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.

Any one of these links provide a glimpse at what the world could look like over time if the practice of minimal driving (and less industrialization) were retained long after the face masks were doffed.

The hope for environmentalists is that this transient clear air and water will whet the taste of communities to maintain the change. One practical step being considered is giving preference to green technologies for business bailouts. Meanwhile, like the mirth in funeral and dirge in marriage, environmental regulations are being rolled back to keep highly polluting companies alive. Hamlet is a tragedy in the end, and I hope we don’t stick to the script we’ve been following for the last 70 years.

Happy birthday to all those born on Earth Day!

Man vs. Motorcycle

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

Collision

My friend Charles visited Spain in 2016. On the evening of September 14th, he and his friend Robert were walking through Bilbao. They were in a densely packed area, crossing a cobblestone street. Robert was walking a few feet ahead. Suddenly, he saw a body come over his head and fall in front of him. It was Charles.

That’s what the motorcycle did. Hitting Charles, it launched in him the air with the result that he landed on his head.

Charles after traumatic brain injury.

Rushed to the hospital, he was diagnosed a traumatic brain injury (TBI). That was his diagnosis, but he doesn’t remember it. Few with that diagnosis remember much at the time. He lost about a month of his life as a result. He wasn’t in a coma. He could converse, but could not remember. His brain had bled in several spots, with the result, perhaps, that it had more important matters to attend to than to simply remember.

Medical Care

He was in the hospital in Bilbao for a little over a week, as best as he can tell. His wife flew to Spain to be with him. Finally, he was put on a medical jet and flown to Tulsa, to St. John Medical Center, a fitting choice not only because of its trauma center, but because he had been president of that organization until a few years earlier.

After about a week at St. John, Charles was sent to Craig Hospital in Denver, a renowned rehabilitation center. A team of specialists created a care plan for him, and he began speech, occupational, and physical therapy. In addition, he began eating eagerly after having lost significant weight over the past few weeks.

Part of his therapy provided him with an address nearby the hospital. The therapist would then walk with him, testing whether or not he could locate the address. He found this exercise useful, not only for the exercise and the proof-of-recovery, but because a small Italian restaurant caught his eye.

A few evenings later, he eloped, leaving without medical approval, and walked to the Italian restaurant. Treating himself to a steak dinner and a few beers, he was finally enjoying life again—that is, until his wife called from Oklahoma asking him where he was. Soon, Craig sent a male charge nurse to the restaurant to fetch Charles. A cooperative suspect, he returned to rehabilitation center.

The next day his physician, with whom he had already experienced some friction, was visibly upset with him, unable to accept the fact that the adventure had a happy outcome and wouldn’t happen again.

After about three weeks, Charles was discharged and returned to home in Tulsa.

Recovered

In March of 2017, I visited Charles for a few days. Nothing in his appearance, speech, or personality betrayed the fact that he had nearly lost all those attributes. He was, in short, a fully recovered person, something he remains grateful for (as do I).

Charles in front of the Guggenheim museum at Bilbao, Spain. This was of course before the accident, but it’s how he looks today (minus the museum).

During my visit he received a letter from the attorney (we’ll call him Rafael) of the motorcyclist (we’ll call him Javier). It included a handsome check to remunerate Charles for his injuries. Oh, no! That wasn’t a check. It was a bill for 6,079 euros (about $7,300). It included damage to the motorcycle and some kind of 52-euro-per-day disability pay to the cyclist.

Letter from Spanish attorney.
Letter from Spanish attorney.

Of course, collecting the money after nearly killing a pedestrian is a difficult task. So difficult that later the attorney made a second attempt to coerce Charles into action, but, alas, he remains immovable in this respect.

What We Learn

As dangerous as it is to be a pedestrian in the United States, it is often more dangerous in other countries. In California the pedestrian has the right of way both in a marked crosswalk and an unmarked intersection.[1] Other states may not be as generous to pedestrians but they generally side with the pedestrian who is run over (vehicular homicide). By contrast, in Spain the pedestrian is subordinate to automobiles. Not only must the pedestrian be in a crosswalk with the light signalling an approved crossing, but the pedestrian must gesture to drivers that the pedestrian intends to make a crossing.[2]

Outside of Spain, things become even more precarious for the pedestrian. I was walking around downtown Denver with a friend from Costa Rica, ranting (mildly) about the traffic. He cautioned me, saying that if I stepped off the curb in Costa Rica as I had just done in Denver, no one would stop, not even after they hit me. I’m not sure how accurate his account is, but I do not plan to put it to the test.

 

____Footnotes____

[1] “Do Pedestrians Really Have the Right of Way in California?”

