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David Engwicht and Grey Lynn 2030

Mental Speed Bumps – the smarter way to tame traffic

David Engwicht, artist, write, street philosopher, story teller, was in Auckland last week at the invitation of the council’s urban design group inspiring people to re-think their presumptions about traffic calming and their relationship with vehicles.

David was given an enthusiastic reception by the 70 people who turned out on Saturday afternoon at St Columba church community hall to hear his presentation about alternative ways to calm traffic. Grey Lynn 2030 was the only community group lucky enough to host David during his time in Auckland. After hearing David’s ideas many locals (and those who had travelled long distances to the meeting inspired by David’s interview with Gordon Harcourt in the morning on National Radio) made personal commitments to take actions that will result in traffic calming.

Here is an attempt to summarise David’s presentation.

David’s has discovered that “the speed of traffic on residential streets is governed, to a large extent, by the degree to which residents have psychologically retreated from their street”. So the less activity and uncertainty that occurs on the street the more likely that motorists will be speeding and present a danger to residents. This happens, for example, where residents build high walls at the front of their home, don’t use their front gardens – to relax, eat or play – and park their cars off the street thereby creating an environment that “invites” the motorist to go faster.

Communities can reverse this retreat with low cost solutions and without the need to wait for the installation of road signs or speed bumps. David suggests that, in the first instance, neighbourhoods should look to take personal responsibility for traffic calming rather than wait for the council to take action. For example, we can all be positive citizens who can rebuild lost community connections just by getting to know our neighbours and walking to local shops.

Where communities have put David’s ideas into practice they have found that the dynamics of the street change. A motorist is far more likely to drive slowly where they know the neighbourhood children and expect to see them playing and their parents socialising on the street.

He also asks residents to consider their own behaviour when they get in the car and become “motorists”. We are probably all guilty of driving like the stereotypical Aucklander whose time is suddenly more important behind the wheel and is not tolerant of cyclists and pedestrians. He suggests a friendly wave at the speeding or inconsiderate motorist rather than an angry fist.

David calls for an “outbreak of civility” as the first step to transforming Auckland!

After his presentation, David asked what actions we were now going to actually follow through with. The responses included organise a street party, talk to the local children, and plant veges in the berm.

His ideas really resonated for many involved in Grey Lynn 2030 because of a common vision seeking to create vibrant, positive and connected communities. So we definitely don’t want to lose momentum now that David has filled us up with fantastic ideas and possibilities.

This is also a great opportunity to officially launch the GL2030 traffic calming group which will operate as a “support group” to foster and encourage any initiative that contributes to calming the traffic. We would like people involved who are keen to be part of the solution and want to take practical steps. It really can be as simple as talking to a neighbour for the first time.

We will keep a register of actions on the website and post photos of traffic calming measures (like street parties and re-designed front gardens). If you would like to be on the email contact list for the traffic calming group please send an email to greylynn2030@gmail.com.

If you would like to read more about David check out his website http://www.lesstraffic.com/