Back-Seat Driver

What if we all plant lawn signs telling speeders to slow down? City considers campaign

The Rusch Park Neighborhood Association kicks off the national "Keep Kids Alive, Drive 25" program, putting up lawn signs urging motorists to think more about safety and slowing down in residential neighborhoods, such as these signs on Cobalt Way in Citrus Heights, July 26, 2003.
The Rusch Park Neighborhood Association kicks off the national "Keep Kids Alive, Drive 25" program, putting up lawn signs urging motorists to think more about safety and slowing down in residential neighborhoods, such as these signs on Cobalt Way in Citrus Heights, July 26, 2003. Sacramento Bee file

Lawn signs are popular for political campaigns. But how about signs in front yards citywide telling drivers to slow down?

City officials say they are considering a campaign to do just that.

It’s not such a far-fetched idea. Some residents already put signs out front with messages like “Slow, Children Playing,” and “Drive like you live here,” and even “Drive Like Your Pets Live Here.”

One-hundred-thirty people died in crashes during a recent five-year period, according to a Sacramento city analysis. Almost half of them were pedestrians and bicyclists. The pedestrian injury rate here, in fact, was the worst among large California cities from 2008 to 2011 before easing off some recently.

Those crashes helped prompt the city last year to launch a campaign it calls “Vision Zero,” a 10-year effort with the stated goal of eliminating all pedestrian, bicyclist and motorist fatalities by 2027. Officials acknowledge that that goal is “aspirational.” But the person in charge, Jennifer Donlon Wyant, said it reflects the seriousness of the effort.

Vision Zero starts with a radical change of nomenclature: There is no such thing as a traffic accident, Vision Zero says. The word “accident” suggests no fault, and that nothing can be done about it. That’s wrong thinking, Wyant said.

Instead, injuries from crashes are, according to the Vision Zero view, a case of “traffic violence” that undermines the health of the surrounding community. That term helps drive home the idea, Wyant said, that something is both wrong and fixable. Driving habits have to change. Street and intersection designs have to change. Education counts, and so does enforcement.

As Vision Zero unfolds, the city expects to spend more money on traffic law enforcement and more on traffic signals. It will build separated bike lanes and add pedestrian safety islands in the middle of busy streets.

Traffic engineers will continue reducing the number of lanes on some streets, such as J Street in midtown, which will go from three lanes to two this summer in midtown. That change will slow drivers down, make room for a separated bike lane and make it easier for pedestrians to cross the street.

The city will look into installing signals at some intersections that give pedestrians and cyclists a head start on cars.

The city also plans to eliminate some curbside parking spots within a few feet of some crosswalks. That will open up sight lines to allow drivers making left and right turns to get an earlier view of pedestrians who might be about to step off the curb.

Much of the work will be on corridors, where crashes tend to happen, with a focus on main routes through less affluent areas, routes like Marysville Boulevard, West El Camino Avenue, Florin Road and lower Stockton Boulevard.

Then there is the possibility of a lawn sign campaign. It wouldn’t be a first.

Portland, Ore., has begun dispensing lawn signs to residents as part of that city’s Vision Zero effort. Some of the signs say “20 is Plenty,” a reference to that city’s new speed limit on residential streets. Others say “Stop for People Crossing” and “Slow Down, Set the Pace.”

Portland transportation bureau spokesman John Brady said the signs help create community momentum around safe driving, walking and biking. “It’s a way for Portlanders to show their interest to their neighbors,” he said. “It’s a participatory effort.”

Sacramento has limited transportation funds, though. It will rely on leveraging local tax revenue to win state and federal grants. As a result, the Vision Zero effort will unfold slowly over its 10-year lifespan.

The city just got a $200,000 state safety grant that it will use this summer to launch the first public outreach phase of the project. Wyant said that may mean news media advertising, and notices on social media. But if word needs to get out to the regular person on the street, lawn signs may be the way.

“This will take much more (money) than we currently have,” she said. “We are going to be as creative as possible.”

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