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!

David Byrne (Talking Heads) and His Bicycle

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

He owns a very nice bike helmet, he says, and even wears it if he needs to ride in gnarly traffic. However, with dedicated bike lanes, such as along the West Side of New York City, he lets his (now) gray hair blow in the wind. He doesn’t want to unnecessarily risk “helmet hair.”[1]

David Byrne on bike, nice helmet in basket (from NY Times interview on Youtube )

Continue reading “David Byrne (Talking Heads) and His Bicycle”

It’s Easy Not to Drive…

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

It’s Easy Not to Drive if You Don’t Own a Car

I should know. I didn’t have a car for five years.

For years my house looked like this:
house, no car
Now it looks like this:
house, car in front

I bought the car for a host of reasons, including the reason that my friends nearly gave it to me; that another friend, who is elderly, needs me to drive him places increasingly; and that I have to run or bus to a different town (Broomfield or Boulder) in order to rent a car.

The mission of this web site has always been to urge people to drive less. It has never been to outlaw cars.

The phrasing of this site’s mission statement “driving less so that we all might live more” is a deliberate echo of the more elegant, “the rich must learn to live more simply, so that the poor may simply live.” Both are a call to moderation.

Today I took two trips, one to the hardware store on a bike and one to the grocery store on foot. The car, as a travel option, isn’t prominent in my mind. This diminished role arises from those years of auto abstinence.

Some people like myself have a hard time achieving moderation. We are, as my dad described rabbits, bimodal, either running or frozen in motion. So it’s easier for us, at least for a while, to abstain nearly completely in order to break the gravitational pull of a habit, whether it’s driving a car or drinking a beer. Later, we might add the practice back into our repertoire, but with fear and trembling, lest we open the flood gates wide, once again.

Happily, the default mode for me is to propel myself, rather than be propelled. The car (which happens also to be a Rabbit) obtains a ghostly existence:
house, transparent car

What My Friend Said

A few days after getting the car, I told a friend about it. She immediately quipped “you’ve gone over to the dark side.” On one hand, that statement puts me in good company with Google and Bob Dylan, to name a couple of successes. But on the other hand, it doesn’t fit the case. It implies that a few of us should go our lives without cars as we protest the majority who drive relentlessly. By contrast, the solution is for everyone to drive less, no matter the number of cars one owns (reminding me of Jay Leno’s 169 cars).[1]

Of course, making and burying cars is polluting, including or perhaps especially electric cars (the jury is probably out on this one). But once a car is made, it does little polluting when not running.

If we were going to define “the dark side” of automobile use, we would each draw the line in a different place, and often for good reasons. According to the concerns circulated on this web site (noise pollution, air pollution, carbon footprints, pedestrian and animal safety, health, and a keen sensibility for the general art of living), the definition might go something like this:

I Drive…
only when the distance is too great, the weather too dangerous, or the payload unsuitable to walk, run, bike, or bus
on errands but not daily and not to work
to work, which is necessary since there are several stops in various places I must go every day, but also I drive on errands, even to the grocery store which is a half mile away
to work; I know there’s a fairly direct bus or train, but public transportation would add a half hour each way and I’m too busy—I need time to read and think…lots of people to text
any distance and every opportunity, including the neighbor’s for a dinner party, the gym, and joy riding, all of which are a bit more fun in my big vehicle that can hold six to eight people but usually carries only myself
the biggest, loudest, meanest truck, SUV or Humvee that money can buy, and I do it with a vengeance whenever possible to show the stupid environmentalists that I’m… well, not to boast, but I’m king of the road! I’m proud to be an American, I am, and if you question that, I’ll gun my engine and drown you in a cloud of black smoke, but I won’t hear your expletives because I’ll turn up my radio with my windows down to prove that I dominate you

I doubt the table above would change many people’s driving habits. I doubt it would change some of my friends’ habits! Guilt raises our defenses, and, besides, we all know we cannot fight every battle in life. A better motivation than guilt, for me at least, is a sense of being alive and having adventures.

