Luke Crosswalker: Tactical Urbanist

This article was originally published at

Way back in 2009, with one toddler and a baby on the way, my husband and I moved into what we hoped would be our “forever” home. It was large enough for our expanding family, in the middle of town, and nestled into a residential neighborhood right beside a fantastic public elementary school. We just so happened to move from one corner house nearby to a new corner just a few blocks away and absolutely loved becoming a “neighbor” to the school that our kids would (in theory) one day attend. The school and its grounds occupy the entire block, and include a huge, well-lit soccer field, a walking path, and a locally famous “purple park” playground that is used by the school during the day and the community at large after school and on weekends.

Our prominent corner sees a ton of foot traffic all throughout the day, but during the morning and afternoon “rush hours” of school drop-off and pickup, our intersection becomes a humming swirl of vehicles. The public school’s traffic is compounded by the additional traffic that a private church school at the opposite end of our residential block adds. Within one single block, about 700 students must come and go each day. That’s a lot of traffic for one quiet neighborhood! And most of that traffic has to pass through the intersection on our corner. About half the public school kids ride a bus, but the remaining half and the entire student body of the private school are dropped off by parents from a personal automobile. We knew school-time traffic would increase at certain times of day, but when we first moved in it didn’t interfere with our routines or schedules at all, so we didn’t think much of it. We gladly agreed to let the school’s crossing guard park in our driveway to keep his own vehicle out of the street to help with traffic flow. The crossing guard stands on OUR corner like our own personal escort. We couldn’t wait to walk our own kids across for a day of learning and fun.

Once our four-year-old tested into the preschool program, we were elated! Free preschool! Across the street! With no commute or carpool to dread, we could literally walk across at the last minute. Heaven! But, we began to notice that being a pedestrian in the midst of the carpool raceway felt surprisingly uncomfortable. With competing traffic flows, two separate crosswalks, and only one crossing guard, it felt like the pedestrians were far outmatched. Even with a neon fluorescent safety vest and huge stop sign, the crossing guard herself came very close to being hit by a passing vehicle at least once a month or so. Wait, this isn’t supposed to happen like this. These people are driving through THEIR OWN kid’s carpool lanes with surprising speed and distractions. The posted speed of 15 mph felt ok, but there was a huge difference in the feeling of a car passing nearby at even 20 or 25 mph. And the majority breezed through as quickly as they pleased, only braking to make the sharp turn through our intersection, then hitting the gas once they straightened out. This would not do.

We could now see that a fairly big number of kids were walked to school by parents, or rode a bike from a neighboring block on their own. Our corner was also a welcome place to stand after school while waiting for students to be released in the afternoons. Our huge live oak tree provided glorious shade on the scorching afternoons, and we were now one of the families who gathered to await the afternoon bell. If not for our own safety, I felt like we needed to improve upon this intersection’s safety for all the other students who walked in our direction each morning. So, like any good citizen might do, I began looking into ways to help.

The city was happy to send out their striping crew and gave the crosswalks a fresh coat of safety paint. The police department brought around their little trailer with a speed camera and display to let people know how fast they were going and how much OVER the speed limit that might be. Occasionally, they would also send out a motorcycle cop to visibly point a speed gun at the approaching vehicles and write a ticket or two. We launched a public campaign that was shared by the school board and local news encouraging parents to “Hang up, Slow down” in school zones. None of those efforts showed lasting results, though, and each time the “new” wore off (or the trailer moved to a new location) drivers just went right back to the same aggressive speeds.

After all of that trial and error, the one lasting method of calming speeds turned out to be what we have lovingly named “Luke Crosswalker.” I happened upon a super-cute safety guy at Sam’s one day and couldn’t leave him in the store. He is meant to be put out on a sidewalk or a front yard. However, we chose to place him in the exact center of the crosswalk—as if he were a child trying to cross. At the very least, parents had to slow down enough to avoid hitting little Luke, and we left them plenty of space to do so on either side. Our crossing guard was happy to place him out in the crosswalk each morning and afternoon, and then when carpool is over, she moves him back to the shade under our oak tree to wait until the next time he’s needed.

Over the years, Luke Crosswalker has unfortunately been hit by several vehicles, endured crazy weather, and has even walked off a time or two, but he’s thankfully been returned home each time. Several years into this experiment, he is now attached to a traffic cone, as he no longer stands on his own. A neighbor thoughtfully had replaced the reflective flag that Luke holds several times before we finally landed on having him hold a reflective disk that is more weather resistant. And we’ve learned to hang him up on a hook on our light pole in order to keep the wind and weather from knocking him around too much. If I ever come across another one of these guys, I’ll definitely stock up on several to keep in reserve, but I’m impressed that he’s lasted as long as he has.

The heart-warming thing about this whole experience is seeing how the neighborhood and school staff have reacted. Our kids are now too old to attend elementary school, but Luke continues to be put to good use daily. When school started in August, he got a refresh with new reflective tape, a sassy bandanna, and new “mascara” to add on some eyelashes. Before Halloween, someone dressed him in the cutest pillowcase ghost costume ever.  At Christmas time, we found someone had donated a Santa hat to dress him up a bit. During Mardi Gras, he dons some fabulous beads to get into the parading spirit. We never know who exactly cares for him and his costumes, but it’s clear he’s a helpful little dude, and I’m thankful we can use him to slow down car traffic to a somewhat manageable speed—at least for a few yards before and after his placement in the crosswalk.