In many cities there's a "Fußgängerzone": pedestrian-only areas; these were mostly found in the city center where the streets and shops are too dense to allow much traffic. I remember specifically in Frankfurt am Main and Göttingen that the biggest shopping centers were located within this zone. Didn't seem to be hurting their business.
The Fußgängerzonen seemed alive, much more so than sterile car-optimized streets.
The administration is taking desperate measures now, trying to keep shops from closing by promising funding etc, but it turns out the big malls made exclusive deals with brands and there’s not much anyone can do.
I guess Fußgängerzonen only work with an intact public transport system that people can rely on and that won’t take you thrice as long to get there.
Then they started building them like crazy, all the shops moved there, and the center started dying.
But something interesting happened, since it was still valuable real estate, those people didn’t go down easy - all those former shops turned into restaurants, cafes and bars. And the center became much more inviting, and markedly more “alive” than when it was in effect an outdoor mall.
So now people go to the malls to buy stuff, and go to the center to hangout, and I think everyone is happy.
Though among those restaurants new shops have started opening as you know, they go where the people are at, but the malls are still going strong.
Maybe once the online shopping thing hits Bulgaria properly the malls would close/transform, but people would still flock to the center for all the recreational places.
Around the time the malls came to Sofia, the municipality also started renovating the main streets in the city center turning Vitoshka into a real pedestrian street and building proper sidewalks on others (like Shisman). The renovations are still going on (Solunska, Graf Ignatiev) and this will only accelerate the process of turning the city center into a recreational area. It's really nice to see how new restaurants, bars, juice bars, soup places, sandwich places, and cafes pop up on streets just months after they have been renovated.
Other factors accelerating the process has been the large expansion of the metro, which happened at the same time as the malls were being being built, the renovation of tram tracks, purchase of decent trams, and the almost complete replacement of the old city buses with modern ones, all of which has given people from the neighborhoods easier access to the city center (which has never been very accessible by car).
Sofia is slowly becoming a modern metropolis.
There was recently a huge wave of shops closing. They've since been replaced by restaurants and cafes, and they seem to be doing well, but nobody's going to go into ten restaurants in a single afternoon, so the area still feels less alive than it used to.
To me, though, this particular phenomenon feels like an extension of the death of the American shopping mall, and not evidence that a city with an outdoor environment designed to accommodate its own residents (and not just their cars) wouldn't be nice. If it's just a business district that's designed for pedestrians, well, that's really nothing more than a public version of the outdoor shopping mall.
I'm most definitely not looking for a shopping mall. I'm looking for my kids (and me) to be able to go outside and ride a bike or kick a ball or organize a neighborhood game of tag, without being dependent on me to drive them by car to the nearest city park in order to do it. And I'm looking for a culture where neighbors collectively spend time outside, together, as a community, rather than being cooped up indoors or walled up inside their own back yards because the neighborhood's public space is a fundamentally uncomfortable place to be.
Good friends of mine live 1/4 mile from the elementary school. There is one semi-busy street crossing, BUT there is a pedestrian tunnel. So, no there are actually no streets to cross.
Yet, the kids are bussed to school. They can't be allowed to walk 1/4 mile with ZERO street crossings! It's completely ridiculous.
We pay for bus for our 3 oldest kids in the winter.
Also wolves are returningnin some parts of Europe and while people say wolves are so shy and afraid of humans I understand extremely well why parents don't risk their kids in an experiment to see if the predator that lives off moose actually is afraid of children or not.
Millions of cars running through european towns at speeds high enough to kill a pedestrian, yet a wolve roaming through some far off forrest is considered more dangerous and newsworthy.
Hehe, agree to a certain degree.
I see this on a number of issues.
That said we have somewhat effective countermeasures against kids getting hit by cars: we lower speed limits around schools and elsewhere where children walk, and we built sidewalks and put up fences.
> a wolve roaming through some far off forrest is considered more dangerous and newsworthy.
As for why the wolves are more newsworthy that is easy to explain: the cars aren't news at all anymore. Wolves returning are news.
They've gone into people's garden and killed the dog there.
Also I recently saw recordings of one or two wolves attacking a moose with calf so the part about only attacking in packs seems to be proven wrong.
Kids are often peoples biggest investment. I understand if they play it safe.
(I also argue that we should keep the wolves. I just disagree with people who claim wolves aren't dangerous to people.)