What’s More Exciting than a Car?

While I was touched by my friends’ generosity, while I always liked their VW Rabbit (I had asked them a year ago to let me know if they ever were selling it), and while I will relish driving it occasionally, I didn’t get as excited when I bought it as I did with this device. Walking through my neighborhood this summer, I found it set out on the curb with some trash. For several days, I kept my eye on it. I called Foxtrot (a local bike shop) to let them know they might be able to flip it, but no one grabbed it, so I finally did. All it needed was air in its tires:

My second Gary Fisher bike; this one with street shoe pedals for quick jaunts around town

 

____Footnotes____

[1] “Leno owns approximately 286 vehicles (169 cars and 117 motorbikes),” according to Wikipedia (8/29/2019).

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

Public Transportation Desert (guest post, Marc Syrene)

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

[Marc, from southern Colorado, has turned his Mercedes into a car that burns the diesel fuel he also makes. Following is a post he wrote on the dilemmas with which he struggles. — Louis]

Driving Less in a Public Transportation Desert

AeroKroil, my latest hope in the fight to get my 1995 Mercedes diesel back on the road.

Embarrassment, the key motivator to pull her in to my garage to figure out why she is smoking so bad when started cold. I pulled the fuel injectors to test them and two of the crush washers, which all need to be replaced, are frozen in there with carbon deposits; hence the AeroKroil. AeroKroil is supposed to be the “best” penetrating oil out there. The gun toters like it to clean their guns cuz it dissolves carbon.

Sick Mercedes Diesel
Sick Mercedes Diesel (Marc sent this update several weeks after writing this article: “Haven’t resolved the smoking issue although I did end up getting the crush washer out and had the injectors rebuilt. So she still sits in the garage till I get back to checking it out.”

This car has 288000 miles on it and rides like a dream and gets 38 mpg on the highway. This car and my two other old diesels have seemingly been happy to run (in the above freezing months anyway) on the biodiesel my neighbor Jack and I have been making in my garage for the last 10 years+.

We have made roughly 10,000 gallons of it in mostly 40 gallon batches at a time. It has helped ease the tension in my mind about the man vs. automobile plight but only slightly in an ego based sense. On that level driving a car on homebrew has a feeling that doesn’t exist when driving on diesel from the pump because I haven’t really “earned” it.

Biodiesel Proccesor
Biodiesel Processor

But that is not really what the point is here. The point here is that I am in a true battle with my car and getting the friggin crush washers out. If I don’t then my car cannot be put back together without having to spend so much money as to render it not worth it. I believe we (who own cars and are not fitfully wealthy) are always on the verge of this dilemma whether we know it or not.

I will keep fighting against and for my old diesels for the time being though until I finally put my own desires behind the true need of not burning things to travel.

  • Can I really ride my bike with all my climbing and camping gear and food that I have grown and canned to Indian Creek and back to meet all my friends that have driven there?
  • Can I really ride my bike in the winter from Del Norte to Alamosa to spend the evening with sweet Laura?
  • And is ordering things on the internet more environmentally friendly because the delivery truck is coming here anyway?
  • And how much money will it cost to buy a Rivian electric pickup truck and put enough solar panels on my roof to charge it?
  • Do I really want to go back to work for that long?

One of the questions in a “public transportation desert” is how will it feel to slow down and just be with myself and my brain at home? Can I find peace in my neighborhood filled with dog owners who think the sound their dog projects all day and night is a gift to the world while they are inside blaring the TV? Can I rally and cultivate what it takes to be Zen? That kind of discipline I fear I do not have. The one thing a person needs to succeed, discipline. Zen=discipline, like it or not! That juxtaposition is why punk rock happened and why jazz is such a miracle.

My neighbor Jack, who used to be a hell of a climber, seems to have settled into a beautiful, low-automobile-use lifestyle by fiddling with chainsaws all day. They (chainsaws) still burn fuel but they have really small tanks, so it’s ok. I’m not sure if Jack and Morag order their food on the internet or resign themselves to pick out the best food from our small grocery store in Del Norte.

