I didn’t need to look far to find a story where people were affected because of those driving too fast or carelessly.

While training for an Ironman, Andrew was hit on his bicycle on a route familiar to him: the Outer Ring Road. Bailey suffered pretty severe injuries when crossing on foot by the Aquarena. And Sarah’s cat was killed when someone tried to get air on the speed bumps on Old Topsail Road.

Recently signs have been popping up around town that say, “PLEASE SLOW DOWN, This is our neighbourhood.” These signs are part of a broader movement of citizens demanding safer streets in what is now a largely car-dominated city.

Kim Devlin and Sarah Minty designed and produced signs with the hopes that they would be a friendly reminder to people who are rushing. Kim says she’s been watching and has noticed that the signs, placed very visibly in her front yard, have actually struck a chord with drivers and slowed them down.

In addition to reminders, there are other ways our city can be designed to slow people down. One of my pet peeves is the roads in Southlands that are four lanes wide with infrequent stops. The posted speed limit is 50km/hr, but the design of the street encourages drivers to go much faster.

For a select group of people who always follow the rules, a posted speed limit is an effective way to limit someone’s speed, but for most of us, we drive at a speed based on our mood (how quickly we need to get
somewhere) and the implicit speed of the street: how fast it feels like we can drive.

In the City of St. John’s, many new roads are designed and built with a high implicit speed limit due to wide lanes, few stops, a distinct separation of pedestrians and vehicles and very few visual obstructions. The City has a specification book that makes rules for standard road design. A local street has 11’ wide lanes, where on a commercial street the driving lanes can be a whopping 17’ wide.

Our City wasn’t unique in believing the myth that wide streets, one way traffic, or a separation of vehicular and pedestrian traffic all makes a safer city.

Jeff Speck, an urban designer, advocate for walkable cities, and very smart guy, thinks that one of the biggest problems in cities today is that streets are too wide. “States and counties believe that wider lanes are safer. And in this belief, they are dead wrong.”

Jeff argues that roads in fact, are safest if they are 10’, far more narrow than our specification book suggests. That said, the staff at the city are fantastic, many of them understand the benefits of more narrow lane and are working hard to change the regulations to help create a vibrant and inclusive place.

So we drive slower with narrow lanes, but how else can we design our streets to make them better? Trees, frequent stops, crosswalks, onstreet parking, buildings close to the street, and bike lanes. Basically if we want cars to slow down, we have to make the people driving those cars feel like it’s dangerous or inconsiderate to drive quickly.

You’ll still get the odd drunk driver or jerk, but most people will take cues from the design of their environment and behave accordingly.

Kim and Sarah are still producing signs, if you’d like to get your hands on one, or stay in the loop, you can find them on Facebook.