We’ve all been there before: standing on a street trying to cross with no traffic light in sight. Cars speed past and you try in vain to dash across the street, only to return to where you started: a high stakes game of chicken that drivers almost always win. The funny thing is most of us have probably been on the other side, behind the wheel, driving down the street only to see a little blip of a person trying to cross in your rear view mirror. The solution: a crosswalk.
As benign as they may seem, crosswalks can be surprisingly contentious. Politicians and city planners sometimes deny community requests using an antiquated, 1972 survey disputing the safety of crosswalks.
More recent studies—including one out of UNC—show that while crosswalks alone do not necessarily make pedestrians safer, when combined with other traffic abatement, they do make our streets safer. Rather than forcing drivers and pedestrians to play chicken, a smartly designed crosswalk will help them play nicely together. “Installing a crosswalk is one of the easiest and quickest ways to calm traffic in your community,” says Damien Newton of Streetsblog. We teamed up to figure out how this is done, exactly.
WEEK 1: Begin Documenting
You probably already know just from walking around your neighborhood where the most dangerous places are to cross. Pick one, study it, and record it* during one of the busiest times of day. This is also the time to start publicly documenting your progress. Start a blog or Facebook fan page and invite your neighbors. Don’t forget to provide regular updates- this will help build your case.
* Get a few face-to-face interviews to add even more to your story. Talk to people at the proposed site about why it’s needed and how they would benefit from it.
WEEK 2: Talk to Your Neighbors
After you’ve got your documentation and story down it’s time to start building community support. Good old-fashioned community organizing is a must: go door to door to gather names on a petition. Try to get email contacts so your neighbors can receive updates. Be sure to include businesses, Newton says. This will help show you have broad community support.
WEEK 3: Contact Your Local Politicians
Now that you have your neighbors on board it’s time to get your local politicians on board. Write your local council member, county supervisor or whomever can influence decisions at this level (and more importantly, whose constituents are asking for the crosswalk). Be sure to include your signatures and documentation.
WEEK 4: Contact Your Department of Transportation (or Public Works)
Once you’ve got your local politician on board, contact your Department of Transportation or Public Works Department. “Better yet, I would see if the council member would do it,” says Newton.
WEEK 5+: Follow Up
Now that you’ve set everything in motion, the rest of your work is simply following up. Depending on where you live this could mean an answer in a few days or a few months. We’ve settled on a week because, well, shouldn’t that be the norm?
-If there’s been an accident in the area of the proposed crosswalk, gather all related press and clippings and include them in your formal petition. “Don’t be afraid to use them,” says Newton.
-Throw a victory party. Invite everyone involved, and local press and the politicians who helped make it happen. Politicians need all the good press they can get and they’ll be more likely to help you next time ’round.