(By the way, is burning wood really green? They say it’s carbon neutral but is that relevant because it still puts “stuff” into the atmosphere.)

Maybe I should just give up and take the long view. Earth will shrug us off when it needs to. Meaning, we will likely shrug ourselves off. I’m only sad because of the collateral damage to all the other beautiful, innocent creatures that live on Earth. Who made us boss? God? So seems to be the consensus. Man vs Automobile and so much more.

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.

 

Hit in a Crosswalk (Part 3)

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

The previous post explained how the City of Boulder addressed the flashing crosswalk where Laura was hit by an SUV. In short, they addressed it gloriously:
(1) they upgraded to a light that first flashed, then turned solid yellow, and finally turned solid red (putting the fear of Officer MacDougal in drivers), and
(2) they later made the supreme fix: building an underpass
to completely insulate pedestrians and bikers from those big, heavy chunks of metal and plastic that accelerate more easily than they brake.

Pedestrian underpass on Baseline Road
Pedestrian underpass on Baseline Road, east of Broadway, Boulder, CO

As I stated before, anything Boulder has learned in the past concerning pedestrian and bicyclist safety is probably a lesson some city is about to learn in the present, if it learns at all, making Boulder a good test case.

This short post covers two things:
(1) a few statistics from another The Daily Camera article, “Boulder’s most dangerous crosswalk getting $68,000 traffic light” (07/09/2010), which was written three years after Laura’s incident, announcing that the crosswalk would soon have a HAWK (the light that flashes, turns solid yellow, and finally turns solid red when activated), and
(2) a tweet along with some statistics that support the tweet (sometimes tweets need that).

“Boulder’s most dangerous crosswalk getting $68,000 traffic light” (07/09/2010)

Statistics

1 in 7—Number of vehicles that fail to yield to pedestrians in flashing crosswalks

127—Number of car vs. pedestrian accidents in Boulder from January 2008 to April 2010

378—Number of car vs. bike accidents in Boulder from January 2008 to April 2010

60 percent—Share of pedestrian or bike accidents that occur at crosswalks or intersections

On the Odds of Dying

Tweet

Statistics

Without making light of the Boeing 737 Max 8s crashes, here are some statistics on dying-by-walking-or-biking:[1]

  • Pedestrian deaths in 2015: 5,376
  • Estimated pedestrian injuries in 2015: 70,000
  • Bicyclist deaths in 2015: 818
  • Estimated bicyclist injuries in 2015: 45,000

Sounds grim? Yes and no. What are the really common ways of dying?

According to the same source, “this number [of pedestrian deaths and injuries] dwarfs the 32,675 total deaths due to motor vehicle crashes and the relatively small 4,884 pedestrian deaths in 2014. In fact, the number of deaths in 2000 caused by poor diet and physical inactivity increased by approximately 66,000, accounting for about 15.2 percent of the total number of deaths” (emphasis mine).

The moral: we don’t die according to our fears but according to our confidences and comforts. Getting in a car sounds safe and eating fried chicken sounds comforting. They both keep the ER and the morticians busy. The difference, though, is that automobiles endanger everyone. I’d love to see all of us with better diets, but the neighbor eating poorly doesn’t endanger my life. The person hopping in the car does.

____Footnotes____

[1] Taken from The Pedestrian & Bicycle Information Center.


Next post is the “Person Meets Police,” a short post about my recent encounter with the Lafayette Police. It was non-adversarial… so don’t get your hopes up… I’m still at large on the streets.

Hit in a Crosswalk (Part 2)

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

The previous post was about Laura’s experience of getting hit by a car while in a flashing-light crosswalk (2007). The crosswalk where the accident occurred was replaced by a high-intensity activated crosswalk (HAWK, which provides a flashing yellow light followed by a solid yellow light followed by a red light). After installing the HAWK, Boulder went a step further, replacing it with a pedestrian underpass (the best and costliest solution).

