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.

Bicyclist Fatally Hit

Last year, I mentioned the role of the ghost bike—a white bike placed where a car or truck has hit and killed or seriously maimed a bicyclist.

Driving on South Boulder Road, which connects Lafayette and Louisville with Boulder, I recently noticed a ghost bike.

ghost bike
“In Memory of Perry Nelson   –   1963-2020”


South Boulder Road has by far the widest, safest shoulders. Unfortunately, there had been construction when the accident occurred, with plenty of orange barrels and constricted lanes. A photo from The Daily Camera shows the construction in progress: construction on South Boulder Road

The report in The Daily Camera succinctly summarizes the event:

Perry Nelson, 57, of Louisville, was biking west on South Boulder Road at 11 a.m. July 11, according to Colorado State Patrol Trooper Josh Lewis.

A 67-year-old man from Boulder was driving a BMW SUV east on South Boulder Road when he made a left turn at 76th Street, striking Nelson in the intersection.

Nelson was taken to Boulder Community Health’s Foothills Hospital, but was declared dead upon arrival. The driver of the SUV was not injured.

The article continues to explain that at the time of the accident, bikes were required to merge with the traffic but were not disallowed.[1]

An obituary provides happy facts about Mr. Nelson’s life and family, as well as a photo:[2]

Perry Nelson

Apologetic Driver

This post from nextdoor·com was passed onto me from someone who lives in Centennial, Colorado. The incident probably occurred in Highlands Ranch. It closely echoes an incident in Louisville, Colorado where a woman also nearly hit a bicyclist whom she didn’t see and apologized profusely.

TW
Highlands Ranch Golf
I didn’t see a biker. So I was driving in my minivan with my kids in the car, in our neighborhood. I stopped at a stop sign, didn’t see any cars so I went forward. I did not see a man biking, dressed in bright orange and yellow. He must have been right in my blind spot . . . . I didn’t see him . . . . Luckily he swerved I think and I didn’t hit him [sad face]. I want to find him, apologize and tell him I will be so much more careful. . . . so I turned around to find him and apologize. Unfortunately when I did find him and pullsed over to apologize he was still extremely angry and yelled in my face. [More apologies follow.] Please forgive me [praying hands and heart] Your neighbor.

It’s refreshing to have that kind of honesty, the kind that mentions “dressed in bright orange and yellow.”

Good for her! (And good for him, having dodged her.) Stories like this appeal to me in part because often when a car or truck hits a bicycle, there’s a tacit (or spoken) assumption that the bike wasn’t following the rules or any wisdom. Often the initial newspaper story will suggest the driver was not at fault (at times because the police report leans that way), and only later, after the news has become a short revision or retraction, does it come out that the biker was doing everything right. Anyway, good for her!

 

____Footnotes____

[1] Mitchell Byars, Boulder Daily Camera, PUBLISHED: July 21, 2020 at 11:15 a.m. | UPDATED: July 21, 2020 at 11:34 a.m.: Louisville cyclist hit and killed in crash on South Boulder Road

[2] Originally published in the Daily Camera, the obituary can be found on an aggregator, Legacy.com

Wait, Wait, Peter, Don’t Run From Me

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

This post offers some quotes from Peter Sagal’s The Incomplete Book of Running (2018), a confessional book, both humorous and insightful.

covers: Incomplete Book of Running

Peter Sagal, the host of NPR’s Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me! is also a notable amateur runner in his own right. At the age of 46, he ran a sub-40 minute 10k, a sub-90 minute Half Marathon, and a 3:09 Marathon. In his words, “Sub-three [hour marathon] people, while not quite the separate species that sub-2:30 marathoners are, are still different from the rest of us. If you run a 3:09 marathon, you’re a great amateur runner and you should be very proud, as I was. If you can run a 2:59 marathon, then you can do anything, including, perhaps, depending on the day and the field, winning the thing” (143).

Some of the readers of this web log are “different from the rest of us,” but even they would probably appreciate the book for its humor and honesty. One of my daughters lent me the book and said Peter was not as snarky in the book as he is on the radio show. I completely agree, and this makes him more lovable.