'Know' as in "I've heard that the Meyer has a brother who has a friend who has another friend and THEY have a sister who know someone that was once raped by a migrant".
Or the same way anti-vaxxers know that vaccines lead to autism.
So it’s a good thing you‘ve mentioned the Fußgängerzone, which were a trend in the 1950-1970s and German cities adapted them just to find out that they can become a booster of decay, if demographics and economics as well as just the trend don’t hold up (homelessness, empty shopfronts, only elderly folk, unemployed youth hanging around).
Fußgängerzonen are largely considered a failed experiment (And because of widespread bombing in WW2 German cities had plenty of room for experiments, which often failed). That they seem to work today, might have more todo with spill over effects from urban population growth, urban revival and a narrow set of datapoints (Fußgängerzonen if plighted areas are often not known to outsiders).
We have these in Norway as well. Here they are called “gågate” (“walking street”), but what I actually wanted to say was that I think it’s interesting how similar some words are. The German word for pedestrian, “fußgänger”, is very similar to what it’s called in Norwegian, which is “fotgjenger”.
You’ll hear how similar they are if you know how to pronounce these words in both German and Norwegian. If you don’t you might see the visual similarity but not realize just how similar they sound as well.
And in both cases the word is composed of the word for “foot” (fuß / fot) and a word derived from “walk”.
"voet" - foot/feet
"ganger" - someone who moves along using the former noun
The Latin Root is what connects many European languages.
Pater - father
Pes - foot
Primus - first
Note the English word is not necessarily the closest to the Latin one.
P and f are also considered the same sound in a few word distance metrics such as Soundex for the very same reason.
"Foot" and "pes" both descend from the same Indo-European root, but the English word has no influence from the Latin one. Compare "pedestrian", which uses the Latin root directly.
The first part of the law is a general stop to fricative pattern, so not just p->f, but also t->th, k->h, etc.
Not in this case. Proto-Germanic before the Norse languages split off would be the root that connects English, Dutch, and German with Norwegian.
To really make it work, the area has to be accessible to walking (and public transport). Which usually means higher population densities than most US cities -- even major cities -- have, and better public transit.
In Munich, for example, the city center is largely car-free as far as I can tell, but parking nearby is still limited and expensive. That's okay, because transit is good enough to where you can park more on the outskirts of the city and take the S-Bahn in.
I haven't really seen many "massive parking structures" here that match your description, but then again I don't have a car so I'm not really looking for them.
But really in Munich, even if you're living in a suburb of Munich surrounded by farmland, they're compact enough to where almost everybody can walk or bike to the train station that goes to the city center. Check out Groebenzell if you don't believe me: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Gr%C3%B6benzell/data=!4m2!...
My home town (Reston, VA - outside DC) is a good example of this. The subway is in the process of being expanded to reach Dulles Airport, with several stops in Reston. The area was designated a transit hub, with zoning changes to allow more density.
But, the developers and county officials continue to build campus-style offices surrounded by massive parking areas. The streets are wide, fast, and not pedestrian- or bicycle-friendly.
It's as if they expect to throw up some 15-20 story apartment buildings, a few office towers, and magically have a lovely "downtown".
Without changes to parking allowances (fewer spaces per unit), allowing smaller setbacks to property lines (maybe?), narrower roads to slow traffic, and other similar changes, we're going to end up with a massive, gridlocked mess.
Maybe it's changed since I've been, though.
NYC was developed in its current form, with high-rises and all, well before cars were commonplace.
So no, they didn't take a place designed for cars, and yes, that's why it actually works when you take the cars out of the equation again.
Ha, no it was not. Oh, it was originally developed sans cars, that's true. But that's not the same thing as its current form. Cities are continually being redeveloped after all. You think Amsterdam was always so bike-friendly? Try googling for what it was like in the early 70's, before the "Stop De Kindermoord" campaign.
Spoiler: that's one of the major reasons why city centers work. Transportation hubs are also commercial hubs.
In terms of shopping, the stores are all chains, so nothing is "unique" per se. However, getting to Times Square is super convenient because it's a transit hub.
Plus the fact that there are probably 150,000+ jobs within a three block radius.
My view is that public transportation in a lot of European cities are great because the cities were built for pedestrians, not cars. It is not the public transportation that makes cities practical without a car. Rather it is cities accessible without a car that makes public transportation practical.
Inside, the previously 3-lane streets get transformed into pedestrian avenues with vegetation, play equipment and benches/tables for the residents.