Pedestrian underpass on Baseline Road
Pedestrian underpass on Baseline Road, east of Broadway, Boulder, CO

Boulder, CO is a bike capital and has plenty of pedestrians (as do most college towns). Anything Boulder has learned in the past concerning pedestrian and bicyclist safety is probably a lesson some city is about to learn in the present, if it learns at all.

Accordingly, this post and the next will reiterate some points from a few articles on crosswalk safety published in Boulder’s The Daily Camera. The article referred to below was inspired in part by the level of danger the city recognized concerning a few flashing-light crosswalks (Laura’s being at the top of the list).

“Boulder study sheds light on bicycle, pedestrian accidents” (02/04/2012)

Pedestrians

Boulder city officials released the “Safe Streets Boulder Report,” based upon “information gleaned from accidents within city limits between January 2008 and April 2011.”

The report exonerates flashing-light crosswalks (which had become recognized as a likely place to get hit by a car), stating that regular crosswalks were more dangerous, except for the exceptions (Laura’s crosswalk being one of the exceptions). The Daily Camera article summarizes the report’s findings:

Crosswalks of all types accounted for 44 percent of accidents involving pedestrians and 56 percent of accidents involving bikes. But of those, only 6 percent took place in a flashing crosswalk.

The statistics are not that useful, since we don’t know the ratio of non-flashing to flashing crosswalks. Moreover, the Camera article goes on to cite another (2010) study that “found that more than one-third of the crosswalks with flashing lights have led to higher rates of accidents.” Apparently, while some flashing-light crosswalks protect pedestrians, some endanger them.

To its credit, Boulder has removed the flashing-light crosswalks that gave the rest of the flashing-light crosswalks a bad reputation.

In addition, Boulder has now passed rules that (1) require pedestrians to activate the flashing light (makes sense), (2) prohibit bicycles from crossing these crosswalks at a rate exceeding 8 mph (that makes sense, too), and (3) disallow a moving car to pass a car that has stopped for a flashing-light crosswalk whether or not anyone appears in the crosswalk (yay!).

What the Camera article fails to suggest is that crosswalks are inherently dangerous in as much as they provide false security to the pedestrians.

People like myself who cross streets frequently on foot are faced with a dilemma. On one hand are the common crosswalks at an intersection where there are four directions of traffic filled with cars that are trying to change direction. On the other hand, between such intersections is the middle of a block where there are two directions of traffic, with no cars trying to change direction. Often I prefer the second choice, which can be performed stealthily through jaywalking or occasionally where a city such as Boulder has installed either flashing-light crosswalks or, better, HAWKs.

Bicyclists

In general, the Camera article portrays Boulder’s streets as safe, given the number of pedestrians and bicyclists. This assessment is consistent with the “Safe Streets” report and with city and CU campus spokespeople. However, the Camera also provides an interesting contrast in civilian opinions.

First, it quotes Jason Estes, a bike courier, who states, “I think there’s always improvements to be made. But Boulder, I feel, is a great place to ride.”

Then, it quotes Lenore Sparks, who was injured while cycling in Boulder: “Boulder is by far the most dangerous city for cyclists, even more so than Guadalajara and Mexico City, within which I have comprehensive experience cycling.”

Obviously, individual experiences speak louder than statistics, with the result that if you were hit—or your daughter were hit—the streets in Boulder are still not safe enough.

Estes, the courier, also pointed out  the common danger to bicyclists crossing at intersections where drivers are turning right on red. The drivers are looking to their left, to spot a window in the traffic. Little do they think about, or see, bicyclists who have the right-of-way but are coming from the driver’s right.

The practical conclusion here is that the prudent pedestrian or cyclist gains more safety by assuming invisibility than by simply being law abiding.


Next post continues using some lessons from Boulder as a springboard for further discussion.

Roads Were Not Built for Cars (Part 4)

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

This follows the third post that draws upon the book Roads Were Not Built for Cars: How Cyclists Were the First to Push for Good Roads & Became the Pioneers of Motoring, by Carlton Reid, 2015.[1] This is the final post dedicated to that worthy book.