[2] “Walking the streets of Spain”

Driving with a Distracted Mind

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

Smart phone usage prompts this post. Nearly every driver knows the dangers, but not every driver feels the dangers. Hence the advantage of being a pedestrian. Frankly I’m surprised there are not more car-to-car, car-to-bike, and car-to-pedestrian collisions. The human body and mind are wonderfully made.

The underlying problem is of course distraction. Drivers were instructed to “keep your eyes on the road” long before the mobile phone. But somehow people like myself hone in on texting and map reading as the biggest threat.

Tommy, Can You See Me?

One comedian says he feels safer with intoxicated drivers on the road than around texting drivers. At least with the intoxicated driver, he pleads, there’s someone driving.

I know what he means—as does a Utah study that suggests people using cell phones had a slower reaction time than drunk drivers.[1]

The graph below suggests the increase of iPhones and the increase of pedestrians killed by cars are related:

iPhone usage and pedestrian deaths increase together
(from https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-future-97db92c4-0aaa-4aa3-9fa8-263e28492fcd.html#story1)
(Click here for the embedded web page with its additional commentary on the role of SUVs )

Approximately 6 additional pedestrian deaths of every 100 result from smart phones. The statistic probably cuts both ways: surely pedestrians are distracted from cars while they focus on their mobile device.

A bus driver recently told me (adamantly) that mobile phones should be automatically shut off in automobiles. His opinion gains authority from his eagle-eye view and exposure to driving habits. That, my friendly driver, will never happen. What is less unlikely is for governments to require smart phone screens to go black when in visible proximity of a driver.[2] Yes, there would be an emergency override for…uh…emergencies.[3]

Tommy, Can You Hear Me?

Unfortunately, turning off smart phone screens near drivers would be insufficient. Sound, also, should be turned off.

Here’s a chilling account of an accident that appeared to be caused purely by audial, not visual, distraction:

In January 2004, at 4:00 p.m., in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a 20-year- old woman ran a red light while talking on a cell phone. The driver’s vehicle slammed into another vehicle crossing with the green light directly in front of her. The vehicle she hit was not the first car through the intersection, it was the third or fourth. The police investigation determined the driver never touched her brakes and was traveling 48 mph when she hit the other vehicle. The crash cost the life of a 12-year-old boy. Witnesses told investigators that the driver was not looking down, not dialing the phone, or texting. She was observed looking straight out the windshield talking on her cell phone as she sped past four cars and a school bus stopped in the other south bound lane of traffic.[4]

Studies show that hands-free driving makes no statistical difference in the number of accidents. The same appears to apply to hands-free texting.

A writer in Scientific American believed that voice-controlled texting (like hands-free driving) would be significantly safer than manual texting. He recanted. Then he reconsidered, but ultimately conceded that even voice-controlled texting is too dangerous to perform. His conclusions were based on a 2013 study from Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

Can You Feel Me Near You?

The root problem lies in the mind. One can have his or her eyes on the road, one ear open, and still, if involved in any other task beside driving, be more likely to hit somebody or something. A study produced by the AAA and referred to in a Nightline clip claimed that the biggest crash-related distraction occurs when drivers talk to someone else in the car.

Oooh, Tommy

Here’s the clip from Nightline. Might be more compelling if the driver crashed while talking to the expert about the dangers of talking while driving (because, while the driver keeps her eyes on the road, several studies suggest it’s the mental distraction—not the visual—that is most dangerous). (Viewer caution: After the first few seconds the video gets unnecessarily depressing—unlike my posts!)

 

____Footnotes____

[1] Found in a section called “Driving risks of hands-free and handheld cell phones” of the National Safety Council publication, Cell Phone Policy Kit. The study is cited on page 19 (using the PDF numbering, not the footer numbering).

[2] Obviously the facial recognition capabilities of smart phones bring the technology right to the doorstep of this dictum: driver looks at the phone, it scans his/her face, detects eye contact, turns off screen.

[3] The override would be similar to pushing my iPhone SE’s “on” button five times. It gives 3 options:

[4] Found in a white paper called “Understanding the distracted brain” of the National Safety Council publication, Cell Phone Policy Kit. The study is cited on page 10 (using the PDF numbering, not the footer numbering).

Hit! or Hit and Run? (Denver-Boulder Reports)

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

Crossing the street should not be a death sentence. (Richard Retting, quoted in Denver Streetsblog)

I am capable of hitting a pedestrian or bicyclist or wheelchair in a crosswalk. I am capable of driving away, hoping I’m unnoticed. Both those events are unlikely, but I am capable. Whether as a victim or a victimizer, I can always say, “That could’ve been me.”

Bicycle-car accident
(from Serbian Wikipedia) Bicycle-car accident; cycler driving on a priority road hit by a car which didn’t stop at STOP sign. Photo by Petar Milošević. Bike was being ridden by Petar Milošević before the photograph was taken. He wrote to me that after this event he bought a bike helment in preparation for the next time he was hit by a car. That time arrived, and he, again, survived.

