Opening Streets for People and Closing them for Cars

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

Awful as it is, the pandemic handed a few favors over to mother nature.

For months, cars were mostly parked. One could cross streets before setting up an appointment with a local priest for last rites.

One could see blue sky in big cities, such as Delhi—and one could hear birds singing where before one heard only vehicles:

Dehli Blue Skies
Blue skies in Dehli (NPR, “With Coronavirus Lockdown, India’s Cities See Clear Blue Skies As Air Pollution Drops,” April 10, 2020)

Much of that return-to-nature is passing, alas.

One change, however, that is likely to persist (likely to succeed), are the streets that have been closed to cars in order to gain space for outdoor dining for cafes and restaurants. Welcome, Low Traffic Neighborhoods (LTNs).

Close to my home is the town of Louisville, Colorado:

Main St. Louisville CO
Main St., Louisville, CO (Colorado Hometown Weekly, April 13, 2021)

According to the article on Louisville, Main Street will be open to (un-endangered) pedestrians and outdoor tables “April 26 through Nov. 1” (similar to the summer of 2020). Let’s take what we can get.

Not so close to my home, opening streets in Scotland is going well:

And, a bit south, in England…

Not only streets with eateries, but streets with schools are being blocked off, often to dozens of SUVs that drive less than a mile to get the kids to and from school. Many kids bike on their own, but they can also relax in a trailer (and let the parents do the work):

It’s no surprise that bikes take care of the school transportation in the Netherlands:

Nor should it be (but it is to me) a surprise about Finland:

And, of course, it’s not only people who need un-endangered transit on streets—this street being again in Nederland:

Incidents #2 (Including the New Commuter Frustration)

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

The New Commuter Frustration

In the previous Incidents #1, I led with a biking fatality. This time I’ll mend my ways and start out on a happier note, wrapping up with a pedestrian fatality. I’m sorry, but as a serious pedestrian (a luxury, I know, although I used to run 8 miles to work…so I’m not fully unqualified to speak)…ahem, as a serious pedestrian, I have a privileged point of view on how the tire and engine noise, size, and sheer mass of cars is disproportionate to the tiny beings they transport, insulating the beings from the true external effects of the vehicles. Ok, said that.

During the first covid19 surge last Spring, birds could be heard in cities, nature began to clap her hands, and self-propelled people breathed a sigh of relief. With this current surge, not so, at all. And, yes, the economy needs lots of people to commute to work and shop.

Happily, a new but different problem has arisen that belies a psychological demand, not an economic one. In a recent article in The Washington Post, we discover that,

Even when Shayne Swift works from home, the high school principal ends her day behind the wheel of her forest-green Jeep Liberty, chatting by phone with family and friends.
But Swift isn’t driving. Usually, she said, she sits parked in her driveway in Northwest Washington — the closest she often gets to something she has dearly missed during the pandemic: her commute.[1]

In the case of Shayne Swift, the psychological need for cars would be on my side. After all, cars are great as mini-houses that are probably safer than a huge home during a lightening storm. In addition, a few good speakers and a good stereo can sound better than much more expensive equipment in a big home.

The rest of the article details how some kind of distance (more temporal than spatial) is genuinely helpful to insulate people from feeling like captives either at home or at work. Walking from one’s bedroom to one’s study and back, along with the need to nurture children, just does not provide a break.

If sitting in one’s driveway is too conspicuous (to the family members), drive halfway around the block or to the neighborhood park. Want to use your cell phone in your car? This is the perfect way. Talk or text away. The American love affair with cars can be consummated safely, inexpensively, and with a small carbon footprint.

Another Obituary Item, Sorry to Report

The web site of the Denver television station KDVR reports that on January 19th, 2021, Chris Baker, 36, was crossing Federal near 70th when he was fatally hit by a car that promptly drove away. Fortunately for the wheels of justice, several people reported the driver’s identity to the police and he was later arrested.[2] The article continues, “The crash was the third hit-and-run on Federal Boulevard since the new year, and the second to turn deadly.”

The article goes on to quote Jill Locantore, who is with Denver Streets Partnership:

We know that this street is dangerous by design, and these deaths are going to continue to happen until we make changes to the street. . . . Every single traffic fatality, it’s not just a number, it’s a person, who had friends and family members who mourn that loss, and it just breaks my heart, because I know we can prevent that hurt from happening in our community.

