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A favorite school field trip of mine was to the Clontarf Traffic School where my classmates and I took turns driving pedal cars, riding bicycles or acting as pedestrians. Although sadly long gone, that set of child-scale streets was beloved by generations of Dublin children. Decades later, I recognized the concept when I visited a similar facility in Portsmouth, Virginia. Further investigation revealed other miniature towns and cities dotted around the United States, Canada and beyond. I realized that kids who are lucky enough to have access these traffic gardens love having their own world, free from motorized vehicles. Inspired by the power of traffic gardens to create lasting memories about important ideas, I set up Discover Traffic Gardens. The mission is to help communities design new traffic gardens as well as to create unique educational programs where young people see how the built world is put together.
Our busy streets are complicated to understand and can be unsafe places because of their unforgiving nature. Yet growing up knowing how to negotiate and navigate the street network is critical to an active independent life of getting around. For the last century of sharing public streets with motorized vehicles, young people have had ever-decreasing freedom and been some of the most vulnerable users. While we await the dream of complete streets for all ages and abilities, traffic gardens help children figure out and practice the ways we navigate and use streets, intersections and the transportation network.
There is something about learning through whole body movement while having imaginative fun that makes traffic gardens an effective tool for bike and safety education programs. By engaging in their planning and design, children think about how communities are put together. We believe that traffic gardens provide a valuable set of learning tools for young people that help them integrate the ideas learned into more safely navigating public streets.