Paul Fritz

Well played, Sebastopol, California.

It can be hard to get drivers to slow down on local streets. Some places install a roundabout. Others go with speed bumps. The town of Sebastopol, in Northern California, chose to install a 12-foot tall orange tabby that glows in the dark and instills the fear of death into your pedal-pushing soul.

Slow Down Cat, as it’s affectionately known, stands on an old Caltrans trailer that’s been painted lime green and fits into a single parking space. The sculpture, made from recycled material, moves around town from street to street, generally staying in one spot for three days, which is how long its solar charge can light it up at night. It holds a “SLOW” sign in one paw, lack of opposable thumbs notwithstanding, and extends the other outward as if to say: take it easy, friend, or I’ll use your trunk as a litter box.

On balance Slow Down Cat seems like a cross between Japan’s adorable stationmaster cat Nitama and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s enormous robot traffic overloads. Its playfully extended tongue and capricious whiskers are cuddly enough to remind speeding drivers about the vulnerability of life. Meanwhile its gigantic, neon green, feral eyes and huge back claws have the added bonus of perhaps terrifying drunk drivers into sobriety.

Patrick Amiot

Slow Down Cat is the work of local sculptor Patrick Amiot, who pitched the idea after a chat with Sebastopol Police Chief Jeff Weaver. “I asked him, ‘What’s your biggest peeve?’“ he tells CityLab. “He said, ‘If you can slow down the traffic I’d be really happy.’” Here’s Weaver’s take, via the Sonoma West Times and News:

“[I]t takes the edge off of enforcement perception. I was so pleased that Patrick saw the need to help enhance pedestrian and traffic safety and did so in a way to enhance the connectivity between the community and the police department. We’ve already received many, many requests for the Slow Down Sebastopol Cat.”

The traffic kitty has been “deployed,” in Weaver’s parlance, all over town since its debut last spring. Amiot says it tends to stick to residential streets where the speed limit is 25 to 30 miles per hour. In addition to traffic-calming, it has the benefit of rousing a neighborhood’s spirits. “When the cat’s out there’s always people around—there’s interaction,” he says. “My thought is, I was trying to give the street back to the people. In these little towns at night, you don’t see anyone on the street.”​

Some locals would like to see Slow Down Cat stalk even more of the streets. Writing at his blog, Small Town Urbanism, Sebastopol architect Paul Fritz says what the town really needs is “a battalion of Slow Down Cats” placed smack in the middle of the intersection rather than set off to the side of the road. To that end he’s even worked out some renderings of what this purrfect traffic team might look like:

Courtesy Paul Fritz

Fritz also wonders if the very need for Slow Down Cat isn’t a (freakishly large) reminder that Sebastopol streets haven’t been designed with safety as the first priority:

The straight and wide design of the roads in town encourages people to drive fast than the posted speed limit. And we need a traffic calming plan beyond a radar gun, which is the primary means of traffic calming in Sebastopol today. Slow Down Cat is a nice idea, but he needs to be a more widespread presence in order to have a lasting impact. Drivers need constant reminding to keep their speeds down in town. Let’s employ local artists to make more Slow Down fill in the blank and start populating our streets with them.

Fritz’s calls for a new litter of giant domesticated traffic animals may soon be answered. Amiot says the Sebastopol police have asked him to look into making a dog, too. “The problem with a German Shepherd is it’s dark, and brown, almost camouflage,” he says. “The cat’s a no-brainer.”

H/t: Strong Towns

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