The good news is that Denver Streets Partnership is a coalition looking out for the self-propelled. May they be blessed in their work.

Chris Baker
36-year old, Chris Baker

 

____Footnotes____

[1] Katherine Shaver, The Washington Post, PUBLISHED: Dec. 31, 2020: Months of pandemic teleworking have left some missing their commutes

[2] Victim identified in deadly Westminster hit-and-run

“Unsafe at Any Speed”—55th Anniversary

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

In 1965, Ralph Nader published Unsafe at Any Speed, the book that tackled the unsafe practices of the auto industry and launched the modern consumer protection movement. This is a short post that recognizes the merits of Nader’s efforts.

Ralph-Nader-1975
Ralph Nader, 1975

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Who is Chris Boardman?

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

For those who follow cycling, the answer is no doubt obvious, just as “Who is Frank Shorter?” would be for a runner.[1] But for me, Chris Boardman is a new-found national treasure, albeit one that belongs to Britain.

Chris Boardman
From the current home page of his web log: https://www.chrisboardman.com

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Incidents #1 (Boulder, Denver)

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

The honeymoon is over: even a pandemic cannot clear the streets for long. I know, I know, it’s a sign that national economies are surviving. But, my, for those who spend most of their time on their feet or on their bikes, the quiet, clear streets were wonderful.

A couple of incidents have come to my attention lately: a bike fatality in Boulder and an apologetic driver in Denver.
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Running While Black

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

This post initially was entitled “Person vs. Two Pickups, a Pistol and a Rifle,” until I saw a Wikipedia page dedicated to “Running while black.” One of its footnotes cites an article, Running while Black: Why we are not all in this together, in which the author, Dewayne R. Stallworth, states something that must haunt many black runners:

As an educated black man who enjoys taking contemplative runs in my neighborhood, I must confess that I leave my home with the thought that I may not return (and this is before Arbery’s killing). I think about my attire — would this shirt cause someone to think I am a burglar.

Jogging as a black person in the US is a thing. Being black imposes new risks on top of the usual difficulties with urban running: effort, breathing bad air, possible sprained ankle, collision with cars….[1] Driving in the US is also a thing. It imposes new risks to the environment, pedestrians, bikers, and animals. Where the two meet in this post is the power differential that automobiles offer. Cars and trucks make it not only easy, but extremely easy to injure nature and society with almost no effort at all.[2]
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Covitality – Signs of Life on Earth Day

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

When Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle, announces his marriage to Hamlet’s mother, he (an incestuous, murderous villain) has the political wherewithal to admit the timing of the wedding wasn’t ideal, since it came “With mirth in funeral, and with dirge in marriage.” So much more must I lament the fact that the mission statement for this web log is being realized around the world. People are driving less so all may live more.

It would be absurd to talk about the silver lining of the present pandemic (or, as several preachers I’ve heard say, the “global pandemic”). The cost is too high and, really, the effects will probably be short lived. Two days ago, a barrel of crude oil was worth negative $35 or so; today you must pay upward of $20 or so for the same barrel. This pandemic too will pass.

In the mean time, however, it is worth pointing out that here on earth (on Earth Day, also) the virus has given us a picture of what the world could look like if people chose to drive less instead being forced by legal mandate to drive less.
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Covidiocy, Covidity, Covitality

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

I was pretty sure I had invented all those words, but that’s not the case. Covidiocy refers to people who make inane statements or perform inane actions relative to covid-19. Covidity refers to having a proclivity toward respecting the guidelines for slowing down the spread of the virus. Covidity has its own Facebook page. Covitality predates covid-19. It is a kind of therapy for adolescents (especially). It phonetically contrasts with co-dependence. In Person vs. Automobile, however, I give it a new meaning.
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Presidential Candidates, Cars, and My Predictions

Mission: To promote driving less so all may live more.

This, I admit, is a quixotic post, in that my critique of the automobile industry touches only tangentially on electoral predictions, but it’s an unlikely union I chose to make. Hopefully, I’ll soon be riding an electric kick scooter so I can finish that short series and forget about politics for a while.

Transportation and the Candidates

It’s becoming likely that Joe Biden will face off with Donald Trump in the November election. Bernie Sanders remains in the picture although it appears the established, moderate Democrats have teamed up against him and settled for Biden. The Libertarian Party holds its primaries toward the end of May, and the Green Party late spring and early summer.[1]
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