Hit

About a week ago (July 25), approximately a half mile north of Washington Park in Denver, a woman, Alexis Bounds, was hit by a vehicle while riding her bicycle. She was taken to the hospital, but died. According to one source (KDVR), “The driver of the car, David Anton, was allegedly driving roughly 20 mph when he made a right turn and failed to yield to the cyclist, who was riding in a designated bike lane.” The driver was cited with “careless driving resulting in death,” which carries with it a penalty of 12 points, resulting in losing one’s driving license.

The “car” was a dump truck or garbage truck (reports vary). The victim was a mother of two young children, one of them a new born. The mother had taken a break from biking while she had been pregnant. This was her first day back on a bike, and she rode to Washington Park (Denver Post).

A witness at the scene, quoted in another source (the DenverChannel), said, “We tore our shirts off and tried to rip them up and start some tourniquets . . . and just comforted her and tried to keep her conscious until the fire and paramedics could get there.” A bicyclist, Joshua Garrity, was interviewed about the street where the woman was hit. While he normally “feels safe” in that area, he aknowledged “‘That could have been me.'”

Hit and Run

A few days before the Denver fatality, an experienced bicyclist, “Andrew ‘Bernie’ Bernstein, 34, was biking west on the right shoulder of Arapahoe Road near Legion Park [in Boulder] between 4:30 and 5 p.m. July 20 when he was hit from behind by a vehicle” (Daily Camera, Aug. 1, 2019). He was reported as being critically injured but stable. The police now believe they have a photograph of the vehicle that hit Bernstein without stopping after the accident. Bernstein’s brother said the bicycle “was snapped in half,” making it hard “to believe the driver did not realize they had hit someone.”

A Hit and Run makes the drivers who stop after hitting a victim appear virtuous. And they are in that respect. I assume that many hit and runs result from drivers who are intoxicated, high, or otherwise likely to find the charges against them compounded if they are interviewed by the police.

How Frequent?

I have a friend who recently remarked that a climber falls fatally from the Flatirons above Boulder every other week. While that’s clearly not the case,[1] a biker or a pedestrian in the Denver area gets hit by a car every day on average, and one of the victims gets hit fatally about every other week.

According to a February 2016 report on bicycle accidents published by Denver Public Works, in 2012 there were 322 crashes (p. 6). A crash is defined as an accident involving a fatality or more than $1,000 in damages. That is nearly one serious collision between a motor vehicle and a bicycle each day in the Denver area.

Between 2008 and 2012, only four collisions resulted in fatalities (two of those being hit-and-run events), putting Denver at that time among the safer cities for fatalities (p.6). However, that number has risen drastically. “The recent deaths continue a terrible pattern. In 2018, Denver counted six bicyclist deaths….” (“‘Stop killing us’: After a deadly month, Denver cyclists will swarm streets”.

A parallel report focuses on pedestrians involved in collisions with motor vehicles. It uses the same criteria (death or over $1,000 in damages) (Pedestrian Crash Analysis, October 2017). In 2012 there were 215 collisions, 23 of which were fatal.

Ghost Bike

When a fatality or critical injury results from an accident between a bicycle and a motorized vehicle, a “ghost bike” is put at the scene of the accident as a reminder that a life was lost or severely damaged by the incident:
Ghostcycle-2005
One of my coworkers was killed when a truck hit his bike on Valmont Road (Boulder). When I visited the intersection, a ghost bike was there. Once you’ve seen a white bike in that context, you never want to see another.

 

____Footnotes____

[1] I did a cursory search for climbing deaths in Boulder County and found only two for this year: one at Boulder Falls and one in Eldorado. The Eldorado climber was free soloing. Most climbing deaths result from free soloing (we cannot all be Alex Honnold, nor should we be) and scrambling (“hey, I’m out hiking but I think I could climb that…”). Concerning the Flatirons, there was a non-fatal fall this year. You can watch a video from this climber who had his camera on when he fell (while scrambling).

Best Cars to Get Hit By as a Pedestrian

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

Today, we start with a quiz. What do these cars have in common?

  • Mazda CX-3
  • Volvo V40
  • Infiniti Q30
  • BMW Z4
  • Mazda MX-5

If you said they are the best cars for pedestrians to get hit by, you are fully woke.[1]

Why? According to an article in CarBuzz (by Jared Rosenholtz), they have better braking and, more importantly, are generally low to the ground.[2] The Europeans enforce things like this.

If they do hit you, they are more likely to scoop you off the ground and slide you over the hood (and the windshield, depending on the speed). If there’s any merit in it, they are nice looking cars, which, I suppose, is like looking down the barrel of a beautiful gun.