The contrast between traffic-filled streets and urban tranquility couldn't be starker.
Then there are neighborhoods like Gracia that largely closed off its streets to traffic. Going there is like escaping to a village within the city.
Finally, the city puts a huge effort into building dedicated bike lanes, usually at the expense of a car lane. They're also rolling out a new shared biking system, which will combine electric and traditional bikes in the same system.
It helps that the city has mild winters and 300+ days of sunshine a year, but in any case, they're definitely leading the way for large urban areas to give the city back the people.
Businesses protested for months about potential lost business, however as a resident I feel so much safer walking down the street. It feels like foot traffic has increased there, too. It's such an improvement.
I also like to think tunnels to apartment buildings could help us take more cars of the road and create more green spaces for people in the future.
For whatever it's worth, Chicago tried both of these things, and they didn't work out.
The main shopping drag, State Street, was pedestrianized in 1979. You can see it for a few seconds in the film National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. It didn't work. It was re-opened to traffic in 1996, and is now far more vibrant than it used to be (though, with a number of other contributing factors since nothing exists in a vacuum in a large city).
Maybe people weren't ready for that in the 1980's, though the region has a number of outdoor shopping malls, in spite of its cold weather.
Again, Chicago did this. 40 city blocks are linked underground (and a few via bridges). I like the Pedway, but it's mostly vacant space, sleeping homeless people, and bad smells. Except for rush hours, it's pretty much derelict.
As for the Pedway, one of problems is like most underground walkways, navigation is difficult. There's no official map that tells you what destinations you can reach and how to reach them. You can't navigate with Google Maps, and signage is poor to non-existent. Also, most areas of the Pedway are quiet, secluded and feel unsafe. My sense is that the Pedway was designed for hyperlocalized usage (moving from one building to the next) and not as a network of passages.
There are some special cases - tourist / student towns, but I think the gist is that people need to be able to get there.
Carrot AND stick.
Out of curiosity, how did that pan out? Closing off an area to road traffic is basically a re-prioritization towards nearby residents, and away from distant visitors and the commerce that they engage in, so it would be interesting to know how badly the latter groups suffer.
Distant visitors still arrive by tram loads. And parking, whilst terrible, is available close by.
When you think about switching the area back to allow cars again, you begin to realise how little you needed that street to begin with. It was mostly for people showing off their cars and loud music.
While it's seems like a shoddy observation, it's surprising how much car usage isn't really about transport but about status or psychological relief. "Going for a drive" is equivalent to "going for a walk" in much of the US.
i'd also advocate making licensing for vehicles much harder and increasing the enforcement and punishment of distracted driving.
For example you can have a car free shopping street where cars can only park at the back sides of the shops.
Edit: found it https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/dec/17/drive...
while not perfect, I am actually a fan of this approach. in my ideal world, the government only administers sanctions to a citizen when they cause material harm to another person. let the insurance companies be on the hook (and possibly require the purchase of such insurance) for the actual penalties and have them calculate the risk. then excessively risky behaviors become de facto illegal because the insurance payments are not economic.
St Kilda is a such an awesome area, but like lots of places far too many cars. Melbourne has a serious problem with cars, most of the large parks even include roads running through them. Even with a fantastic inner city tram system, too many people are addicted to cars.
They could easily expand the pedestrian section further up the street - and I'd like to see it too, but smaller measured steps will probably be more sustainable until parking gets "solved".
No, that's what the suburban rail is for (see: NYC).
If anything, the suburban people can always park on the outskirts of city centers, and use public transportation (or walk) in the city.
But no, the cities had to be designed for the automobile. There was a lot of money to be made that way for the auto companies.
Think it sounds like a conspiracy theory? You are right, except that it's actually true.
> people who are a block away from every place they need to go.
I don't know of any city in the U.S. where a middle class person can live within walking distance of everything that they need. Take a look at the most urban cities in the U.S., San Francisco, New York, Boston. You're not living in a walkable place in those cities unless you have a title that includes "executive" or "vice" in it.
The closest is probably Chicago.
The typical American situation today in 2018, is the poor live in inner-ring "old" suburbs, or the edge of the inner city. The middle class live in outer-ring "new" suburbs. The wealthy live in the heart of city, or in any part of the city dense enough to feel urban-ish (any 'gentrified' neighborhood).
