“Traffic” author Tom Vanderbilt on those dangerous “Children at Play” signs

I write a lot about the interactions of pedestrians, drivers, cyclists, and various other modes of transportation here in Savannah.

Earlier today, in preparation for my Tuesday column, I rode my bike to take pictures of surface parking lots on Drayton Street. While I was out, I encountered other cyclists, a skateboarder, a skateboarder being pulled by two huskies, a pedicab, plenty of pedestrians, two horse-drawn carriages, one tourist trolley, and innumerable cars.

That’s sort of a usual trip in the neighborhoods around Forsyth Park.

One of the best writers in the country when it comes to transportation issues and dangers is Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic.

Among the most striking elements of Vanderbilt’s writing is his consistent questioning of assumptions. Take a look, for example, at this piece from Slate in May: Little. Yellow. Dangerous. “Children at Play” signs imperil our kids. He notes:

Despite the continued preponderance of “Children at Play” on streets across the land, it is no secret in the world of traffic engineering that “Children at Play” signs—termed, with subtle condescension, “advisory signs”—have been proven neither to change driver behavior nor to do anything to improve the safety of children in a traffic setting.

He continues:

One of the things that is known, thanks to peer-reviewed science, is that increased traffic speeds (and volumes) increase the risk of children’s injuries. But “Children at Play” signs are a symptom, rather than a cure—a sign of something larger that is out of whack, whether the lack of a pervasive safety culture in driving, a system that puts vehicular mobility ahead of neighborhood livability, or non-contextual street design. After all, it’s roads, not signs, that tell people how to drive. People clamoring for “Children at Play” signs are often living on residential streets that are inordinately wide, lacking any kind of calming obstacles (from trees to “bulb-outs”), perhaps having unnecessary center-line markings—three factors that will boost vehicle speed more than any sign will lower them.

There is much more in the piece.