  • Mazda CX-3
    2017 Mazda CX-3 Sport NAV Automatic 2.0 Front

  • Volvo V40
    This comes with a pedestrian airbag! Skeptical? Read Volvo’s explanation.
    2013 Volvo V40 (MY13) T4 Kinetic hatchback (2015-12-07) 01

  • Infiniti Q30
    2017 Infiniti Q30 SE Diesel 1.5 Front

  • BMW Z4
    BMW Z4, Paris Motor Show 2018, Paris (1Y7A1387)

  • Mazda MX-5
    2015 Mazda MX-5 (ND) Roadster GT convertible (2018-10-30) 01

More importantly, here are some cars you do not want to get hit by, ever! They include any vehicle that’s likely to run over, not under you. And, of course, children are at greater risk.

SUV
BMW X2 Genf 2018

Pickup Truck
Dodge Ram

Vehicles with Bull Bars
Ostensibly mounted to protect the vehicle, these bars only worsen the chances of a pedestrian or bicyclist surviving a collision.[3]
Oregon State Police car

Bull bar roo bar on b double

1976 Volkswagen Kombi (T2) (40107027615)

That’s all for now, folks! Stay well!

 

____Footnotes____

[1] To my daughter in southern Colorado I owe the use of this word, which spoken about a dozen times sounds fine, assuring me that I am finally staying woke. For a little history, see merriam-webster.com.

[2] “These are the Six Best Cars to Get Runover By,” by Jared Rosenholtz, in Carbuzz. While the title states six cars, the article lists only five, the sixth perhaps being the Mini Cooper that is pictured with a crash-test dummy in front of it.

[3] According to “Should Law Subsidize Driving?”, “[A]ftermarket apparatuses such as bull bars—large metal bars added increasingly to the front of police cars, ostensibly to reduce damage to the police vehicle—are not regulated by U.S. law, even though they effectively defeat certain measures required by regulation. Researchers have concluded that bull bars ‘increase the severity of injuries to vulnerable road users’ and ‘result in an increased risk of pedestrian injury and mortality in crashes'” (p. 65, June 2019 version).

Good News for Pedestrians and Bicyclists

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

Below are some recent events that chip away at the disproportionate role of the automobile in Western society (and, technologically, almost all society is Western).

  • Everywhere: Protected bicycle lanes make even automobile drivers safer
  • Colorado: New legislation increases penalty for drivers who hit vulnerable individuals
  • Spain: People protest automobile pollution in Madrid

Protected Bike Lanes

As reported in “CU Denver Today” an extensive study recently concludes that adding protective bike lanes (i.e. lanes with a physical barrier, not just paint) to city streets not only makes the bicyclists safer but all the drivers safer.[1]

The study points out that it is not an increase in bicyclists but apparently  an increase in non-negotiable structures, such as protective bike lanes, that makes drivers more careful. One thing this conclusion means is that cities should build the protective lanes before waiting for an increase in bicycles (and bicyclist fatalities), knowing that the lanes will benefit everyone on the road from the outset.

The embedded video in the article deserves viewing, not only for being informative but for its animated sketching (3 1/2 minutes).


New Colorado Law Should Concern Careless Drivers

Recent legislation in Colorado (Senate Bill 19-175) adds consequences to drivers who hit vulnerable individuals (including pedestrians, bicyclists, and those in wheelchairs). According to a summary in Streetsblog, Denver, prior to the legislation, “drivers could severely injure someone in a crash and receive just a four-point penalty on their license. If the driver had a clean record, they could have caused injuries in three more crashes before having their license revoked under the state’s 12-point system.” (This is alarming.)

Under the bill signed into law May 29, 2019, “[n]ow, such an offense is a class-one traffic misdemeanor that could result in a license suspension, paying restitution to the victim and other penalties.”

Protests Against Relaxed Law in Madrid

As many of us recognize, for several years the United States has been rolling back regulations against pollution (“83 Environmental Rules Being Rolled Back Under Trump” New York Times). Against similar moves, many citizens in Madrid are currently resisting their newly-elected mayor’s recent rollback of a law that protected central Madrid from excessive pollution.

They are protesting during a historic heat wave in Spain. While spontaneously igniting chicken manure is not altogether uncommon, it does suggest temperatures that would make an outdoor protest uncomfortable.

Madrid Protests
Madrid Protests (from a video on the BBC website, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-48814970)

 

____Footnotes____

[1] While I’ve provided a link to a December 2018 version of the study, a paywalled version bears a 2019 date, although I found no obvious differences when comparing a few sections.

The Legal Bias Against Pedestrians and Bikes (Part 2 of 2)

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

When I discuss the American (and increasingly global) dependency on automobiles, some people with a politically conservative bend respond by saying that the problem is a result of personal irresponsibility, no more.[1]

I was raised to think this way, to think individualistically. So I get it.

