Removing ineffective “Children at Play” signs in Naperville

Naperville is removing “Children at Play” signs that have stood along roads for decades:

City crews are preparing this month to take down all 400 of the signs featuring a black silhouette of a child about to dart into traffic, said Jennifer Louden, deputy director of Naperville’s transportation, engineering and development department. Where appropriate, they will be replaced with signs that read “Neighborhood Speed Limit 25.”

“A lot of the ‘Children at Play’ signs were so prominent back in the ’80s,” Louden said. “They’re in almost any neighborhood in Naperville.”

But transportation standards have changed, she said, citing reports that the signs could give parents and children a false sense of security, don’t provide a safe driving speed and are unenforceable…

Zegeer said he recommends towns install new speed limit signs that are accompanied by speed bumps, strategic street painting or a number of other traffic calming measures.

I’m guessing there will be some negative reactions to this move as the signs seem to make sense: drivers will see a sign that kids might be playing nearby and they will slow down. Yet, that is not what the research finds. Drivers don’t respond much to such signs. Road signs in general might not be terribly effective as there is a lot for drivers to take in. As noted above, design and “traffic calming measures” can be much more effective in slowing drivers. You can’t exactly blow past a speed bump the same way you can ignore a road sign.

Thinking more broadly, this hints at one of the common downsides of suburban neighborhoods. On one hand, they are often viewed as preferable for children: bigger spaces, more green space, no noxious land uses nearby. On the other hand, the spatial design of suburbs regularly emphasize driving over the safety of pedestrians. Those bigger yards contain houses that emphasize the garage and driveway and feed unto wide streets where drivers try to operate as efficiently as possible (meaning they want to go as fast as they can).

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