To re-cap the main drift of the book and my purpose for drawing upon it: roads were created for animals and pedestrians (think of Roman soldiers), and (skipping ahead a few thousand years), after being ignored as a result of the railroad, were resuscitated by cyclists (bicyclists and tricyclists).

Cyclists exerted incredible political force in both England and America. One American organization, the League of American Wheelmen (L.A.W.), structured itself with members on the national, state, and local levels. In short, L.A.W. mimicked the structure of the United States: they could get the ear of political representatives on every level. The L.A.W. Bulletin, with its peak distribution of 75,000 per month, swayed opinion in favor of improving roads for cyclists. “The magazine was sent to L.A.W. members as well as surveyors, government officials, libraries, carriage-builders and farmers’ organizations” (151).

These cyclists unwittingly handed the roads over to the automobile culture, thinking that, of course, bicycles would retain a prominent place on the roads.

Reid makes it clear that snobbery encouraged the demise of cycles. The automobile’s increasing popularity (a transition lasting roughly from 1900-1920) wasn’t merely practical: it was fashionable.

Sure, cars had practical advantages, but so did cycles (which were significantly faster than the original autos). Initially (~1890s) cycles were the prized possession of the leisure-moneyed classes. These people had time to recreate and money to purchase the cycle, making cycles a status symbol. As automobiles increased in number and the cost of cycles went down, cycles lost their status and were, by 1920, recognized as working-class vehicles. This shift in status reinforced the popularity of automobiles (being more expensive and therefore exclusive).

As Reid points out, many of the early-automobile proponents were earlier cycle advocates, and no doubt many of them played into the vehicular snobbery that eventually reduced cycles to a lower-class mode of transportation.

Soon, the roads that cyclists promoted so strongly were being presented to the public as primarily—if not exclusively—the domain of automobiles. Cycles were given paths to ride on, which sounds to modern ears like an advance, but it was really a lowering of the cycle’s status: the paths were narrow, uneven, and often interrupted. The pleasure of riding on roads was diminishing already as a result of increased automobile traffic, and the alternative—poorly designed paths—lessened the pleasure further.

As Reid admits, though, “History is rarely clean-cut” (250). The laboring masses who could afford bicycles but not automobiles were too numerous to allow the automobile proponents to altogether ban cycles from the roads. But the glory days were gone for the cyclist. Only with a resurgence in the 1960s and continuing to this day did bicycles re-gain the attention of many who could afford to drive but preferred to pedal.

These four posts have only sampled parts of Reid’s book, and anyone who wishes to see the naturalization of the unnatural dominance of automobiles over time should read his book.

The book provides multitudinous topics that I’ve ignored altogether, such as the transition from the high wheeler (called the penny farthing for the contrast in size between the front and rear wheel) to the safety bicycle (with wheels of equal size, as with most current bikes); the influence of John Loudon McAdam, the Scottish engineer who developed a road surface, macadam, that involved compacted, angular stones that drained water well and was durable (and lent its name, when tar was added, to becoming tarmac); the Nazi bias Hitler promulgated against bicycles, in part because in WWI he was forced to ride a lowly bicycle rather than a motorcycle; or the often prophetic writings of H.G. Wells and the lesser-known work of John Jacob Astor IV, A Journey in Other Worlds (1894).

If one reads the end notes (which are online), one learns that one of the header images I use on this site repeats a quote attributed to H.G. Wells for which no historical record can be found (but still, it’s a great quote!):

HGWells quote
“Everytime I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.”

_____Footnotes_____

[1] According to the author, “As much of this book is about resurrecting lost or deliberately obscured histories, there will be some who think I’ve made it all up. I’ve therefore been very careful to cite the source material for all the facts and quotes I’ve included. The copious notes would double the length of this book so I have placed them online: roadswerenotbuiltforcars.com/notes” (xxiii).