With each decade, car ownership grew significantly, but back then it was decided to deal with the increasing traffic by making cities more "car friendly". To a certain point that worked, but later even large efforts couldn't keep up, but the damanges were done to the cities. To reverse them, it will take a long time, as the car traffic needs to be replaced by other means of transportation.
>I don’t get why cities are built around cars.
Sure there is a fantasy that we could have cities that don't require roads. However our modern 5,000,000 population Metro areas wouldnt exist. Instead housing prices would skyrocket, and the lowest income people would be forced to live in rural areas.
> In densely populated cities cars should be banned outside of major roads
>I’d love it even more when there was no car sound
These are short sighted.
EDIT: I'm sorry to kill the fantasy, but wouldnt you rather hear why an idea doesnt work? Or maybe this is another case of 10%ers that care more about quiet streets than societal impact.
Right now, cars are first class citizens in every American city. Motorists get what they want, and walkers, cyclists, and transport users get what's left over.
It doesn't have to be that way. European cities get by fine without cars in city centers.
Do you really need a car to get to work in midtown Manhattan? Why are the 2 subway systems with stops every 5th block, 3 rail systems, and 2 bus systems that serve it not good enough? Do you really need 6 car lanes on 6th Ave while cyclists fear for their lives in the traffic and pedestrians smoosh on the sidewalks?
Where did you get that from? Some of them, sometimes, with exceptions, with mixed success.
Certainly not Prague (which is where I live). The public transport system is absolutely fantastic, but as of now it's at 100 % capacity (locally) and the city center is still full of cars. People need to move stuff, plumbers, electricians can't haul their tools around in a bag, the streets need to remain perfectly accessible for ambulances and firetrucks.
Don't forget that most European cities are hundreds of years old, built on river banks, rocks, hills, the complete opposite of most US cities.
What, do you think that North America is a minecraft flatworld? Plenty of American cities are built on variable terrain. The city I live in, Weehawken (Lenape for "rocks bigger than trees"), is bisected by a 300 foot sheer cliff called "The Palisade" because it looks like a castle wall. You have to take an elevator or a long staircase if you want to get uptown.
The only US cities designed from the ground up with cars in mind are in the western desert valleys where nobody could reasonably live until air conditioning was invented: Phoenix, Tucson, Los Angeles. Many German cities were being rebuilt almost from scratch at the same time. Munich, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Dresden, and Berlin all had to be almost completely replaced. Their maps were redrawn with cars in mind, and they managed to stay largely walkable.
Meanwhile, London has roughly the same transit woes as New York. Was London founded after the invention of the car? No! Unlike the planners of Munich and Dresden and Hamburg, London's rebuilders after the war prioritized automobiles over people, and it shows.
New York got its modern street layout in 1807, the same year Napoleon conquered Bohemia, and I'm pretty certain he didn't enter Prague in an open-top car.
Car-centric city planning isn't a natural phenomenon, it is an intentional choice, and it can be undone at any time.
Yes, US cities wouldn't be able to change to this overnight, but over the course of years and decades it's definitely possible.
It would be helpful to see real world executions.
Middle class definitely live in the city in those examples (and you won't be surrounded by homeless people) . In general European city centers come from medieval times, making them very walk-able (and touristic).
There is massive gulf between what you described and carless.
Houten, the Dutch suburb that's really built for bikes, even by Dutch standards: https://www.citylab.com/solutions/2015/06/a-case-study-in-bi...
"Superblocks" in Barcelona: https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/08/inside-a-pede...
The key factor was underground parking (resident and visitor), with entrance to the underground parking connecting directly with the road. Within the complex are streets for cars with sidewalks like normal street, but strictly for emergency vehicles and moving trucks.
As I walked around the complex day and night, I couldn't believe the peace and calm I sensed as there were no cars moving around me. I kept looking around as I crossed the street as a reflex, but there were no cars to worry about.
Soviet bloc countries really built their infrastructure with brutal efficiency in mind. Huge populations in tall, mathematical buildings with lots of open space between them. Almost like someone copy-pasted a few buildings into the middle of the wilderness.
To me it looks like the new infrastructure in countries like South Korea or Japan is an evolution of that, although the buildings look a lot less foreboding than Soviet buildings do. In between them you still get the sense that you're out in the country. It's deceptive because once you fly up (in VR), you can see a sea of buildings going all the way to the horizon.
Compared to the population centers of American cities, which look like irregularly shaped sand dunes made out of shingles as far as the eye can see.
Suburbs in the UK are similar to the American ones, except that the houses are all very neatly aligned on a grid with less space between them and the streets are often one way streets with parking on the curb.
