• Jenny Hegland

Recap: A World Cafe about DC street safety engaging bikers, pedestrians, and drivers

Visual recap of our World Cafe gathering focused on street safety in D.C.

How do you show up at the intersection?

We held this question lightly as we created Bridging Perspectives: A Cascading Conversation - a new civic conversation series that brings divergent viewpoints together to explore challenging topics that shape the communities and relationships we live in. Focusing on street safety in our nation’s capital, this question was particularly apropos in the literal and metaphorical sense. In other words, what’s your state of mind as you embark on your daily commute and travel around the city, and how do you share physical street spaces with fellow humans?

With 20 voices joining a world cafe-style conversation for our first gathering, emergent themes included the need to explore intentional spaces for different types of transit. Participants imagined a world in the not-so-distant future where the National Mall might be a motor vehicle free part of the city. With an expected onslaught of congestion and traffic due to anticipated influx of new businesses like Amazon, there is a significant need to help change mindsets and actions that make public transit, biking, and walking the primary ways people get around the District and region. This means a cultural shift must accompany expected physical changes in our region. Such shifts provide communities with the convenience of transit options to help lessen our dependencies on cars. The conversation bridged both literal and figurative worlds. Reflecting deeply on transit mind states – be it aggression, distraction, and vacancy in motion – participants recognized a need for personal responsibility and awareness in the broader conversation about street safety. There are small, conscious acts we can take each day: think twice about walking, biking, or driving and text messaging simultaneously; as a pedestrian, consider waiting the extra 20 seconds before the light changes to avoid a possible collision and don’t assume that drivers see you. These habits require awareness, and a conscious balance between personal needs and communal safety. Too often, we are engrossed in our technology devices that distract and take us away from the present moment, thus impacting how we show up at the intersection. With ever-changing traffic patterns, emergent modes of transit like scooters, and new people moving to the DC metro area, we need to invite and integrate diverse perspectives to design for an inclusive future.

Why do we have conversation as part of public life? One reason may be to identify well-defined solutions to problems. Another reason is to engage with questions that stir imagination, require reflection, and foster a deeper dialogue to better understand our fellow human experiences, especially across difference. After spending some time zooming in and zooming out on the conversation that took place during this gathering, transit turns out to be an apt metaphor for daily living. The conversation further invites an additional set of emergent questions to be explored: Where are similar ideas about transit and community engagement already being discussed and debated? What next steps can help advance our understanding of these ideas and how they can serve our collective interests in street safety? How might we design for an inclusive future?