Peter Sagal also qualifies for “person versus automobile.” One day while riding his bicycle, an “Orange Nissan of Death” failed to yield to him at an intersection, with the result that he left a Peter-shaped impression on the car and had to recover from a broken back. His critique of the American dependence on machines is worth quoting at length:

Citizens of these United States don’t so much travel as we are processed through space, like some sort of industrialized, extruded meat product, human Slim Jims. Metal boxes carry us to processing centers that put us on conveyor belts that put us in metal tubes that take us to other processing centers and conveyor belts that put us in different metal boxes that take us to temporary storage cubicles, many of them with lovely minibars for overpriced sustenance. Like hamsters in Habitrails, we think we’re free, because that’s what the enclosure’s designers want us to think. If we didn’t do something drastic to punch through the walls, we’d never even know we were trapped. (xii)

While Peter, as do many of us, finds running a way to explore a city, he concluded some cities are not worth exploring that way, such as Los Angeles: “Eventually, I realized all that brown stuff hanging around the horizon was being sucked into my lungs whenever I ran, and I gave up running to devote myself to more practical forms of exercise, like failure” (32-33).

Running appeals to the minimalist within us, the part that sees no need to accessorize:

No: you have everything you need to begin. If you don’t have sneakers, just grab your most comfortable shoes, or go barefoot on dirt or sand. If you don’t have shorts, get an old pair of jeans and cut off the legs. If anybody judges you for wearing ratty clothes, one of the privileges and benefits of running is leaving people behind. (35)

Before setting his personal record on the marathon at the Philadelphia Marathon, he realized he had “no notion of what the course would be like…”:

So I consulted Ian Chillag, a Wait, Wait producer, onetime Philadelphia resident, and 2:39 marathoner.
I asked him, ‘Any advice on the marathon?’
Chillag said, ‘Yeah, don’t be stupid.’
‘Don’t be stupid?’
‘Yeah, you’re always stupid. You always go out too fast. So don’t be stupid. You want to negative split this course. If you cross that halfway mark fasther than 1:37:30, I’ll hit you.’ (137)

He did cross at 1:33, wasn’t hit by Ian, didn’t bonk—but it is refreshing to hear the sometimes snide host of a radio show allow others to call him stupid.

Part of the impetus behind his 46-year old effort at a new personal record was to refute an economist (Professor Ray Fair) who predicted that, “on average, marathon times inevitably decline about a minute per race for every year of age past forty…” (129-130). And so it was that on finishing the Philadelphia Marathon, while he “had not reversed time, or gotten any younger,” he had shown, at least to himself, “that time and age are not walls but fences, and fences can be jumped” (143).

During this amateur running career, Peter’s marriage was failing terribly, and he occasionally likens a marriage to a marathon for which one has not trained. The two were not related only metaphorically: running was what kept him above water, mentally, during this period:

The next year, 2012, was the last year of my marriage, with its many and increasing trials, and during that time, and in the years since, I have often tried to hold on to that feeling from the early miles of the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon. Not the confidence, or even, God help me, the sense of having been well and truly prepared for what I was enduring, because I knew, as my divorce unfolded, that I had never trained a single moment for that. No: what I have tried to remember, and occasionally achieved, is that sense of handing myself over to the moment I was in, trusting that what had brought me there would carry me through, allowing things to transpire not with effort, but with something like ease, even grace. (144)

Peter then ran two (and about 24/26) marathons in which he guided runners who had severe vision problems. The first provides the epic story that is important to the book but also has been told outside the book: he was guiding William Greer whose occipital lobe had been damaged years before, with the result that while his eyes worked fine, his brain could hardly interpret the images it was receiving. This run occurred, epically, in the 2013 Boston Marathon, co-inciding with the bombs detonated at the finish line.