Suburbs in Nordic countries are made of small, taller houses. Each floor looks only big enough for 1 or 2 rooms, but the houses are 2-4 stories tall. It looks really cozy.
If you have the hardware and a few hours to kill, I strongly recommend trying this. Tokyo is just jaw dropping. It's on an unimaginable scale compared to other cities around the world.
They introduced long pedestrian street in one of the busiest streets in city center in 90s, it worked pretty well - created lots of restaurants, clubs and shops.
In 00s-10s some of them failed (I blame internet shopping and malls in the outskirts), especially the shops, and mostly banks and mobile phone booths replace them. But the restaurants and clubs remain, and the street is very pleasant, always full of people. It helps that Lublin is an university city (about 20% of population are students).
Recently the city created some more pedestrian streets, invested into biking infrastructure (lots of bike routes, city-funded bike rental system). It's OK, but the city is on hills so biking is quite demanding, mostly young people do it.
Also the public transit is very nice in the city centre, but there are no trams, only trolleybuses and regular buses (because hills). So - public transit waits in traffic jams just like cars.
There's one night each summer when they turn big part of the city center into pedestrian area, put artificial grass on many streets, people sunbathe there. It changes the city completely. I know it's not realistic to make it permanent, but it's so nice.
Removing parking may be bad for local shops in the short run, but good for the citizens and the city in the long run.
The reason Walmart killed everyone was because purchasers valued saving a few dollars rather than being taken care of by employees. Similarly with airlines, which Branson wasn’t really able to expand beyond the wealthy NYC-LA-SF routes.
It’s also why people choose vehicles over public transit: point-to-point convenience for comparable prices to stringing together public transit and car services to get around.
Not to mention that anyone who grew up pre-Internet or pre-smartphones knows that the real barriers to kids playing outside are more cultural/societal.
There's a huge change in the vibe of having older kids (who can, despite the roads, go out and freely interact with their peers) and younger kids who aren't sensible enough to deal with the streets (and yes, this isn't just paranoia, we had a couple bad incidents in the peer group).
It's not an either/or with the Internet/smartphones, either. I think there's a lot of interaction between these factors ("kids go out less because games/internet are so compelling" vs "kids spend long hours on devices because they are stuck at home") in both directions.
I also wanted to add one more thought: kids are a lot more capable than parents give them credit for. This underestimation of kids' abilities is particularly prevalent in modern Western societies - if you travel to less developed nations, young children are able to successfully navigate complex cities with much more unforgiving streets unsupervised, with confidence.
As for the 'kids are capable' thing - yes. We had our youngest going places independently at an age where our older child (~3 years apart) had peers whose parents were still driving them around. But the argument from LDCs is pretty terrible, as they have orders of magnitude more traffic deaths.
LDCs also typically have a culture of 'negotiation' of crossing roads where you kinda just have to get up on your hind legs and cross (anarchy makes drivers far more alert) while we have a culture of strict rules ("if you cross at the wrong place you are doing the wrong thing and it's your own fault that the driver just ran into you"). The 'rules culture' tends to make drivers feel that they can just zoom wherever they feel like and shut off mental collision avoidance algorithms with anything that isn't another car. This phenomenon is behind the whole 'naked streets' thing (not that I'm a fan, but the diagnosis is pretty good).
A child walking next to a road is in a situation where any mistake they make is reasonably likely to result in their death. No amount of education and enforcement is going to improve driver's reflexes and awareness enough to keep them from killing a kid who suddenly does something impulsive.
> if you travel to less developed nations, young children are able to successfully navigate complex cities with much more unforgiving streets unsupervised, with confidence.
In less developed nations, drivers have to be constantly on the lookout for random things on the road, like cows. If my kids do something random, they'll be the only random thing a US driver will encounter that week, and people aren't prepared for it.
The choice boils down to a dense, very large police force, versus streets designed to make good behavior natural. The latter can be a lot cheaper (and will involve many fewer tickets) than the former.
Given that many cities and police forces rely on traffic fines (and in the US, on civil forfeiture), the choice for city governments is skewed towards more enforcement...
I did, and 100% that's not the barrier today. I moved my kids from a neighborhood packed with cars to one with several dead-end streets and no through traffic and the change in my kids' lives has been shocking. They almost never wanted to play outside before because they couldn't really get anywhere safely. Now they are outside until dark nearly every day they aren't in school.