However, over time, I realize that done exclusively, this thinking allows conniving and greedy organizations (or their leaders) to move invisibly through the world, exploiting freedom by limiting the range of choices that occur to individuals. As a result of such organizations, even if one’s moral fabric permitted him or her to resist pernicious trends, the very idea of resisting may never enter one’s mind. The gains of corporate and political greed are usually won upstream, with whispers in back rooms, such as, What they don’t know won’t hurt us, and, I don’t care who they vote for as long as I choose the candidates.

This is the second of two posts that highlight points made by Gregory H. Shill’s nonpareil paper, “Should Law Subsidize Driving?”.[2][3] One achievement of his article is that it should forever banish from discussion the notion that auto-abuse is a purely personal, individualized problem. While the legal system is not the main institutional driver, it has developed a protective umbrella, shading the automotive industry from scrutiny and scandal.

“Should Law Subsidize Driving?” would require dozens of Person vs. Automobile posts were they to cover all the article’s important points. Why not instead urge readers to read or browse the article itself? Be so urged.

What follows in this post is a lightly annotated reproduction of the article’s abstract.[4] Although “abstract” may sound dry, this one—along with the article itself—resounds with powerful indictments against the systematic suppression of human locomotion in the service of motorized vehicles.

Abstract

A century ago, captains of industry and their allies in government launched a social experiment in urban America: the abandonment of mass transit in favor of a new personal technology, the private automobile. Decades of investment in this shift have created a car-centric landscape with Dickensian consequences.

(Comment) A “car-centric landscape,” while descriptive, is also oxymoronic, since the cars obfuscate and suffocate the land itself. “Dickensian” is ambiguous, but in this context, I think of something so widespread that it is unstoppable no matter the cost to human life (think of the French revolution in Tale of Two Cities) or something absurd (like Ms. Haversham in Great Expectations, who insists on perpetuating the past, long after its relevance fades).

In the United States, motor vehicles are now the leading killer of children and the top producer of greenhouse gases. They rack up trillions of dollars in direct and indirect costs annually, and the most vulnerable—the elderly, the poor, people of color or with disabilities—pay the steepest price. The appeal of cars’ convenience and the lack of meaningful alternatives has created a public health catastrophe.

(Comment) Any one of these sentences should give one pause before slipping behind the steering wheel habitually. Taken together, they outline a burgeoning crisis. It may not destroy you, but it could easily destroy someone you know, and many you do not know living generations away.

Many of the automobile’s social costs originate in the individual preferences of consumers, but an overlooked amount is encouraged—indeed enforced—by law. Yes, the U.S. is car-dependent by choice. But it is also car-dependent by law.

This Article conceptualizes this problem, and offers a way out. It begins by identifying a submerged, disconnected system of rules that furnish indirect yet extravagant subsidies to driving. These subsidies lower the price of driving by comprehensively reassigning its costs to non-drivers and society at large. They are found in every field of law, from traffic law to land use regulation to tax, tort, and environmental law. Law’s role is not primary, and at times it is even constructive. But where it is destructive, it is uniquely so: law not only inflames a public health emergency but legitimizes it, ensuring its continued dominance.

(Comment) The first step to freeing ourselves from the dehumanization of over-dependence on technology is to recognize it’s a problem. The second step is to realize the existing norms are governed neither by nature nor God but are malleable and need not be the way they are. The third step is to look beyond the obvious causes of overuse to the unseen structures that maintain, propagate, and legitimize the system.

The Article urges a teardown of this regime. It also calls for a basic reorientation of relevant law towards consensus social priorities, such as health, prosperity, and equity.

(Comment) Thank you, Mr. Shill, for the enlightening paper that goes beyond critique to prescription, from theory to practice.

The upcoming post… just in: the upcoming post is a wonderful apology from a driver to an anonymous bicyclist; the following post will provide an example from the state of Colorado where “law [is finally working] towards consensus social priorities, such as health, prosperity, and equity.”

 

____Footnotes____

[1] The converse, of course, also occurs: some people believe the problem is entirely systemic (political and commercial), giving the individual no other choice than to participate. It strikes me as obvious that the responsibilities are mutual. If individuals resisted commercial schemes, they would fail (one problem being that it is usually decades after the schemes have succeeded that their drawbacks become salient); if corporations and their lobbyists did not mold the infrastructure to encourage dependency on the automobile, individuals would never find it so hard to resist and break away from the practices.

[2] Gregory Shill is an associate professor at the University of Iowa College of Law. Shill’s (must-read) paper, “Should Law Subsidize Driving?” is posted on SSRN (Social Science Research Network), “an open-access online preprint community providing valuable services to leading academic schools and government institutions.” This paper is an electronic version of a forthcoming paper for New York University Law Review. (The page numbers that I cite correspond those in the full-text PDF version.)

