• October 3, 2023

Traffic Gardens Provide Space for Kid-Friendly Road-Safety Education throughout the DMV

In a region with an ever-changing traffic problem and a recent surge in pedestrian deaths, residents are faced with a dilemma: How can parents and teachers safely introduce kids to the rules of the road? In Northern Virginia and across the country, one solution has been gaining popularity: traffic gardens.

Traffic gardens are small-scale models of streets, that allow kids to practice following traffic patterns in a safe, fun environment. The gardens often pop up in underutilized playgrounds or tennis and basketball courts, and include features like crosswalks, roundabouts, and stop or yield signs that are designed to accurately reflect what one would see on real roads.

“It’s a very safe, comfortable place for them to learn about how the real world works. It’s a place where they’re not going to fail,” says Fionnuala Quinn, the director of Discover Traffic Gardens. “It’s a very comfortable and safe, risk-free place, but they’re actually following the real [rules].”

The gardens are typically open for public use, and can serve as resources for anyone in the community to learn how to safely navigate the roads.

It’s a concept that has been around for decades, and is now regaining some focus as people begin turning their attention to road safety. According to Quinn, the first documented traffic garden began in Ohio in 1937, and another formed in the U.K. shortly after. The idea spread, and traffic gardens were a popular phenomenon throughout the U.K. and the U.S. by the 1980s.

Quinn visited one as a child herself while growing up in Dublin, Ireland. When she came across one in Portsmouth, Virginia, years later, she recognized the concept and applied her experience in engineering and design to work on developing them. She now helps cities and schools design and implement traffic gardens that suit the needs of their community.

The concept has gained more attention recently, as localities attempt to create safer roads and minimize pedestrian deaths with initiatives like Vision Zero. Recently, traffic gardens were implemented in two DC Public Schools, funded by the DC Vision Zero grant. A group of researchers and designers from Discover Traffic Gardens, George Mason University, Torti Gallas + Partners, Safe Routes to School, and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association worked with students and community members to design gardens and a curriculum that would best fit the needs of kids in that community.

“There’s a lot more national interest and there’s a lot more realization that we need to do something for the younger members of society,” Quinn says.

The DMV area is one of the hot spots of research and development of traffic gardens, according to Quinn. There are approximately 20 gardens spread throughout the region, including some in Fairfax and Alexandria.

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