For the last several weeks, we've been highlighting why it's so crucial that our cities and towns #slowthecars in the neighborhoods we care about most. So I'm going to assume that we — and the decades worth of data and wisdom that we're drawing on — have persuaded you that slowing down stroads and other high-speed thoroughfares through the places we live is one of the smartest things we can do if we want to make our cities safer, wealthier, better places to live.
So, what do you do now? You get the big picture. But what can you do to slow the cars in your specific town — especially if you're not a planner, an elected leader, or a citizen activist who's comfortable throwing your weight around at city hall? What if you're just an average person who wants to do one, small thing to make your place better?
Here at Strong Towns, we believe that even the most powerful person needs to think and act small if they want to make meaningful, lasting change. Here are five simple things you can do to #slowthecars in your unique community right now.
1. Take stock.
One of the most important things you can do in your quest to #slowthecars is to slow yourself down first and really ask how accessible your streets are — not just for the most dangerous modes of transportation, but for the most vulnerable (and incidentally, cutest) people on the road. I'm a huge fan of the Strong Towns Strength Test in general, but one of my favorite items on it is #6, which challenges you to ask not just how easily an adult might navigate your streets, but whether a child could possibly hope to make their way to school safely on bike or foot. Spencer Gardner's guide for how to take the test asks powerful questions about your city that extend far beyond the standard walkability audit, from evaluating road speeds to figuring out the nearest place to buy a popsicle.
Got some time to dig in even deeper? Why not draw a map of how financially productive the businesses adjacent to your worst stroads are and compare them to the businesses that line your safest, most walkable street? This comprehensive webcast can help you generate a fantastic, Urban 3-style graphic that can visually disprove anyone who might be skeptical that slowing cars will slow our city finances — and demonstrate that the exact opposite is true.
2. Shape the streets.
You might think you need an engineering license, a cement mixer, and the blessing of your local government to slow down the cars outside your home. But that's not the case.
We, here at Strong Towns, are huge fans of tactical urbanism, which uses inexpensive, temporary objects to make a big impact on the built environment— and often, demonstrate the need for a permanent solution in a compelling, provable way.
Anyone can learn how to do a pop-up traffic calming demonstration in your town, or, if you happen to be a local leader yourself, you can even empower your citizens to work together with you to find traffic solutions you all want to see, like Fayetteville, Arkansas did with this guide. A lot of these projects can be done without permits, using materials as simple as fallen leaves or toilet plungers.
3. Throw a party (even if you're the only one who's invited.)
Sometimes, the best way to show that the streets aren't just for cars is simple: just get some people out in them.
Plan your own Open Streets event to temporarily close a few blocks off to cars, and invite your neighbors to see just how many amazing things you can do in the streets when you're not terrified by fast-moving vehicles. Gather your friends for a Critical Mass bike ride and demonstrate how fun life can be when vehicles with pedals are the dominant mode of transportation rather than vehicles with engines, even if just for a few hours.
Or maybe slap on a Zebra suit and get out there and play crossing guard for a while — while demonstrating the incredible power of funny diversions to calm traffic. And if anyone asks you what on earth you're doing, tell them it worked for the Bolivian government (and point them in the direction of this article.)
4. Take the next step towards permanently slow streets.
Zebra costumes, toilet plunger bike lanes, and pretty graphs might all sound like fun. But what's the next step if we want real pavement on the ground, not just cute experiments that come and go in a day?
If you're truly starting from zero, you're going to want to start with temporary, experimental measures before you commit to permanent solutions; if not, you're leaving the amazing power of incremental development on the table. But once you've had a chance to analyze and iterate which solutions make most sense for your unique place, Spencer Gardner's guide to building a permanent bike network on a budget will be an asset to you as you make the case for better facilities for bikers and citizens on foot. And if you're not a city leader yourself, John Reuter's guide to persuading an elected official will definitely come in handy.
5. Spread the word
Just talking about why we need to #slowthecars might not seem like a meaningful step to actually getting dangerous motorists off of your neighborhood streets. But get smart about it, and it could be the most important step you can take.
Those questions you asked yourself about your town's walkability, way back in step one? That would make a great op-ed for your local paper. Did you analyze the tax productivity of land adjacent to stroads in your town? I'll bet you none of your local leaders have ever thought about how their development choices effect your city budgets in quite that way — and if you showed it to them, it might inspire them to think differently. And when you take on a tactical urbanism project or throw a street party, you also have an opportunity to grab a few friends to collect data on what you're doing. Downloading a speed radar app onto your phone or even just doing a simple pedestrian count is a cheap, easy way to get an unscientific read on how your experiment is impacting walkability — and if you share your results, it can help change a culture that has yet to learn that fast cars are bad for cities and towns.
So whatever you do to slow the cars, don't keep it to yourself. Let us know — and together, we'll get our streets back on the right track.
(Top photo of an Open Streets event in Minneapolis, MN by Fibonacci Blue)