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‘It might force people to slow down and see what they’re about to drive over’: artist
Dave Hillier has lived on Graves Street his whole life, and he’s fed up with people speeding through the residential area.
“I see them come down on the wrong side of the road going, like, 80 and 90 (km/h), and there’s so many kids over there – it’s only a matter of time and some kid’s going to be killed or really injured. It’s scary.”
It’s a feeling that many residents on the street off Empire Avenue were chatting about on Saturday, and something they’re hoping they can change – with art.
On the corner where the road bends sits Rabbittown Community Centre.
The doors were open on Saturday, and people walked out armed with painter’s tape, paint brushes and chalk – determined to put an end to the speeding.
“We’ve always had an issue here with people speeding, especially around this bend,” said Rabbittown Community Centre executive director Lillian Lush.
“We have a lot of children in this building and within our neighbourhood, so we wanted to put a crosswalk or something in place to slow traffic down.
“So, the city – (Councillor) Maggie Burton in particular – came to us with an idea of possibly doing street art, and we jumped at the idea.”
Stephanie Poirier runs summer programs at the community centre, but she’s also an artist. She created the design that will cover the large stretch of road.
“I used puzzle pieces to represent how we all kind of fit together within a community. The tree represents the community centre and what we can grow from when we all get together, and we have our roots and everyone branches off and has their own special thing.”
Once the tree portion of the design is done, area residents will be invited to put their hand or footprints on the branches so that the prints look like leaves.
“To represent all the handiwork and all the journeys of people we see coming in and out of the community centre,” explained Poirier.
Once completed, she hopes it will look like an optical illusion for drivers.
“I was thinking that if it was something so big and colourful, and also a little bit trippy to look at, it might force people to slow down and see what they’re about to drive over.”
Coun. Maggie Burton told The Telegram via email that the concept has been tried elsewhere, including Montreal.
“We are always looking for creative ways to encourage drivers to be aware of their speeds in residential neighbourhoods,” she wrote.
Coun. Debbie Hanlon said the city would love to see more of these projects. Both councillors believe this is the first such street art traffic calming initiative in St. John's.
Back on Graves Street, Hillier was mopping his deck Saturday morning while Poirier and about 10 other residents worked on the art.
He said most days he has to turn his head away from the street because he’s scared what he might see when drivers speed past playing children.
But on Saturday, he stopped his work to look out at the street, and the community’s efforts, and smiled.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “I hope it works.”