By Roger Rudick, Streets Blog
“This fire engine is narrower, not as long, and has a better turning radius,” said San Francisco Fire Department Chief Joanne Hayes-White. “It’s a beautiful piece of equipment.”
Rivera may have been referring to tensions between SFMTA and the fire department over building parking-protected bike lanes on Upper Market Street and in the Tenderloin. The department, he said, is also looking to buy more versatile aerial ladder trucks to accommodate parking-protected bike lanes and other street safety improvements. “We’re working on a new spec for an aerial ladder truck … a redesigned outrigger system will go from sixteen feet to fourteen feet.”
“Safety is a value and a priority the SFBC and the SFFD share,” said the Bicycle Coalition’s Brian Wiedenmeier, who also spoke at the event. He added that he hopes the truck will help the city “build the safe streets we need.”
... It’s the latest in a series of so-called “zombie walking” laws intended to crack down on the alleged scourge of “distracted walking.”
In any legislation intended to alter behaviour, three questions should be asked. First and foremost: is the issue actually a problem? Second, will the proposed measures actually work to address the issue? Finally, would the measures have any other consequences that should be weighed against the assumed benefits?
So, is distracted walking a pressing issue? Anecdotally, many drivers will tell you it is. But what do the numbers show? We’ve seen a steady rise in distracted driving collisions as mobile phones become more prevalent, so we might expect a similar trend with walking. We’ve plotted both over the last two decades in Ontario:
How did more than 30,000 annual motor vehicle deaths become something that most Americans accept as normal? A new paper by Boston University professor Itai Vardi tries to answer that question.
His work is in a similar vein to University of Virginia professor Peter Norton, whose book Fighting Traffic recounts how the forces of “motordom” reshaped American streets by changing how people thought about cars in the city. Like Norton, Vardi has identified key conceptual frameworks that eventually led people to adopt the “matter-of-fact” tone we use to discuss today’s staggering rate of traffic deaths.
Vardi’s research encompasses historical accounts from media outlets, auto and insurance industry publications, activist groups, and, eventually, federal safety agencies. Here are three big factors that, according to Vardi, shaped the modern American view of traffic violence.
1. Thinking of traffic deaths in terms of fatalities per mile driven
[B' Spokes: If it interesting that MDOT chooses to advertise Maryland's fatality rate per miles driven which is near average but not our fatality rate per capita, which is rather high. But as the article points out it does seem the main point is to give a smaller number so lots of deaths does not seem so bad.]
2. “Saving Lives”
Vardi calls “saving lives” — which is actually part of NHTSA’s motto — “a rhetorical device to meet institutional goals.”
Forecasting future deaths, Vardi writes, also sidesteps the tricky question of what is an acceptable number of deaths.
3. Seatbelts and Drunk Driving
Finally, once highway safety was placed in the hands of “dispassionate” federal agencies, they framed the problem as one of individual mistakes or mechanical failures, rather than systemic flaws. This paradigm was, ironically, advanced by the Ralph Nader-led reforms of the 1960s aimed at car manufacturers, Vardi says.
For example, the top chart, published in 1933 by the Travelers Insurance Company, omits structural contributions to the high rate of traffic deaths — such as street design and poor non-automotive travel options.
To keep our cyclists safe, it may be time to adopt the approach of many European nations by introducing legislation that, in civil cases, presumes that car drivers caused a collision unless there is evidence to the contrary.
Shifting the burden of proof to drivers – who must prove they didn’t cause a crash – has been highly successful in other nations, along with other measures, in keeping cyclists safer and reducing accidents.
Cars generally cause collisions
These results are similar to a Monash University study in which researchers examined camera footage of similar incidents. They found that drivers were responsible for the actions preceding the incident in 87% of cases.
[B' Spokes: My favorite points. If the goal is to prevent the most head injuries then car drivers need to wear a helmet. And if cyclists should wear a helmet then pedestrians even more so. Complete with a chart.]
