How Far Would You Go to Make Your Community Safer?

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What lengths would you go to to make your community, and its children, safer?

Strong Towns member Mary Moriarty Jones lives in Honolulu. A few years ago, she became aware that the street in front of her children’s school, Leahi Avenue, was terrifyingly dangerous, due to its speedway-like design, lack of curbs or improved sidewalks, and use as a cut-through by non-local drivers trying to access the Waikiki Beach area. In fact, Jones once had a driver literally hit her hand with their car while she was walking (mercifully while going slowly). School administrators said that she was not the first to complain, but that their hands were tied. When Jones started pestering city officials about the street, she finally found out that it was privately owned. (While this is an unusual arrangement in most parts of the U.S. outside of gated subdivisions, it is common in Hawaii.)

So Jones did what any normal, mild-mannered, easily mollified, not at all doggedly persistent human would do: She bought the road.

Yes, Jones actually tracked down the private street’s owner—a trust for a long-dead Hawaiian king that had no idea it owned this city street—and bought it for $10 through an LLC she set up. What followed was what we can only imagine is the dream scenario of countless Strong Towns members: What if you had free rein to do the things you know need to be done to fix your neighborhood street? Jones changed the speed limit to 15 miles per hour and put up new school zone signs. She planted street trees for beautification and traffic calming—all in accordance with city codes, as she hopes the City of Honolulu will yet take over the street. Jones made a portion of the avenue a yield street: a design in which narrowing to less than two full lanes forces drivers passing each other in opposite directions to slow down and take turns.

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