[3] Shill’s paper has already been summarized nicely in the article, “How Driving is Encouraged and Subsidized — By Law,” by Angie Schmitt (March 6, 2019). The summary covers the following main points:

  1. Traffic Laws Soft-Peddle Very Dangerous Behavior
  2. Land Use Laws Favor Sprawl
  3. Legal Parking Requirements Subsidize Driving
  4. Emissions Laws Exempt ‘Light Trucks’
  5. Emissions Laws Ignore the Environmental Costs of Roadbuilding
  6. Vehicle Safety Regulations Ignore Pedestrians
  7. Vehicle Safety Regulations Allow Unsafe Aftermarket Vehicle Modifications
  8. Insurance Law Limits Payouts to Pedestrians
  9. Tax Law Subsidizes Sprawl
  10. Tort Law Protects Dangerous Drivers
  11. Contract Law Freezes Out Pedestrians
  12. Criminal Law Rarely Punishes Dangerous Drivers

[4] I am using the March, 2019 version. Mr. Shill continues to refine the paper (making it shorter).

The Legal Bias Against Pedestrians and Bikes (Part 1 of 2)

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

This is the first of two posts that highlight points made by Gregory H. Shill, University of Iowa College of Law, in his paper, “Should Law Subsidize Driving?”.[1]

Shill’s eminently readable, 76-page paper has already been summarized nicely in the article, “How Driving is Encouraged and Subsidized — By Law,” by Angie Schmitt (March 6, 2019).[2]

All in all, Shill’s paper provides a damning case regarding the US dependence on a transportation system that militates against individuals who attempt locomotion without polluting the environment or putting others at risk. Often these individuals, as history has it, are poor, young, and brown or black. Laws have (at times unwittingly) been constructed to protect those who need the protection the least and to threaten those who need protection the most. “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

Language: Today’s post touches on the ways in which language masks the realities behind the automobile complex (or “motordom” as the conglomerate chose to name itself). The law article highlights the following tendentious words. It prefaces them by reminding the reader that between 1910 and 1920 as automobiles were introduced, the streets were regarded as public areas, useful for walking on, standing on, playing on, and dancing on. Cars were the intruders. Vermont once had a law requiring cars to be escorted by a pedestrian waving a red flag (21), a course of action no doubt doomed to die but nevertheless signifying the initial recognition that cars were a menace to life.

Accident—we have naturalized the use of “accident” in relation to automobiles. As long as something is considered an accident the driver (in this case) is implicitly exonerated. Events outside of the driver’s control are assumed to be at work. Causality between driving a car and eventual bloodshed is effaced. And, no doubt, some vehicle malfunctions render the driver innocent and impotent to intervene. Often though the collision (or execution, depending on how far we want to travel down the road of responsibility) results from human error. Sometimes, human error is a moral error, when rage replaces sound judgment, and the vehicle is no longer a car but a weapon.

To highlight the inconsistencies inherent in these “accidents,” the paper asserts “The uneven distribution of motor vehicle casualties casts the use of ‘accident’ in even sharper relief. Wheelchair users have a 36 percent higher chance of being killed by motorists versus the overall population, and for male wheelchair users aged 50 to 64 the figure is 75 percent” (22).

Park—to park a car or use a parking lot seems to my untrained ears to be an inevitable use of that four-letter word p-a-r-k. Never did I question its origins, but, happily, the author did. “Park” has all the connotations of a natural space designated for recreation and rest. But that changed drastically, as Shill writes,

Prior to the invention of the car, the verb “park” meant “a. to plant a tree or spread a patch of turf or flowers,” or “b. to create a little patch of parkland” [citing Christopher Gray, Streetscapes/Cars: When Streets Were Vehicles for Traffic, Not Parking, N.Y. TIMES, Mar. 17, 1996] and municipal “parking” agencies were originally charged with creating and maintaining parkland. (23)

For etymological nostalgia, next time you are walking across a massive block of asphalt and painted lines, imagine the newly “parked” trees surrounding you and smell the roses!

Jaywalking—Shill remarks that this is, “perhaps most insidious of all” (29, March, 2919 version). Not only does it prevent streets from being used by the public at large and not instead exclusively by mechanical vehicles, it denigrates the pedestrian, as Shill’s nuanced account illustrates:

“A ‘jay’ was a hayseed, out of place in the city.” Then coupled with “walker,” “a ‘jaywalker’ was someone who did not know how to walk in a city”; the closest epithetic analogy today might be “hick” or “redneck,” with all the elitism and classism of those terms. While jaywalking originally referred to “pedestrians who obstructed the path of other pedestrians,” motorists quickly appropriated the term and in the popular parlance “jaywalkers” soon came to mean “pedestrians oblivious to the danger of city motor traffic” [citing Peter D. Norton, Fighting Traffic: the Dawn of The Motor Age in the American City (2008)]. The usage of “jaywalking” developed in part organically, but was drawn from the streets into the political sphere by organized interests. (24)

While the experienced runner and walker know that in many cases jaywalking is safer than crossing at busy, ill-regulated intersections, the language and laws often blur the edges of reality to stylize these bipeds as obstructions to—rather than models of—good transportation.

