Neighborhood Streets ≠ Playground

Children at Play sign

Children at Play signs create a false sense of security.

A frequent request to the City of Bellevue is for “Children at Play” signs to be installed with the belief that the safety of their children in or near the street can be enhanced through the installation of these signs.  Actually, traffic studies have shown that “Children at Play” signs do not increase a driver’s attention to the point of reducing vehicles speeds or reducing accidents.  In fact, placement of these signs can actually increase the potential for accidents by giving children and parents a false sense of security.

This same issue was taken up by Tom Vanderbilt (author of Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)) on a article.  The article points out that the ubiquity of “Children at Play” signs has actually reduced their effectiveness.

“Children at Play” signs may not be doing any good, but simply removing them isn’t likely to do much more. What we need is lower speeds, and a more compelling way of achieving those speeds than signs that everyone has seen, and no one seems to mind.

Vanderbilt goes on to explain  how quality street design is the most effective way to reduce speeds, not just signing.

One of the things that is known, thanks to peer-reviewed science, is that increased traffic speeds (and volumes) increase the risk of children’s injuries. But “Children at Play” signs are a symptom, rather than a cure—a sign of something larger that is out of whack, whether the lack of a pervasive safety culture in driving, a system that puts vehicular mobility ahead of neighborhood livability, or non-contextual street design. After all, it’s roads, not signs, that tell people how to drive. People clamoring for “Children at Play” signs are often living on residential streets that are inordinately wide, lacking any kind of calming obstacles (from trees to “bulb-outs”), perhaps having unnecessary center-line markings—three factors that will boost vehicle speed more than any sign will lower them.

[via Slate]

Self-installed signs are not permitted in the right-of-way

With this compelling evidence, it is clear that neighborhood streets are not safe spaces for children to play.  Fortunately, there are plenty of safe, wide-open alternatives to play in Bellevue–away from traffic.  Check out one of the many Bellevue parks, join a youth sports league, head out to the Highland skate park, play tennis, golf, or head to the pool.  For other eastside recreation opportunities, check out for sports, recreation, parks, trails and entertainment information from Bothell to Renton and Mercer Island to Snoqualmie (and many points in between!).

 Because the City does not install Children-at-Play signs, it may be tempting to put up your own signs aimed at reducing motorists’ speed.  Self-installed “SLOW: Kids at Play” signs and green, plastic turtle men (they hold a flag indicating that motorists should reduce their speed) are sometimes seen on City streets.  Please be aware that self-installed signs are not permitted in the City’s right-of-way.

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2 Responses to Neighborhood Streets ≠ Playground

  1. Thanks for this post! I was working on a blog post about overcoming the barriers to outdoor play ( and was going to recommend putting up children at play signs, and learned from this post that it’s not a good idea.

  2. Anne says:

    We have a neighbor here in Newport Hills who varies on how far to put out a sign.
    For awhile, it was kept in their driveway.
    However, already multiple times this year, the sign is left in the middle of the road obstructing the roadway. This takes drivers attention away from anything but the sign they have to avoid. In addition, there are signs posted on the mailbox structure.
    One year, thankfully, I saw a child push off on their wheeled plastic toy, from the top of this neighbors angled driveway, so I stopped. The kid, very young, came to a stop in the middle of the road, having loads of fun, and then turned around and went back into the driveway. The child had no idea I’d stopped, no idea a vehicle was even nearby. I waited until they were clearly away from the roadway. No parents were around.
    I am in contact with the City of B safety folks, and also our community club. Maybe education can help make some changes.
    Maybe there is a way to do training sessions for the neighborhood families. For example, the older kids further up from this house find ways to communicate by pulling over to the side, and looking directly at the vehicle, letting me know they see me. Usually they wave or yell thanks to drivers who’ve slowed down. Maybe drivers can give a slight/short/friendly honk if it seems the kids are not yet aware a car is nearby. I think this bears discussion and is probably newsworthy.

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