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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 July 2006, 04:46 GMT 05:46 UK
Neighbours: the case of the Giant Bunny

David Sillito in Bristol
Is traffic stopping you getting to know your neighbours?
The days when you might pop round to neighbour to borrow a cup of sugar - or even marry the girl next door - are long gone.

These days, nearly six people out of ten don't even know their neighbours' names

All this week on Breakfast, David Sillito's looking at how to build stronger neighbourhood ties.

Today, he finds out how traffic has bulldozed our communities - and what can be done:

Ted Dewan is a friendly chap but he discovered recently that he had made someone very angry.

A motorist had crashed his 4 x 4 in to his living room and tried to destroy his sofa.

Outrageous?

Well, Ted had erected his living room in the street. It wasn't blocking the entire street, but it didn't make driving at speed very easy.

It doesn't end there.

Ted Dewan with cardboard "speed camera"
Self-styled "road witch" Ted Dewan

Ted goes out of his way to make driving down Beechcroft Road in Oxford an unpredictable experience.

Some days he wheels a giant wooden bunny in to the street, he's built a fake speed camera, there are socks hanging from a washing line over the road to deter high sided vehicles, all to try to make drivers on this little cut-through slow down and take a bit more care.

His ambition is to make the street a bit more sociable by making it feel less like a typical street which is engineered to allow cars to drive at speed.

More traffic equals fewer friends

His view reflects a famous study by the American Professor, Donald Appleyard, who said that residents of streets with light traffic have, on average, three more friends and twice as many acquaintances as people on streets with heavy traffic.

Ted's creations are certainly eccentric and for motorists a bit alarming but it reflects a growing movement across the world.

A number of traffic engineers are realising that as they make streets safer by fencing off pedestrians, removing visual obstructions, and straightening out bends, they are actually making them easier to speed along.

a giant bunny made of plywood
The giant bunny slows cars down

Attempts to make streets safer could actually be making them more dangerous.

The Government has begun to experiment with these ideas over recent years.

The home zones project changes the design of the street to give pedestrians greater priority in residential neighbourhoods. Cars have to weave through areas of diagonal parking, pavements and roads are built on the same level, and trees and planters are used to create a more relaxed atmosphere.

Five roads, one neighbourhood

In Ealing in West London there is one of the original home zone pilot projects. The Five Roads area has seen a big drop in the amount of through traffic (especially because the road linking them to the nearby supermarket has been blocked off) and some residents say they now know many more people in the neighbourhood.

These schemes can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds if not millions.

Some residents also resent the way the schemes are designed; moving or reducing the number of parking places can cause years of resentment.

There is also the matter of where the traffic that once moved through has now gone.

Some fear they have simply shifted their problems in to other nearby streets. Others said (quietly) that they missed being able to drive quickly around the area, the speed bumps and chicanes were a daily irritant.

And finally, the evidence to see if it has allowed children to be more active and neighbourhoods more sociable is not yet conclusive.

Some residents we spoke to said the initial 'coming together' in the neighbourhood had been caused by the creation of the home zone and that as the years had gone by people had begun to drift off again in to their own private worlds.

But if you happen to be driving around Oxford and notice a rather tatty looking speed camera and a large wooden bunny.....well, you now know what it's all about.

Tomorrow, we'll look at how the internet is building new communities and bringing people closer together.

BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Building neighbourhoods
David Sillito meets the Big Bunny who's taming the traffic in Oxford



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