In a small German district called Vauban, street-safety takes on a whole new meaning. A blog post written by Martin Zimmerman for PlanCharlotte.org describes parochial scenes of children freely biking down stretches of local streets. Zimmerman depicts his journey through Vauban on a free bike given to him at a local hostel, highlighting an array of residential solar panels and hip city murals in a plush urban center.
What he can’t seem to shake is the overwhelming sense of freedom, specifically in relation to children. “Children were everywhere,” he writes. “Toddlers plopped in parents’ cargo bikes gliding along separated cycle paths, children peering down from home-made tree houses fashioned by recycled timbers or playing hide and seek behind boulders or amid lush vines and scrub brush.” How could this be possible, you wonder?
According to Zimmerman, it is the result of progressive street safety initiatives and transportation policies. One policy in particular is a prohibition on driving down residential streets. It’s simply not allowed, or rather the only vehicles allowed down those roads are ones delivering or picking up people or goods.
And where cars are permitted to drive, they must do so at extraordinarily slow speeds – no faster than the average pedestrian. Vauban is as close as it comes to a car-free zone without actually being a car-free zone.
The Other Side of the Ocean
But what does this have to do with the street safety status in the States? Clearly, the US is car-centric, as it’s carved with highways and bi-ways and boasts gas guzzling vehicles. This country is also continually depleting the funding of its mass transit infrastructure. Vauban seems more than progressive in this milieu; it seems downright impossible.
This may be true, but the situation in Germany is a good starting point for thinking about cut-through traffic, a very serious issue affecting communities throughout the country, especially with the rise of smart phone apps such as Waze and Google Maps.
Most people are probably familiar with cut-through traffic. If you’ve ever attempted to avoid traffic jams by rerouting through residential neighborhoods, then you’ve contributed to this phenomenon. It’s relatively common and becomes more intense when roads close down. It’s not desirable because it can make neighborhoods extremely unsafe for residents. You won’t see children roaming free when cut-through traffic takes over.
It happens everywhere all the time. Recently, in Greensboro, a major thoroughfare was closed down to the chagrin of nearby neighbors, understandably upset at the commotion.
One resident described the changes: “If you could just live here now, you’d understand; it’s constant with the big trucks and the big construction equipment,” the resident explained, adding, “I got awakened at 6 o’clock in the morning out of a deep sleep by the beeping.”
As noted by Hayes Law Firm, children are a top priority in terms of safety. They are more likely to be walking down the sidewalk-less streets of a residential neighborhood, and thus are more likely to be involved in a pedestrian accident. To that end, there are a few things you can tell your child.
Tell your child it’s a bad idea to wear headphones; they should stay alert. To that end, it’s also important to avoid using a cellphone or any other distracting device while walking on a street. Additionally, be sure to tell your child not to trust cars. It’s a good idea to be sure a vehicle is stopping before stepping out in front. And of course, keep to the side of the road, and if there’s a sidewalk, use it.
None of this is ideal. No one wants their children to have to worry about traffic accidents in their neighborhood. If it becomes a major issue, the locality might eventually employ certain engineering methods, as other cities like Philadelphia have done in recent years to help reduce and slow down traffic. Some of these are obvious. Speed bumps, for instance, are super common but majorly effective. Baby traffic circles are another engineering trick for slowing down traffic. Vauban’s system is probably not going to be implemented anytime soon. But it’s hard not to see it as the ultimate solution.