Traffic gardens are miniature street systems through which children — and adults — can learn about road safety. Ilana Bean explores these small-scale utopias through the lens of her mother’s work in traffic safety and road design, and also writes about our relationships to transportation and our urban environment.

For the most part, we don’t actively interact with transportation until we reach the magic age of sixteen, when we’re supposed to learn how to operate a two-ton vehicle and navigate the road within a period of months. My mom tried to disrupt this dynamic.

It will take years before we know if the children she teaches become safe, confident, knowledgeable road users. If they grow up to be considerate of those they share the street with, if they attend their own town meetings, raise their hands, and advocate for bus routes. If they end up less likely to be injured or killed in a crash. If they end up less likely to hit someone themselves, less likely to only look right for cars, less likely to bump people on bikes for fun. If they help create a version of this country that makes sense to my mom.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.