The second runner he guided was Erich Manser in the 2014 Boston Marathon. Erich suffered from retinitis pigmentosa, which narrowed his field of vision to the point that it was as if he saw the world “through a cardboard toilet-paper tube” (146). It became clear to Peter that “Erich never complains, about anything, despite his surfeit of reasons. Maybe I could absorb some lessons from him; after all, he also found it difficult to see his kids. (I was known around Team With A Vision for my tasteful sense of humor.)” (156)

Guiding Erich became problematic when Peter began to get dizzy, either from dehydration or from not taking some medications he had left in another city. Luckily, another available guide, Monte, joined him, so he was able to hand Erich off to Monte. They continued while Peter drank Gatorade.

This was worse than death; this was failure. In the end, just as I had feared would happen when I guided William the year before, I had promised somebody I’d be there for him and I couldn’t do it. I cheesed out. I hadn’t been strong or dedicated enough. I’d blown it. Well, add the 2014 Boston Marathon to a long list of things attempted but not conquered: marriage, fatherhood, lawn maintenance, baseball…
I got another cup of Gatorade, and as the runners streamed by, I thought about Jacob Seilheimer. (162)

Jacob was a man who, in 2007, “ran” the Boston Marathon course, after the race had ended, in roughly eight hours, due to his obesity and lack of training. He was someone Peter, in his cockier years, hated for not applying himself. But later Peter got to know him and realized “Jacob has carried with him more burdens, handicaps, and back luck than I…Could imagine” (167). Inspired by these reflections and refreshed by the Gatorade, Peter began running again, catching Erich and finishing the race as his guide.

The book ends happily, as many do, with the acquisition of a couple of dogs, something Peter’s marriage disallowed because of his wife’s allergies.

Post script: I would be remiss not to mention what is likely the most useful chapter in the book, Chapter Five. It covers both his anorexic tendencies and his discovery of what a good diet consists of. He writes, “At the age of fifteen I looked into the mirror and saw somedoy I didn’t like, so I started to run away from him. I used obsessive running as a way to make my fat self disappear, as quickly as could be managed” (83). The problem was deeper than fat: he couldn’t see or accept himself; he couldn’t even see that he had become thin.

On dieting, he writes, “One thing that will help of course is diet, and that too, is something your running will affect, and something that will affect your running. By diet, I mean what you actually eat, not what some magazine or author or murdered doctor or celebrity or wife of Jerry Seinfeld recommends you should eat” (89). This sentence is followed by common good advice about eating well without swallowing a new neurosis in the process.

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!

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.

Covidiocy

The facts do keep shifting concerning the virus, but that does not exculpate conspiracy theorists concerning covid-19. The theory that comes to mind is the one that states the threat is manufactured by the US or a consortium of governments. I’m thinking of Tony Spell, a pastor in Louisiana, who said, “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated.”[1] If I thought my faith could keep 1,000 people safe from the virus, even though that’s a tall order, I guess I’d keep meeting with them, as he has been even after being cited on six counts of violating the governor’s executive order.

There’s a bitmapped message floating around on Facebook that generally seems to be posted to show that the covid-19 threat is minor compared to well-known causes of death. Generally, I like that approach: we often fear the unlikely dangers while we ignore the most likely danger. While a fear of flying is involuntary, it was the drive to the airport that put us on the statistical radar.

However, I decided to check the sources for this info graphic, since some of the causes of death (starting with the beginning of 2020) seem dreadfully high (and they are). But in the process, using the same source, worldometers.info, I compared the 2020 world-wide-death-count numbers as of 4/2/2020 with those of the 3/25/2020 info graphic (an additional 8 days). The count of ALL of the causes of death was 109% greater except covid-19, which was 249%.

Here’s the info graphic:

Here’s my comparison (except I couldn’t find hunger statistics):

It is this rate of covid growth that concerns epidemiologists (but not perhaps conspiracy theorists).

Covidity

Not every pastor—in fact very, very few—has ignored the mandates and recommendations to avoid public gatherings. Take my sister, for example. She resides in Oklahoma as a Methodist pastor. Oklahoma is among the five states that had, as of April 3, done the least to prevent social gatherings.[2]

She, herself, is a woman of faith, but she doesn’t take chances. After her husband returned from a trip in his automobile that required him to leave the state, she quarantined him for 14 days just to be safe. (Don’t read too much into this!)

