Children at Play

Children Play.jpg

Signs of summer

By Kim M

soapbox badgeChildren make me nervous.

They're small. They're quick. They jump and run around in such a chaotic pattern that they're impossible to predict. Basically, they're almost as terrifying to me as moths and house centipedes.

And now it's summer. The days are long, the nights are warm, and school is wrapping up for the year. They are everywhere. E V E R Y W H E R E, I tell you!

Unfortunately, everywhere includes our city streets. My block was tragically reminded of this on Memorial Day when a 6-year-old boy was struck by a truck driven by a man who only lived a couple of blocks away. It was horrific and heartbreaking.

My neighborhood group already had a meeting scheduled the week of that fatal hit-and-run. While distributing flyers the day after the accident I learned that two of my young neighbors had started collecting signatures in support of speed bumps and a stop sign on 10th Street at the corner of Rensselaer Street in hopes that these changes would encourage people to slow down. They told me that they were inspired by the presence of Mayor Tutunjian on the block the night of the accident and that they realized that the mayor actually does pay attention to what happens in our area of Troy. (Yeah, North Central has an inferiority complex.)

We made room on the agenda to discuss traffic safety issues in the area and decided to share our concerns with the Troy PD.

troy slow sign jahvion perezTwo weeks later, the community gathered at School 2 to discuss the issue with Chief Tedesco. We also met the two officers assigned to our zone in the afternoon -- the same two cops who responded to the call about the accident on Memorial Day. I cannot stress enough how much I admire the chief's style and commitment to community policing, not as a unit, but as a department-wide philosophy. The man knows how to listen, not only to complaints, but also to suggestions from the residents on how to address the problems we see.

Chief Tedesco promised us that a traffic study would be done; the "speed trailer" is sitting 100 yards away from my home as I sit here writing this post. The day of the neighborhood meeting with the chief, Pastor Willie put up four neon signs in memory of Jahvion Perez. I think they are actually odd enough to have some effect on a driver.

But these efforts will only impact the immediate area.

So I write this post to plead with you all to please slow down and stay alert. Those wee little ones can appear out of thin air. I won't make you do the math, but at 30 mph you will travel approximately 75 feet before stopping. You can almost cut that distance in half (to 40 feet) by driving 20 mph instead. And if you're one of those self-absorbed drivers trying to race home, it will take you 120 feet (an ADDITIONAL 45 feet) if you're driving 40 mph instead.

We cannot control what other people do. Believe me, I've tried. (And oops, I'm trying to do that right now, aren't I? muwhahahaha) But we do have control over our own actions. We cannot will that child into not chasing that ball into the road, or running across the street without looking, or just wandering around aimlessly like those little imps are known to do, and suddenly appear from behind a parked car.

Please slow. THE EFF. Down.

K? Thanks.

Kim loves Troy almost as much as you do.

Kim on the Soapbox:
+On the Waterfront
+Hoosick Street: Future UFO landing site
+Stop whining and do something about it.


Amen! I grew up in a town with 25mph speed limits in residential areas. 30 is way too fast. Last night I was driving through a Troy neighborhood with cars parked on both sides of the street and a couple of families bbqing. Lots of little kids. I looked down to see how fast I was driving because it felt too fast. I was going 20, but slowed a bit more. When I drive I try very hard to remember that wherever I am going, whatever I am doing, it isn't as important as preventing the death of my neighbors. The speeds are too damn high! Thanks for the reminder!

Thanks for this.... We try to idiot proof the driving experience so much so that many people are on auto pilot when behind the wheel. A bit of conscienciousness goes a long way!

This is yet another one of the many reasons I'm going into planning.

In case anybody's interested in some additional reading on this topic, here's an opinion piece by Tom Vanderbilt on why "children at play" signs are more of a problem than a solution when it comes to child safety because they lull drivers into a false sense of security instead of placing responsibility for maintaining situational awareness on the person piloting the speeding land yacht through the neighborhood:

Here are a few Streetfilms as well, discussing the advantages of reduced speed limits and traffic levels on neighborhood quality of life, respectively:

The takeaway message from all of this seems to be that safer, more comfortable streets are very much the work of bottom-up planning on the part of residents and community organizers, so with that in mind I applaud your campaign and wish you the best of luck!

Interestingly enough, "Wired" magazine had a recent article titled "Harnessing the Power of The Feedback Loop. In Garden Grove, California, the city decided to use radar equipped billboards that showed the cars speed in school zones. While I'm sure this tactic could be used in high traffic areas where there are problems, I doubt it would be practical everywhere.

