By Fay Gibson on July 23, 2014
In 1966, I relied totally on my bicycle to get everywhere I wanted to go. In my old New York City neighborhood, if you didn’t have a bicycle you couldn’t “hang.” What pleasure I took riding with one hand and sometimes…“Look mom…no hands!” To which she would reply, “Slow down child, and watch out for the cars!” At that age, I felt invincible. Until I was struck by a car.
I lived in a community that had a direct thoroughfare for motorists leaving the expressway to get to the Aqueduct Raceway. The thoroughfare was wide. This encouraged drivers to speed, with little regard for pedestrians or cyclists, in order to make that one o’clock race. Fortunately, I wasn’t hurt; my bicycle took the brunt of the impact. I often wondered why he needed to drive that fast in a residential neighborhood.
Clearly, slowing cars down is important for bicycle and pedestrian safety. And that’s not the only time it’s good to slow down. It can also be important for community partnerships who are working on sensitive issues.
The KidsWalk Coalition, in New Orleans LA, learned this lesson when they were trying to reduce consumption of alcoholic beverages in public parks to improve safety for children as part of their Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities grant. They experienced more resistance than expected, in part because booster clubs sell alcohol to boost park revenue at events and games.
Rather than risk continued public support and momentum for their other efforts, coalition members made a strategic decision to slow down, take a step back and shift their focus. Instead, and to improve pedestrian and bicycling safety for children, they supported traffic calming measures in school zones. Their advocacy helped convince the city to align reduced speed zone times with longer school days, beginning in the 2012-2013 school year.
In 2013, the KidsWalk Coalition also joined with American Traffic Solutions to raise awareness of the dangers of speeding and red light running. Together, they developed a public service announcement video supporting new traffic cameras, which are proven to reduce speeding and collisions and improve safety for children and families walking and biking in school zones. In addition, to improve walking and bicycling conditions across the city, the KidsWalk Coalition successfully advocated for a Complete Streets policy and participated in the city’s Complete Streets Advisory Committee to ensure implementation.
The KidsWalk Coalition is getting it right! Coalition members could have easily pushed for a social change that the community was not ready to embrace. Instead, they recognized the importance of timing and flexibility. Rather than continue to pursue a goal that would receive considerable resistance, along with the possibility of losing sight of the broader goal, coalition members adjusted their frame from improving safety conditions in parks and play spaces to improving safety conditions in school zones, a goal that few could oppose. And they aren’t giving up on parks and play spaces. They know how important it can be, when trying to improve environmental conditions or create policy change, for partnerships to slow down and not move too fast.