In my peer group, I occasionally hear millennials dismissed unfairly through a kind of bigotry and over generalization. This irritates me because when I dream at night, I’m usually a millennial by age. It also irritates me because in several respects, millennials are on top of their game, including recognizing a social threat when it wanders into town. My daughter and her husband returned from China (and Paris) only to find Colorado becoming a hot spot. They quarantined themselves for 14 days. When we took our first carefully distanced walk, they were quick to note how I and a few other, older passersby failed to cover our mouths when we coughed. Kudos, sharp witted millennials.

Covitality

Covitality, as I use it, refers to the hidden physical opportunities during this time of distress. No doubt, many of us breathed a (perhaps contagious) sigh of relief when Governor Polis issued the order to stay at home. It of course allowed for essential services, such as liquor stores and dispensaries, to remain open. That was nearly a given. But it also allowed for going outdoors to exercise at a safe distance.

Meanwhile, the amount of drivers on the road subsided drastically. First in China and now in places such as San Francisco, the air is becoming notably cleaner.[3] Los Angelas has now cleaner air than it has had since World War II.[4] Similarly, the number of car accidents is plummeting.[5] Finally, life is quiet. In fact the earth is quiet, allowing seismographs to detect smaller earthquakes.[6]

While the cause for this freedom from traffic is truly awful, the result has been heralded by bicyclists, runners, and pedestrians as a long-sought advance in society. I used to seek the trails to avoid cars, but now I seek the empty roads to avoid all the people on the trails.

A friend of mine who (like many) cannot visit her aging parents and who has had to learn to teach her students online—in other words, who is paying a price for the pandemic—remarked to me that she thought it good that we have to slow down. She hoped—as I do—that when the virus subsides some of the good habits it caused us to acquire will not.

One Good Habit

Closing with a video as I often do, here is one from Don Bushey (who authored a post about almost dying on his bicycle) that might cheer you up:

 

____Footnotes____

[1] He’s quoted in an online site, Reason, which, quoting Christianity Today, provides this: “The virus, we believe, is politically motivated,” pastor Tony Spell told CNN affiliate WAFB. “We hold our religious rights dear, and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says.”

[2] According to an April 3, 2020 article in the Guardian, Which states have done the least to contain coronavirus?, the states are Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Missouri.

[3] The stunning impact of COVID-19 social distancing on air pollution.

[4] As of April 6, 2020: As Many Stay Home, L.A.’s Air Quality Is Better Than It’s Been in Decades.

[5] See, for example, Traffic collisions are plummeting in several US cities and Car crashes down by 75% in Phoenix metro area as COVID-19 pandemic continues.

[6] According to this article, the Earth has quieted down to the level normally reached on Christmas day: Coronavirus lockdowns have changed the way Earth moves.

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”

Road, Rage, and Peace

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

Road Rage

While I enjoy embedding a good video in a post, I will spare you any road-rage videos, although if you search YouTube on “road rage compilation,” you can view to your heart’s delight, or until your stomach turns (as mine did). However, because it captures so much of the road-rage mental state, this animated video by Your Favorite Martian is worth a view (it would get an E for explicit lyrics on iTunes, so, kids, you might not want to play it for your parents).

As I watched some of these road-rage videos, I began to wonder whether being a jerk as a driver or being a jerk as a human being is the bigger problem, and it seemed instructive that sometimes the “good driver” documenting the bad driver got so distracted that the good driver flipped off the road. One video captured an incident where two drivers had stopped their cars at an intersection and were yelling at each other until one of the drivers started walking down the road taking a poll from all the other cars being delayed, asking who was at fault—the democratic approach.

Most of us don’t need videos, because we can replay scenes from our own experience, scenes that include doing something wrong (or even right, such as going the speed limit) and being flipped off or worse, as well as scenes when someone irritated us to the point that we cursed them, gestured violently, sped around them, or stomped on the brakes.

