This week, the Town of Chapel Hill soft opened a new traffic garden. With the cold snap upon us, most folks in town haven’t thought much about their garden. But traffic gardens aren’t for growing heirloom tomatoes, they’re for growing confident kids that can navigate our towns’ bike paths and greenways.
The new traffic garden is located in the middle of the parking lot at Homestead Park.
The traffic garden is a pilot project undertaken by Go Chapel Hill, the Transportation Demand Management program in town. The facility consists of a miniaturized city streetscape that simulates stop signs, two-way traffic, and crosswalks where children are encouraged to learn the rules of the road. Instilling confidence on city streets early is important for encouraging active transportation – and reducing car trips – for children as they get old enough to independently transport themselves around town.
I took my three year-old son to check out the scene and he was very excited to ride around safely on the little city streets. We practiced stopping at stop signs, looking for cars who might not see us, and yielding to old dads crossing the crosswalks. We’re still working on which side of the road to ride on, but if we keep coming back it will be very easy to transition from the simulated streets to the real streets when it’s time to ride our bikes to kindergarten.
The new Chapel Hill traffic garden will be an important piece of the puzzle now that the Chapel Hill Town Council has adopted the Complete Communities approach to growth. The Complete Communities framework includes developing “everywhere to everywhere” greenways as a way to move residents around town without cars, a transportation strategy that is both more sustainable and more equitable than private cars trips.
Fostering independence and confidence on a bike early is how the Town of Chapel Hill can build a culture of active transportation. Now that your kids are out of school for the next week, bundle them up and take them to visit the new traffic garden where Chapel Hill is developing its next generation of greenway users.