Midtown: Community

March 23, 2014

Midtown Muse: Neighbors aim to slow drivers

Last Saturday, under sunny skies, the residents of Cameron Park neighborhood came together to begin their own Traffic Calming Project, a series of bold, colorful, wooden signs with hand-painted messages aimed at reclaiming safety in their neighborhood and restoring serenity to their streets.

It’s one thing to accept, perhaps even celebrate, the temporary inconveniences of urban growth when you live in a neighborhood of perfect shortcuts.

Doing nothing about the growing pangs of drivers who speed through tight, winding 25-mph streets – and teenagers who challenge the pavement to drag races – isn’t something Jennifer Cuthbertson and her neighbors in the historic Cameron Park neighborhood are willing to consider.

Last Saturday, under sunny skies, they came together as neighbors and families to begin their own Traffic Calming Project, a series of bold, colorful, wooden signs with hand-painted messages aimed at reclaiming safety in their neighborhood and restoring serenity to their streets.

“If anything, we’re hoping people will slow down just to look at the signs,” said Cuthbertson. “Maybe they will think: This is a neighborhood. We need to go slow. ... Our goal is to make West Park Motor Speedway into a strolling art cruising lane.”

That means passersby can expect to see messages such as “Are You Fishing for a Ticket?,” “WhoaSlow,” “Slow Down. Look Around,” “Eyes Open, Blind Curve” and “What’s the Rush?”

Certainly, most agree, the Hillsborough Street redevelopment project signals growth in an area primed for it and more customers for businesses ready to serve them. It’s often a win-win in a city like ours.

We also probably know that as it all proceeds it also breeds more traffic, either from those patiently stymied by construction and changing traffic patterns or others ingeniously searching for alternate routes around the congestion.

A lot of that commuter overflow spills into the historic Cameron Park neighborhood, located west of downtown Raleigh and bound by Clark Avenue and Peace Street on the north, St. Mary’s Street on the east, Hillsborough Street on the south, and Oberlin Road on the west.

As far as city rules go, there’s not much recourse amid complicated formulas that prioritize how fast over 35 mph a car is traveling, explained Neil Riemann, president of the Cameron Park Neighborhood Association.

Riemann said his neighborhood’s grassroots Traffic Calming Project is indicative of how his neighbors often step up to take the lead on various issues and interests.

“It wasn’t a top-down thing,” he said. “It’s great. Whether it will work, I don’t know. I think it will make people pay attention where they otherwise would not bother.”

Once the weather clears, about 40 signs will be erected in yards throughout the neighborhood. And because they have the go-ahead from the Raleigh Police Department and dozens of requests from neighbors who want a sign in their yard, the signs will “stay up until the police take them down or until they deteriorate,” Cuthbertson quipped.

Jane Cox helped Cuthbertson spearhead the project, which got help through donations of paint and supplies from area businesses.

“It’s especially meaningful to have the grown-ups and to have the children together making these signs to remind people to slow down,” said Cox, whose two children, 9 and 7, were among about 25 to take part in the project. “We welcome the growth and we embrace the change. We just need to figure out the traffic part.”

Mary Ruffin Hanbury, who moved into the area about a year ago, understands the human nature that makes us want to avoid traffic. But she also understands the innate need for others to be careful so we can feel safe.

“I can’t imagine anyone would be offended if you ask them to be careful; thank you,” said Hanbury, mom to Jack, 6. “Not in an aggressive way.”

“We really want to be welcoming,” Cox added.

Cuthbertson’s children got a kick out of the Traffic Calming Project.

“It’s fun to meet people I’ve never met before, so I thought that was great,” said Graylin Cuthbertson, 7. “It went well. The signs are pretty, but the bad thing is, a lot of people got paint on them!”

All funnies aside, Graylin added, “Otherwise, if people are going too fast they won’t know to slow down and remember this is a neighborhood.”

While Graylin’s favorite sign says Go Go Slow,” the message she came up with herself, her 4-year-old brother Dax likes one that has a turtle painted on it and says, “Go Slow Like a Turtle.”

He added, “If they don’t look at it and slow down, they might crash into somebody.”

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