Slowing down is a good idea, but parents need to take some responsibility, too -- why is your kid running out into the street? Why didn't you teach them not to, and why weren't you watching them?

Here are a few Streetfilms as well, discussing the advantages of reduced speed limits and traffic levels on neighborhood quality of life, respectively:
... said Pete on Jun 26, 2011 at 4:49 PM | link

I have no doubts that reduced traffic levels increase someone's quality of life. But they do it by making driving unbearable for the rest.

Once we went to a garage sale at Delafield drive in Colonie. But we did not make it.
Speed bumps. Very large, very tall and wide teeth-shattering back-aching suspension-breaking speed bumps which felt really bad at the speeds below 5 MPH.
I drove (crawled!) through maybe six of them but the house we were going to was nowhere in sight. I declared that this is ridiculous and turned around. People who live there obviously don't want anyone on that street including us with our money. I wonder how they like to drive through all that mess themselves at least twice a day.

As for using UK experience in the US, there is a big difference between a thousand year old city with streets that could be too narrow for a vehicle and an american suburb build at the end of 20th century with a car in mind. Europe is so much smaller and much densely populated that most people commute by public transportation; many families don't even own a car. USA with its vast territories, low population density and barely existing public transit (outside a few metro areas) is heavily dependent on cars; british experience won't work here.

@M- I'm going to use the same argument that I always do when I hear a "where are the parents?" tirade: Yes, all children have parents. However some of these parents are unable or unwilling to fulfill all of the responsibilities associated with this. Is this fair? No, of course not. But it is a reality. And just because you have crappy or workaholic or busy or self-absorbed parents doesn't mean you deserve to get run over any more than little Jackson with the helicopter parents. Plus kids are unpredictable. I've seen kids with great parents who've been told 10,001 times to look both ways and not chase the ball run out to chase the ball without looking both ways. Mine included!

Great article, Kim.

It's almost too bad it requires a tragedy to create safe places (I'm reminded of the Triangle Shirt Waist factory fire that created a lot of our modern building safety codes). All the more reason it's important to our cities to create safe streets that accommodate all users and put the fastest possible movement of cars (as was once paramount) behind the safety of everyone using the street (as it should be).

Great article Kim. I agree on all counts, especially about House Centipedes. I'm always grateful to hear of another person who shares my fear of these satanic beasts. In fact, I even blogged about it myself.

The best urban planners and traffic engineers know that speed limits and signs do not determine how fast people drive.

Drivers are informed by the pavement texture, the width of the street and other conditions of the built environment. Signs and laws be damned.

In Troy, we have extremely wide one-lane, one-way streets. Watch any car driving down a one way street in Troy. It will have at least 10 feet of room on either side even with cars parked parallel on both sides of the street.

These conditions inform drivers that they can travel at 45 mph or at even greater speeds. We have racetrack driving conditions in this city!

People who say the streets in Troy are narrow are probably saying that because they get tunnel vision when they drive down them at 45 mph.

Speed bumps slow drivers down temporarily. Paving stones (like Belgian block) do a better job.

The best way to slow drivers down in this city would be to narrow the drive lanes with diagonal parking or "reverse angle" parking and possibly some striped bike lanes. (That would also alleviate the hallucinated parking shortage in Troy.)

People are literally dying in our streets because of the way jackasses drive their cars. A speeding cop killed a kid in South Troy last year (or the year before). The car cops in Troy love to sit in their cars and zip around town. They even speed down one-way streets going the wrong way. And we call them the city's finest.

This is serious. Get your head out of your tailpipe Troy!

P.S. I'm now carrying a small airhorn on me at all times. I am a pedestrian who honks back. I encourage all of you walkers out there to do the same.

Editors: Here's an article about the 2009 accident referenced above.

All kids will eventually run into the street. It's not just a matter of mindful parenting; it has to do with the natural speed of children who are running at a furious pace distracted by all of life's sense.

While we live in a quiet, residential neighborhood, I am still amazed at the number of people who fly down the street. Perhaps if they spent a little more time as a pedestrian, they might realize what it looks like from the other side.

I don't think anyone should drive more than 20 MPH in a residential neighborhood -- but people routinely zip by my house at twice that speed.

Several years ago, the town yanked out the stop sign on my corner. When I complained, they told me that stop signs actually encourage people to drive faster. What?

Sooner or later there's going to be a bad accident. I'd like to believe that people will then slow down, but I seriously doubt even that would make a difference.

Update: DPW was putting up a stop sign on 10th St, at Rensselaer, this morning.

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