How do I talk to my council members about slowing the cars?

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Your council members care about the safety of their constituents, whether they choose to drive, walk, or bike. And they’ve likely shown it in their own way—ensuring crosswalk signals are working properly or proposing to lower the posted speed limit. 

You should acknowledge your council members’ awareness and willingness to help using the knowledge they have. But it’s essential they understand that streets won’t be safe until they’re redesigned to slow down cars, which will not only make the street safer but also more economically productive. 

That means, depending on the interests of the council members, you can hit several pertinent, compelling pain points to help them understand why they need to slow the cars. 

  • You likely have a particular street in mind that you’d like to discuss with your council members. Before you meet, it’s essential you understand where that street exists in the context of you city: is it a street (where people mingle, such as a downtown) or a road (where vehicles should move quickly)? Assuming it’s the former, you have the premise of your pitch: you want to slow the cars on this street because it’s where people—either on foot or bike— are doing life. 

  • The council members can’t deny your pitch: people are walking and biking on this street, therefore, the local government should ensure they can do so safely. However, this is where the council members will likely bring up the logical yet incorrect solution to slowing the cars—reduce the posted speed limit. This article shows that street design—not posted speed limits—determine the speed at which a person feels comfortable driving. That means the street must be narrowed with streetscapes, and sidewalk and bicycle facilities to slow the cars. 

  • Council members respond best to statistics and case studies. Essentially, if you want your council members to consider your suggestion, you need to show that other cities (preferably with a similar population) have successfully implemented it. This article shows how (and why) three different cities slowed the cars. The design elements vary—one city added a roundabout, another narrowed the streets—but the motive is the same: slow the cars to make the streets safer for people. 

  • You’ve identified a street where people exist; explained why design determines speed; and gave examples of cities who’ve redesigned their streets to make them safer. As you’ve learned, you’re pitching a solution that will save lives. That can’t be understated. However, there’s a final benefit to top it off: slowing the cars will also make the streets more economically productive. That’s because, as we’ve explained in this article, people will feel safer walking. The result: more people patronizing the businesses, therefore, adding to local economy. 

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