 

____Footnotes____

[1] Shill’s paper is posted on SSRN (Social Science Research Network), “an open-access online preprint community providing valuable services to leading academic schools and government institutions.” This paper is an electronic version of a forthcoming paper for New York University Law Review. (The page numbers that I cite correspond those in the June, 2019 full-text PDF version.)

[2] The summary covers the following main points:

  1. Traffic Laws Soft-Peddle Very Dangerous Behavior
  2. Land Use Laws Favor Sprawl
  3. Legal Parking Requirements Subsidize Driving
  4. Emissions Laws Exempt ‘Light Trucks’
  5. Emissions Laws Ignore the Environmental Costs of Roadbuilding
  6. Vehicle Safety Regulations Ignore Pedestrians
  7. Vehicle Safety Regulations Allow Unsafe Aftermarket Vehicle Modifications
  8. Insurance Law Limits Payouts to Pedestrians
  9. Tax Law Subsidizes Sprawl
  10. Tort Law Protects Dangerous Drivers
  11. Contract Law Freezes Out Pedestrians
  12. Criminal Law Rarely Punishes Dangerous Drivers

Person Meets Police

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

This is “person meets police” not “person vs. police,” please note.

Tuesday, April 2, I discovered late in the morning that I had a business meeting in Denver. The only bus that would get me there on time is the “LD2,” a regional bus that happens to skip my home town. So I decided to run out to highway 287 to catch it, which isn’t a big deal or a long run (about a mile), except that there was no bus stop where I expected one.

So I began to run south along the wide-shouldered highway toward the real bus stop, a mile away. Meanwhile, time was running out, so when cars came by, I turned around and stuck out my thumb, hoping someone would give me a short ride to the next stop.

Nada.

When the bus approached, I held out my iPhone, attempting to show that I had just purchased the $10.50 all-day pass and that the driver should make an exception and pick me up. We had a friendly hand-gesture conversation as he passed, with me beckoning him to stop and him protesting.

Soon I was at the real bus stop but no more buses were coming for hours, so I turned around to go home. Just then, two big, black Lafayette police SUVs pulled over to the shoulder. One with lights stopped behind me. One without lights stopped right in front of me.

Knowing I had done nothing illegal, I proceeded to walk past the one in front of me, and as I did, the Officer (Todd) asked if I was all right. I explained the situation.

He paused for a moment, and then said, “I can take you as far as the Broomfield Park-n-Ride.” That was a great option, since frequent regional buses stop there.

As I was about to get in the SUV, the other officer approached and asked Todd if he had searched me. It was awkward—Todd was about to help me and the other officer wanted to go by the book (I assume). I pulled out my cell phone and my running headlamp (I guess I was prepared for a long day), and Todd said, “Fine. Hop in.”

And so we drove:

Sitting in the back seat of the police SUV
From the back seat of the police SUV en route to the park-n-ride

Todd[1] dropped me off and within a few minutes I was on the bus. When I arrived at the meeting a half hour late, the business owner asked, “So did you take the bus?” And I replied, “You mean after the police car?”

From the point of view of this web site, Person vs. Auto, my wish is this, that the person or people who called the police to alert them to the presence of a pedestrian on highway 287—that instead of calling the police, one of them would have stopped and given me the short ride to the bus stop. But I understand. We live in a culture of fear, people fear strangers even though most violence occurs among acquaintances, people feel helpless to help, and so they call professionals. It just seemed like a lot of commotion over nothing to me.

 

____Footnotes____

[1] I looked up “Todd” on the Lafayette Police web site in order to verify the spelling, but couldn’t see him listed. An officer by that name was, however, part of a recent story that involved receiving a call that led to the rescue of a dog from Waneka Lake.


Next post is the promised “Driving Less in a Public Transportation Desert,” a guest post from Marc Syrene, who converts his cars to use the diesel that he makes.

 

Animal versus Automobile

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

The Clash Between Nature and Technology

This post could be called “Roadkill,” a word firmly established in the tradition of automobiles and pickup trucks triumphing over nature, inadvertently (one hopes). The unnecessary death of animals has a staggering incidence—those creatures being unable to litigate for themselves or their relatives.

Kudos to my friend Anton O., who frequently would pick up fresh roadkill (resulting from other drivers) and take it home for dinner. He had a keen sense of what qualified as “fresh.” Kudos to his wife, Anne, for marrying him.

