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How Can Caped Zebras Make Our Streets Safer?

Updated: May 16, 2019

Everything You Wanted to Know About Safe Streets, but Were Afraid to Ask

On Monday morning, I was greeted by a group of friendly transportation activists and a caped zebra crossing guard while crossing Biscayne Boulevard to Miami's Safe Summit. This week transit and planning geeks convened for the 6th year in a row to learn why so many people are being struck by cars and how to fix the problem. The zebra and activists are Transit Alliance's latest project to convince leadership to make Biscayne Boulevard safer. But wait, what exactly is the Safe Street Summit? How can Biscayne Boulevard be safer? And what's come out of these summits anyway? In an ode to Woody Allen, this blog post answers all your questions about safe street design, but were afraid to ask.

Twas the morn' of Safe Streets and all through the city, people dodged cars on Biscayne, and it wasn't so pretty. Transit Alliance's caped zebras were there, to ask civic leaders to make change or beware. Change is what we need to make our streets better, a choice to walk, bike or take transit, despite traffic or weather. (Not bad.)


Demonstration with a Sense of Humor

It was a pretty benign group of demonstrators who were simply asking the question, what has been done to really make our city safer for people crossing the street?

It doesn't hurt to have some good information- facts and figures to share, and a goofy mascot directing traffic (that's the zebra guys).


Pulse Miami

SE/SW 1st Street, Miami

So here's an example of what's been done. The County did adopt a Vision Zero policy and drafted Complete Street Guidelines, as well as a Vision Zero Plan. They've held summits and conferences and workshops to promote the concept. And there's this. SE/SW 1st Street has been converted from a three-lane road to a one-lane road with dedicated bus lane and bike path separated by a zebra striped buffer. Now while it's not a physical buffer, it's enough to separate the cyclist from moving traffic. Of course, the big scary white van on left didn't get the memo.

Perhaps we need better education and signs before we do anything more bold like the examples below.


Crosswalks, Santa Monica, CA

Baby steps. Paint big bold stripes like this crosswalk in Santa Monica. Pretty low tech and effective.

Beverly Hills

This one is more of a commitment. In Beverly Hills, they've created an elegant mid-block crossing. See how it gently slopes down towards the street and cuts into the sidewalk? The median landscaping and planters are also a nice touch. Definitely worthy of Gucci and Prada.

Upper Biscayne Boulevard, Miami

Our version is pretty lame. Nuf said.


Add a Dash of Transit, Santa Monica, CA

I've been watching too many cooking shows, or maybe just coming down from the Wine and Food Festival high. So just go with. When designing your streets add a dash of transit and a splash of bike path and a cool pavement design for your sidewalk. Santa Monica's Expo Line aka Los Angeles Metro runs parallel to the bike path, roadway and sidewalk. This cake is fully baked and tasty.

Bourdeaux Tramway

Now we're getting a little more bold. In Bordeaux, this in-ground tram system leaves a flat surface which is open for biking, walking and ends in a plaza. The curbs separate the tram zone from the official sidewalk zone, but they really aren't needed. My takeaway--the French just know how to design pretty things- streets included.

Here's another view of the same tramway. It's really a pedestrian plaza with the occasional tram running through it!

And don't be fooled by the old buildings. This transit system is relatively new. It opened in 2003 with a new technology which traded the tried and true overhead cantilever wire system for an in ground alternative.


Shared Bikeway/Bus lane, Paris

Still in Europe, this photo is from Paris. The cyclist shares the bus lane which is forbidden to cars. The raised island with bus shelters and sidewalk ensure that no cars (or big scary white vans) accidentally find their way on this path.

Now I want to point out how many different pavement markings are used: chic yellow zig zag lines, bold crosswalks and bike share guy. The bollard in the bottom of the photo also ensures it's a car free zone.

Aix en Provence

Here's a similar design in the south of France's Aix en Provence circa summer 2015. I like the use of bollards as an additional design element and as a practical feature to keep those pesky white vans off the sidewalk!


Protected Bike Only Lanes, New York

In New York, this bike only lane runs along the city's west side. This photo was taken at Hudson River Park. The sidewalk and metal barrier separate moving traffic from the bike lane to the east, while a landscaped berm and low rock wall separate the west side from Hudson River Park. This is the closest US example I have to the perfect European versions. Hands down this landscaping is spectacular. But I gotta say, the other utilitarian parts-the pavement, pavers and metal barrier--can't even compare to the French designs.


Nooks and Crannies- Charleston

Bike lanes, sidewalks and transit are important, but spaces like the one in the photo above are what tell people that the ground level is their space. This is a safe and beautiful space for people walking to see and enjoy. The building is setback from the main sidewalk to create a little nook. This eye candy was never meant for someone driving by in a car. See where I'm going with this? I have another example.

Miami Design District

This is a new alley which opens up to a plaza in the Miami Design District. A bigger nook and cranny! I'm sure you've figured out by now that I'm stealing some of these photos from my old blog, but they help make a good point.

This alley opened a year ago. It's only for people on foot and it's a safe space. The alley's developer understood the human need for a variety of spaces and spaces that are safe. Every weekend this place is teeming with people on foot, partially because of the retailers, but also because it's just comfortable for walking with really cool spots to explore.


Found Space, Charleston, SC

I love this photo. It was a Charleston surprise. The City placed a shipping container on top of a broken sidewalk next to a construction site so that my kids could continue their walk. I'm not saying that put it in just for us, by the girls certainly thought they had found something quirky and special and were quite giddy.

Art Miami

You'll recognize this photo from last month's post. Parking lot becomes outdoor sculpture garden--the ultimate safe place. The art has taken over the parking lot. No cars allowed!


Avenue 3, Miami

And I'll end with a series of photos from the temporary street closure/complete street project which I blogged about last fall-- Avenue 3. Tony Garcia and his team demonstrated how easily a street could be transformed into a temporary plaza with paint and a beautiful wooden structure for seating and plants. Days later the County removed everything, not knowing how to categorize the changes which didn't conform with their standards. Do you see the irony??

Look how this place came alive at night with tables and chairs, lighting, music and food.

The new seating in the parking lane has created a safe space for people to talk, relax and enjoy themselves. Gone baby gone (my Violent Femmes reference).

Lessons Learned:

Our streets are our largest public spaces, but we don't use them that way. Safe streets is the first step to taking back what really belongs to all of us, not just cars (or the people who drive them). Imagine a sidewalk like the one shown above with people. When the City removes that silly center turn lane to make room for a real buffer that separates the sidewalk from traffic, and when they add a dedicated bus lane or tramway and bike lane to move more people to this little cafe, then, I'm willing to bet, this sidewalk will be bustling with people. Until then, we'll have to rely on the caped zebras to escort us across the street and point out the errors of our Waze (pun intended).

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