Licensed transportation engineers are supposed to abide by an ethical code of conduct that places the highest priority on public safety. But if you look outside at the closest street, you’ll probably see the result of engineering decisions that are antithetical to protecting people’s lives.
America has built out a transportation system that places people at much greater risk of death and serious injury than in peer countries around the world. In the last two years, the annual death toll has only escalated. The most vulnerable road users — people getting around without a car — account for a disproportionate share of the carnage.
We built a car culture, we built this myth that all the highways are paid by the users and we can’t use that money for anything else. The Highway Trust Fund — that’s a problem. I think in the 1950s when we didn’t have a highway system, I could see the logic. But it’s not the 1950s any more and we still have 1950s arguments and strategies.
We’re one of the only countries that has dedicated highway spending. In other countries, it’s just general funds, and you have public conversations about how that money is spent.
What I hear over and over [from other engineers] is we have no money to fix this. We don’t have money to maintain traffic signals, we don’t have money to build sidewalks. It’s a ridiculous statement on its face because we have billions of dollars but we just don’t spend it on those things.
[B' Spokes: I'll note we do NOT have a system for getting cheap or economical things built, our system is only for the most expensive of the expensive.]
After I arrived at my destination and the adrenaline cooled, a thought I’ve had for the last few months, came bubbling up to the top:
The vast difference in driver education and biking/pedestrian education is what causes this rift between modes.
And the sad reality of it all is that you’re not likely to care about another mode (especially if you don’t use it yourself), until someone you know is injured or worse.
So What Can We Do?
A lot of things, actually.
1. Equal Education
2. Change Safety Messaging
[B' Spokes: MD's Street Smart ad campaign is an example of what NOT to do.]
3. On-Demand Education for On-Demand Services
[B' Spokes: Profesional drivers (for Uber to name one) need more professional training than your run of the mill driver who does limited routes for a limited time.]
For cars, it seems the media has been pushing "it was just an accident" over "it was a crash and somebody did something wrong." No teachable moment for drivers, ever. And it seems they launched the next phase "the driver of the car seems to be little more than a witness" with the implied the driver is not at fault for the outcome. Read the article on Treehugger:
Traffic safety, it would seem, is in the eye of the beholder.
Alberta rolled out a new traffic safety campaign this month, featuring a pair of eyes above the tagline “The most advanced technology in pedestrian safety: It’s safer to walk when eyes lock.”
But Kyle Mathewson, a vision scientist and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Alberta, took to Twitter to criticize the new advertising this week, arguing it's not only ineffective but also blames the pedestrian for collisions.
[B' Spokes: This story is important for two reasons, it is becoming increasingly obvious that those "professionals" in the safety field are just making things up, with no basis for their claims. Next, making eye contact is just says "I'll do the right thing" for the driver that means the ped will yield and for the ped it means the driver will yield. Obviously, that's not going to work, without a reaffirmation that it is the duty for drivers to stop for pedestrians the car-centric media will continue to victim blame pedestrians like somehow it makes more sense that pedestrians should jump out of the way of speeding cars than two tons of machine act with some courtesy on our public streets.]
On sister site MNN.com I recently wondered Why are so many people dying on our roads? I was concentrating on how the number of people killed inside cars was going down (because cars are much better at saving the lives of occupants now), while the numbers of people killed outside cars was going up (because more people are driving, and they are in deadly SUVs and pickups).
But when I got to the bottom of the post, I found some astonishing statistics that merited another post of its own on TreeHugger. An amazing 83 percent of fatalities are directly attributable to three choices that drivers make: to drive too fast, to drive drunk, or to drive without doing up their seatbelts. Basically, to be stupid and do stupid things.
[B' Spokes: I'll note you really can't add up those categories because there are some people who do stupid on top of stupid and there are even some that do stupid on top of stupid on top of stupid, that is to say, we don't know how many are drunk without seatbelts and speeding that caused a fatality, either there own or someone else's.