This isn't even addressing your ridiculous assumption that cities/towns can just easily add parks and fields. Those things take up space and people without kids don't care at all about them and want that land for their condos.
I am also not assuming cities/towns can "just" add parks and fields. It is something they can do if they prioritize it and have the political will to execute. And even if it were not pragmatic for an already fully-built-up locale, I am making the point as a general matter of planning or noting what is desirable in a town.
One thing I did not understand: why do you think people without kids will not care about parks (which they can enjoy as well), but will care enough about kids to make their own street access more painful?
"mommy can I go outside, the local kids are playing soccer in the street"
also, have fun making the case for the land purchase, remodeling, and ongoing maintenance budget for that new park
But I also don't think reality is always walking 10 blocks to get to the park. That may be true in some implementations, but it doesn't have to be that way and it was not for me growing up. And even if it was, kids used to bike much longer distances on the sidewalk to get to their friends' places or a park or whatever.
I love how safe it feels. It's almost like a giant side walk. I'm always surprised that the chairs don't get stolen. I walk down it multiple times a day usually (unless I take the Skyway because of weather).
But the center areas where there are no cars also is set up for no people to move about. The road ledges are still there, so handicapped people cant just use their wheelchairs. It's the worst of both worlds.
It needs to be done along with public transit (usually the missing link it the US and Australia) and a reasonable attitude to deliveries and whatever parking needs remain.
As an anecdote, close to where I live is a suburb called Wellard. They basically have a small shopping district (One Woolies, Subway, Pizza shop, Cafe, Postie etc) right next to the train station. In fact, walking out of the train station, you're bound to walk through the shopping area as that's sort of the way people walk to get to their houses. Its kinda perfect position.
What they did was to simply make it that street between the shops is closed to cars on the weekends. Its an amazing place during that time, and allow people to set up stalls in the parking lots around the road. Its an awesome place to just sit and talk on a weekend. The parking is behind the shops so its not like one can't get there on a car either.
The speed on the road during normal days is also something like 20-30km/hr and they have that brick-like road which means driving your car fast on the road isn't that fun.
Lots of cool main streets have cars going through them. It is just the post war, huge road, big-box chain stores that suck. Maybe we need to go back to where a corporation is only allowed to form (get a charter) if it is planning on doing something that takes a lot of people and capital to execute. Like building an airplane, or a car, or a computer chip, not anything like a retail store. Leave that to the sole proprietor. We don't need corporations, and all its inhumanity, to run burger joints.
A given car is maybe 3000lbs. A person is maybe 150lbs. 95% of the gas you pump into your car goes to just moving around this hunk of metal wherever you go. And then you gotta have an empty 18'x9' spot available wherever you are going? How many 25lb bird scooters can you pile up in that spot? Even self-driving cars aren't going to solve the issues with wasting energy and space for the two tonnes-or-so hunk of metal that you require to deliver you door to door on demand. Try to have a horse pull you around town in a tesla, and it would die.
First off, there are no streets in a mall. It may be a carless place, with some merits, but clearly that’s where the similarities between malls and downtown Pontevedra end. Malls arose as a natural consequence of a heavy reliance on cars, just as carless downtowns arise when there is no such reliance.
Corporations are alive and well in Spain too.
Suddenly you can allow your four year old to go out the front door by themself.
There are some pockets that are walkable and safe, but nothing at scale.
That doesn't mean that the perception cannot be changed, or that the reality cannot be changed. People have to demand it and it will start somewhere. Small steps. Incremental optimisations.
With electric cars there is no reason why we can't get our streets back and for not just kids but for everyone to start to be part of their local community, not just hiding behind doors, curtains closed, putting up with where they live instead of enjoying it.
We have 20 mph city speed zones which are great. But when cars are noisy and polluting these streets are far from tranquil. The dirt from automotive isn't just the smog that comes out of exhaust pipes, there is also brake wear and the micro-particles that come from that. We have ended up with cities that are toxic to plant life as a consequence of this.
With cars that can float along on electric power we need not close off our streets, we need not even banish traffic jams.
Bus transport also needs a bit of work, with electric power they can be the modern transport that people deserve, not these noisy things that vibrate and feel hellish inside. We want the bus to be nice to be on, particularly for those with pushchairs, wheelchairs, kids in tow.
