Thursday, July 10 2008 @ 05:18 PM UTC
Contributed by: B' Spokes
At the dawn of the automobile age, traffic deaths were considered public, rather than private, losses, says Peter D. Norton, author of "Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City." He says accident deaths were memorialized as were the casualties of World War I or the victims of a flood.
That changed during the 1920s, as the automobile industry encouraged the notion that pedestrian and biker deaths were bound to occur when those unfortunates entered space the nation had assigned to automobiles.
Last night's public memorial for Alice Swanson, 22, who was killed while riding her bicycle to work in Washington on Tuesday morning, countered that thinking. The fatal accident became a public loss in a shared space.
There has been no finding of fault in this accident, which police said occurred north of Dupont Circle at the intersection of 20th and R streets NW when a trash truck turned right onto 20th and into the path of Swanson.
R Street is popular with cyclists, because it has a long bike lane, and bicycle safety advocates responded to the accident.
" 'I didn't see them' is too often accepted as an excuse that results in a small fine or no punishment at all," Eric Gilliland, the executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association, said in a statement. "While we cannot comment on the particulars of this case, we expect the Metropolitan Police Department to conduct a thorough examination of this crash and hold the driver fully responsible if he was at fault."
"We can only hope that everyone will learn to slow down, be aware and share the road," he said.
Gilliland and other safety advocates do far more than hope. They work for progress through engineering, education and enforcement, none of which succeeds by itself, and certainly not without the support of a community diminished by all such losses.