A number of cities in the United States have committed to a strategy called Vision Zero aimed at eliminating all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all. Vision Zero cities are committed to implementing projects and increasing public engagement to move toward zero traffic related deaths. One Vision Zero city, Los Angeles, is taking a unique approach to promoting this traffic calming strategy in their communities.
The Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) has designated $80 million in infrastructure improvements for specific corridors in LA that have a history of injuries and deaths related to driver, pedestrian, and cyclist crashes. The Temple corridor, for example, has numerous issues: hills with limited sight distance; a four-lane undivided roadway with numerous turning cars; high speeds despite the posted 35mph limit; high traffic volumes; and large distances between signalized intersections. Additionally, being in a neighborhood with a diverse range of ages, the area has many schools and elderly care facilities that increase the number of non-drivers in the roadways. Because of the long distances between signals, many pedestrians will cross the roadway between signals rather than walk the distance to the nearest signalized intersection.
In communities with roadways like the Temple corridor, how do local organizations and city officials go beyond infrastructure improvements to meaningfully engage with and educate the community?
Unique Approach to Public Engagement
While infrastructure improvements such as reconstructing streets to introduce traffic calming elements or create safer crossings will have the most impact, it’s just as important to engage the community in meaningful ways to create a more safety-oriented mindset. To help bridge the gap between the planning efforts and the actual construction of the infrastructure improvements, LADOT is using unique approaches to create temporary traffic calming and increase public awareness of the Vision Zero efforts.
In the Temple corridor, the LADOT is partnering with community-based organizations to engage with the public. These organizations have relationships with the communities, increasing the effectiveness of public engagement and facilitating discussion. These efforts are intended to get people to think about the purpose of the corridor beyond the car, educate users on safety, and help bridge the gap in time before reconstruction measures can be implemented. Public engagement efforts also help facilitate an open dialogue about the safety and transportation issues users face that hadn’t been considered before.
Slow Jam for Traffic Calming
One unique public engagement strategy the LADOT has implemented is a “slow jam.” Sponsored by the Gabba Gallery, Los Angeles Walks, Pilipino Workers Center and Public Matters, a slow jam is a temporary traffic calming measure to increase pedestrian visibility on sidewalks by creating a public spectacle that captures drivers’ attention and remind them that the corridor serves other modes of transportation). Slow jams are often set up at intersections using carefully selected props to attract the attention of drivers stopped at the intersection and draw awareness to the pedestrians in the area. Beyond getting the attention of drivers, slow jams also give organizers an opportunity to talk with the public before, during, and after the event, get members of the community involved, provide information on Vision Zero, and allow for the public to provide feedback and comments on their own experiences and concerns.
I had an opportunity to participate in two slow jams while visiting LA for NACTO’s Designing Cities 2018. At the first slow jam, we used yellow paper parasols and lined the sidewalk. As motorists stopped at the intersection, we opened and closed the parasols, spun them, and generally created movement. The goal was not to distract the drivers but to create awareness of pedestrians along the sidewalks. The colors of the parasols were coordinated with caution lights and fit with the neighborhood as the Filipino culture typically uses umbrellas for shade as they walk. The second slow jam was stationed at a local elderly care center and involved their patrons and a local civic leader. As we organized our demonstration, several pedestrians stopped at the booth to peruse the various Vision Zero related materials and ask questions—one individual even spontaneously joined our group! The volunteers broke into teams and spread along the route, using numerous props and the pedestrian walk signal to cross the street in front of stopped motorists and share the message “slow down.” We spelled the message in English, Filipino, and Spanish, and used to fun cutouts that looked like emojis to spell phrases such as “I love turtles” and “Temple Street does not equal IR 120.” We caught people’s attention, getting waves, interesting looks, horns honked, and a few cheers.
As we traveled through the corridor between the planned events, we learned about the various slow jam events that had already been held in the corridor. An interesting and lasting technique was painting walls along the corridor at two well-known locations in the community. The community was invited to help paint portions of one of the murals which included the sayings “slow down” and “serve the people.” It not only spread the Vision Zero message but left behind a lasting image that the community helped create.
Consider a Holistic Approach
It doesn’t have to be a slow jam event to engage the public, although that certainly is one option. And it doesn’t have to be in a Vision Zero city. Any community would benefit from adopting a combination of strategies that simultaneously educate the public and improve safety for commuters of all methods of transportation.