Yet we have an old population of people who seem to have a fetish of loud exhausts, V8 engines, turbo engines and this fuddy-duddy idea that electric will never replace these naff petrol and diesel engines. Hopefully these people will die off soon and Chinese electric cars will show Western auto makers how to make a car properly.
usually the biggest problems are lack of mixed zoning and really wide streets which leads to very long walking distances.
(I've never met a kid who didn't love riding buses and trains.)
Here in the Bay Area suburbs, cul-de-sacs seem to be always be deserted, which is so unlike what it was when I was growing up. Kids seem to be almost exclusively interacting indoors / online.
 https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verkehrsberuhigter_Bereich / https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Living_street
It's stupidity at work, and government committees are the environment that fosters it.
But, yeah, the US really does suffer from a "bigger is better" complex. There are no small fire trucks for tight areas. Ambulances are all mega-sized, built on heavy commercial truck chassis. Personal vehicles are huge - SUVs and dually pickup trucks instead of sedans and hatchbacks.
Wait until you see Boston. I live in this street in Cambridge, its not quite wide enough for buses so occasionally they cross the lane of the opposite direction, especially if some asshole parked a little off. If this wasn't unsafe enough, there is also an elementary school near this street! In general. Boston streets are very narrow and it makes it hard to drive since (1) you can scratch other cars parking or (2) it's hard to see the direction you're turning to.
Have you been to a European city? This is the norm in any city I've driven in. Meanwhile, driving in the US, even in a city normally involved roads which are wide enough for multiple Lanes of traffic each way. It's perfectly safe, it just required drivers to pay attention.
Your average US street prioritizes cars to the exclusion of anything else. Walking is pointless, it feels terrible and nothing is within walking distance except maybe a neighborhood park or elementary school. Biking is uncomfortable and unsafe, especially for kids with dubious levels of focus/traffic awareness; the city will slap a strip of paint on the ground and brag about how bike-friendly it is. It'd be funny if it weren't so sad.
Bikes aren't a problem; they're small and nimble and don't kill people when they hit them.
It's not my place to speculate, but I'm going to do it anyway: I expect you can get away with simply just driving as slowly as you can, assuming that isn't ridiculously faster than the 7km/h that is suggested. (My old automatic car (1.4L) would probably creep at about the right pace. My manual car (3.0L) isn't super happy to pull the car along while idling in 1st gear, but it's fine at ~1000rpm and that's ~8km/h.)
(This does make me wonder. I typically drive in car parks in 1st gear at <2000rpm, so max ~16km/h or ~10mph. But, you know... maybe I'm going too quickly?)
when driving through complicated areas with lots of pedestrians (eg, parking lots), I usually travel at the lowest speed in 1st gear that puts the engine in a happy RPM range (as low as ~1200 in my car, maybe 1500 up a hill). this is definitely faster than a human can comfortably walk for a long time. if that's sufficiently slow, I guess I don't have any objections.
Works great (kind of a relaxing feeling while slowly driving on the "brick"-surfaces, like a massage), but I admit that it's expensive if not building with a long-term planning in mind.
Edit: on the other hand I do absolutely hate such streets/areas that have a low speed limit (20/30 km/h) but have absolute smooth surfaces (I don't "feel" the need to drive slowly).
I know, it's stupid, but that's how my brain works...: smooth surface therefore fast, not-smooth surface therefore slow and careful :)
Bikes being the least problematic opponent group, I would be more worried by skateboard, inline-skate, etc... opposition groups.
In Switzerland we solved it (as long as it was implemented by the local community or city) by having very smooth sidewalks (but bikes still have to drive on the street as they're too fast for the sidewalk and have more than enough suspension for the normal street at normal speeds).
If you just change the signs, obviously it would fail miserably. You need to change the actual design of the street to match the ideal. There are lots of ways to do this, just google "road diet".
The most obvious difference I see between Germany and the US is that the roads are just way wider in the US. That makes drivers feel like they can go faster, so they do go faster, thus making them less safe. You don't really need to enforce tight speed limits in neighborhood streets where I live in Munich, they're so narrow that it's very obvious that you cannot go fast.
Even in areas where there's a car occasionally, as kids we watched out for cars, not the other way around. We never assumed a car would brake for us. I'm sure it happens, but from my memories, not even the most reckless kids did that. And we did some shit, let me tell you :D
The one concern with our location is that the connecting road is 35mph, branched off from a 45mph road, plus its downhill. So some people tend to go down that 35mph road at 50mph.
Because you weren't driving through such a "pedestrianized zone" :)