Safer Mobility Starts on School Playgrounds: Empowering the Next Generation of Pedestrians

From Headlines to Legislation to the Streets

On Good Friday in Washington, DC, a longtime cycling activist was struck and killed by a man driving a stolen van at more than twice the posted speed limit. David Salovesh, a well-known advocate for protected bike lanes and safer streets, was the first cyclist killed in Metro DC in 2019, and one of the 128 DC traffic fatalities since 2015.

One week after Salovesh’s death, advocates, victims’ relatives and crash survivors gathered in front of the District’s city hall to demand government action for safer streets. Press coverage of Salovesh’s death spread beyond the borders of Washington, inspiring protesters from Boston, New York, Austin and Denver to participate in the #RedCupProject, a global demonstration to show that #PaintIsNotProtection in unprotected bike lanes. Cycling advocates weren’t the only ones taking it to the streets. Four days after Salovesh’s death, D-Ward 6 council member, Charles Allen, introduced emergency legislation to speed up road improvements where the tragic incident took place (2th Street and Florida Avenue NE).

Driver’s Education Starts with Kindergarteners

Schools are setting a powerful example by taking a more proactive approach. Children as young as four years old are getting hands-on experience learning the rules of the road on mini streetscapes known as ‘traffic gardens’. Schools are transforming playgrounds and their perimeters to mimic real-world city grids with traffic markings. These safe spaces give schoolchildren a venue to practice navigating roundabouts, bike lanes, speed bumps and crosswalks during recess. Traffic parks are recently popping up in the DC, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Cleveland regions, originating in Europe in the 1950s. Listen to greater Washington DC’s NPR news station cover the traffic garden comeback here.

In Montgomery County, MD, city officials are sending a message to high schoolers with the #YOLO­WalkSafe social media campaign. Photos of teens with tread marks on their faces aim to capture the fatal consequences of distracted driving and walking. In Alexandria, VA, Michael Doyle visits local schools to tell his story about being struck by a distracted driver while crossing a four-way stop. Doyle believes that his speeches may also inspire children educate their parents, who don’t always lead by example in safe road behavior.

Cyclist safety is especially important in the District, since DC Public Schools started an initiative in 2015 to teach every second-grader to ride a bicycle. Empowering youth across the nation is critical, since children under 18 make up the highest percentage of pedestrian traffic deaths. Essentially, kids are at the highest risk and have the most potential for change, and schools are acting accordingly.

Vision Zero: Creating a Nationwide Playbook for Traffic Safety

With every bike and pedestrian struck, the call for action becomes more and more crucial. Vision Zero responds accordingly, with an ambitious goal to reach zero traffic fatalities and severe injuries on our streets, sidewalks and bikeways, starting with ten focus cities:

  • Austin, TX
  • Boston, MA
  • Chicago, IL
  • Fort Lauderdale, FL
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • New York, NY
  • Portland, OR
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Seattle, WA
  • Washington, DC

These pilot cities will provide blueprints for other communities to implement Vision Zero in their region. In DC, it will be interesting to see how youth empowerment via traffic gardens impact their overall commitment to zero traffic fatalities by 2024. So far, DC Public Schools officials have seen such a success in the region’s first two traffic gardens (Thomas and Aiton Elementary) that they plan to expand them to even more schools in 2020.  

As a driver, you can make the biggest impact on Vision Zero by:

  • Eliminating distractions like texting, eating, making phone calls (even hands-free) and fiddling with your audio and AC controls: Distractions are the number three cause of pedestrian fatalities.
  • Slowing down: Pedestrians have a 90% chance of surviving a crash at 18 MPH or less. Their chance of survival drops to 50% at speeds higher than 18 MPH.
  • Never running a red light: About half of the deaths resulting from red-light running each year are pedestrians and occupants of other vehicles who are hit.
  • Practicing extra caution at night as a driver AND a pedestrian: 74% of pedestrian fatalities happen at night, and 72% of those killed were not crossing at intersections.
  • Keep your car in tip top shape: Don’t skip that oil change or recommended service interval. It’s easy to prevent car trouble and expensive/dangerous if you ignore it. Get it done in just a few clicks at

To learn more about how future generations are shaping driving trends, check out our three-part series:

Openbay Staff

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