lapidus routinely shouts at drivers flying down his tree-lined Spaulding Square avenue.
The result: Sometimes people do slow down, Lapidus said. But is the occasional victory worth the vocal cord strain? “Hardly,” Lapidus said. “But it helps relieve the anger I feel when I see people blasting down our street when kids are playing ball just a few feet from them.”
Valet drivers turned writer Stephen Box into something of a traffic activist. They used his street near Hollywood Boulevard as fast access to parking, so he complained to his city councilman, the council district office and then the police. Finally he just walked to Hollywood Boulevard and talked the valet drivers directly.
The result: “No matter how much they might understand my situation, the truth is that they’re going to get yelled at if they’re late getting the cars back,” Box said. He his wife, Enci, who have an infant, said their street remains a valet highway come sunset. But Box hasn’t given up. He now teaches classes and is a board member at Sustainable Streets, a nonprofit that aims to promote biking and pedestrian solutions. He went to Sacramento to push for the “Safe Streets” bill (AB 766), which aims to give local communities more authority over speed limits.
Even people who live in more commercial areas are attempting to slow the pass of speeding vehicles. Valerie Watson, an urban designer who lives in downtown L.A., is working with a group of residents to spearhead the development of “parklets” along some of the area’s busiest streets. (Pictured here: one planned for downtown later this year.) “Parklets can take up just one of two metered parking spaces where you can create a small area with seats and plantings. The way we like to put it is that we’re colonizing part of the public realm for people instead of cars.”
The result: A parklet program was developed in San Francisco, and residents said that as drivers see human activity in their peripheral vision, it slows them down. Will parklets work in L.A.? It remains to be seen.
Deborah Murphy, an urban designer and chairwoman of L.A.’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee, supports many forms of “traffic calming,” including more stop signs and better designed crosswalks. One subtle solution: lining streets with trees. The canopy works to “condense the drivers’ view and tends to make them drive slower,” she said.
The result: In England, a parish council in Norfolk rejected expensive speed cameras and instead played with driver’s peripheral vision. As cars approached the village, trees planted at shorter intervals created the illusion that the landscape was zipping past at a faster rate. Some drivers, in turn, did slow down.
-- Alexandria Abramian Mott
Photo credits: "Modern Family" images from Season 2, Episode 11 / ABC; street sign photos from Dava Waite; Joe Linton and Eco Village mural by Arkasha Stevens / Los Angeles Times; valet parking by Los Angeles Times; parklet rendering from Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Complete Streets Working Group; tree-lined street by Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times