Me? I learned my big lesson while driving a friend to Denver International Airport. Driving east on I-70, I found a red pickup truck tailgating my very small car, dangerously so. I tapped my brakes multiple times to remind him (it was a he) that we live in a universe governed by nuisances such as mass and momentum. Before I knew it, he had passed me, gotten back in my lane, and slammed on his brakes, bringing me to the brink of an accident with the thought that it probably would have been my passenger—the person least involved—who would suffer the greatest physical harm.

Since then I usually just pull off the road or move over a lane and let the jerks express themselves unhampered.

Rage

While some of us find driving a pleasure, most of us drive in a state of irritation, with occasional moments of rage. Frequent ragers don’t survive so well.

In addition to the righteously indignant, like myself, who take upon themselves the task of correcting the world, a dominant element behind all this scuffle is time. Both the bad drivers and those who are outraged at the driving (becoming bad drivers themselves) are in some kind of hurry, or are on some kind of schedule. The inconvenience of being slowed down by some another car (whether that car is slow, cutting in front, or tailgating) triggers a reaction that escalates into a full-blown challenge to one’s worth:

  • “Who do they think they are?”
  • “I’ll show them…”
  • or the transcendental “To hell with them!”

Surely, ignorance and lack of training lie behind much bad driving. But, for example, even people who have discovered the lever that actuates their turn signals are often just a little bit too busy to touch it. In true mimetic response, the driver who is inconvenienced by the sudden merge and has to tap the breaks—the victim in this scenario—becomes fixated on the laziness and impertinence of the driver. Soon a device invented to make driving safer becomes the basis for anger and its consequences.

Peace

When I was learning to drive, we were taught to be defensive drivers who expected others to drive dangerously and to be prepared to counter their moves with self-preserving maneuvers. The problem with this approach is that it implies a necessary antagonism and encourages opposition. “Watch out for the other guy!” Put differently, it encourages engagement. We are now knee deep in military terms, so bring on the rage.

A different approach has been coined as “supportive driving.” The concept is that the driver takes the whole traffic picture into consideration and seeks to keep things flowing as well as possible. Thus, getting out of the way of a tailgater is supportive, as is laughing off—or, better, ignoring—another driver’s rudeness. Supportive driving lends itself both to self-preservation and to the preservation of the rest of the cars on the road who may otherwise become collateral damage to winning one’s war with a nitwit. Peace presides over the supportive driver.

No driver, of course, can be fully supportive when time is of the essence. Most likely the good Samaritan had a shorter to-do list than the priest who ignored the man in need. Or at least the Samaritan left for his destination a bit earlier than necessary. Delays could be expected.

The practical step, then, is to build in a little extra travel time. Figure out when you should leave, and then leave earlier. On my best days when I’m driving, my phone is out of my reach and I have a little time to kill.

Road Rush

This need to get somewhere as quickly as possible betrays a loss of perspective. Even a slow car is generally faster than self-propelled forms of locomotion, such as walking, running, and biking. The impatient driver has lost sight of his or her position in the world of locomotion. In the words of God (in the words of Milton), the impatient driver is an ingrate. Why not get out and walk about five miles and see how that goes for speed?

When we rush through life, it is ultimately toward our graves. Where else do we plan to end up? The corollary, of course, is that a good piece of road rage can hasten the whole affair.

At one time C.S. Lewis referred to himself as a dinosaur, and I don’t think he ever learned to drive, so it’s not surprising that he looked askance upon speedy transportation. That position allowed him to make an observation that the rush to cover as much ground as possible shrinks our world, which is another way of saying it deprives us of life:

The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it ‘annihilates space’. It does. It annihilates one of the most glorious gifts we have been given. It is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance, so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from traveling ten. Of course if a man hates space and wants it to be annihilated, that is another matter. Why not creep into his coffin at once? There is little enough space there.[1]

 

____Footnotes____

[1] Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, 1955, HarperCollins Publishers.

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