Most of us have personal stories of this sort. Once as I was driving down Sugarloaf Road, knowing I was speeding, I hit a squirrel, no doubt killing it and leaving me with speeder’s guilt. While that might sound trivial, it was anything but to the squirrel. Multiply that story by the millions (of yearly small-animal collisions) and you have the beginning of a bloody saga. Larger animals leave a greater physical and mental impact.

Driving on the Boulder turnpike one morning, I hit a coyote while going 65 mph, five miles over the speed limit. The coyote had made it across two lanes of southbound traffic and one lane of northbound traffic already. Perhaps if I had been going the speed limit, things would have gone better. In this case, the coyote may have lived (I don’t know because stopping would have created an accident). The coyote hit the low, angular hood of my Honda Accord, so that it was tossed in the air, off the highway, badly shaken at best.

None of us wants to get hit by a car, but if I had to choose, it would definitely be a low-hooded, sporty car, pretty much the opposite of all the SUVs and pickup trucks out there. While I’m no armadillo, I can imagine jumping up a few feet in order to stay on top of the car and not beneath it.

tesla roadster
I think I’ll go with getting hit by the Tesla, thank you. (www.flickr.com/photos/44124479801@N01/5070078973/)

Armadillos,[1] when in danger, do jump vertically a few feet in the air—just high enough to be squarely hit by oncoming cars and trucks…except perhaps the occasional sports car. Their instincts for survival doom them wherever highways encroach upon their habitat.

Migratory patterns put animals at risk en masse. A childhood friend described his family’s trip to the east coast. At night, they happened upon a mass turtle crossing during hatching season. Thousands of crushed turtles paved the road. Hundreds more as their car progressed. Later I learned that the turtles mistake the distant car headlights for the moonlight and instinctively hustle to their death.

I ran over a hoard of locusts who for some reason had swarmed the highway between two wheat fields. Of all the animals listed in this post, these are perhaps the most insensate. It was hardly avoidable, yet it was a horrible experience for me, and some kind of pain, no matter how brief, must have been felt as they were mowed down.

It’s The Itchy & Scratchy Show in terms of bloodshed on the highways, all day and all night. Over a million animals are killed a day.[2] And I don’t think even Bart is giggling anymore.

Help is On Its Way

Some help, at least, is on its way. We can, of course, build fewer highways and roads—not a solution likely to catch on until natural resources become so scarce that societies grow desperate for solutions. And, of course, we can all drive more carefully. But in the case of migratory pathways, that hardly helps.

There’s a growing solution, nevertheless. More and more animal fences, bridges and tunnels are being built.

As a local example, in Aurora, Colorado a 5-mile section of E-470 runs right through a stationary deer herd area. After building fences (to prevent deer from wandering onto the interstate loop) and building escape ramps (to give them a way out if they do get on the road), the management company has reduced over 80% of the deaths.[3]

Not unusually, Europe and Canada may be a bit more progressive than the United States in this matter.[4] In the article just footnoted the author states that, outside of bears (50/50) and mountain lions (who like a low profile), the majority of animals prefer bridges over tunnels, albeit a more costly solution. Crabs, it turns out, do well with bridges:

crab bridge
Crab bridge in Austrailia (www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-09/bridge-helps-migrating-christmas-island-crabs-avoid-traffic/7014406)

Below are a couple of web pages (linked to and, depending on your browser, also embedded): the first shows twelve animal bridges, the second the article on the crab bridge in Australia.

(Click here for 12 beautiful photos of animal bridges (when their server is working…seems intermittent).)

(Click here for the web page on the Australian bridge for crabs!)

____Footnotes____

[1] The 3 to 4 foot jump is mentioned in the second paragraph of this article: https://mdc.mo.gov/conmag/1997/03/armadillos.

[2] From an article that also explains some of the requirements for protecting animals from cars (fences, bridges, and tunnels): https://wp.natsci.colostate.edu/findingporpoise/wildlife-corridors-a-solution-to-ending-roadkill/.

[3] Thanks to our reader Sandy R. for this fact. See https://www.denverpost.com/2015/02/03/deer-fence-cuts-crashes-on-stretch-of-colorado-toll-road/ and, for more details, https://www.sentinelcolorado.com/news/road-scholars-e-470-nearly-end-deer-crashes-fence-designs/.

[4] This wonderful article, “Animals Need Infrastructure Too,” provides informative text along with photos of many bridges, including the Australian crab bridge. The article states, “The earliest recorded man-made animal bridge was erected in France in the 1950s to help hunters guide deer. Since then, wildlife-crossing designs have spread worldwide, especially across Europe. Over 600 of the crossings are in the Netherlands, where they carry badgers, bison, and elk.” https://www.citylab.com/life/2018/07/wildlife-crossings-bridges-tunnels-animals-roads-highways-roadkill/566210/.