Who is Chris Boardman?

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

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

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

Listen to what he says in an interview on the BBC, an interview occurring in the eighth month of the covid19 pandemic:

I’m very, very wary of using the term ‘opportunity’ in the midst of a pandemic, where people are dying, but I think we’d be very foolish not to notice some of the things that happened when we effectively turned off global traffic, and I suppose in a sense we started a worldwide consultation on how we use our roads. And we found that when you gave people quiet streets and you can hear the bird song and we took away the traffic—people wanted to ride bikes and they did that in the droves. And we saw an increase across England, I think, Department of Transport tagged it at over 300%.[2]

Lauren Laverne, the host of BBC’s “Desert Island Discs,” rightly sets him up as a spokesperson for biking: “British cycling is currently booming, and he’s arguably the man who lit the fuse.”

Super Boardman

On his web log, he writes, “Trained as a carpenter, nobody outside of the sport of cycling would have known who I was until 1992, when I took Great Britain’s opening Gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics astride the infamous Lotus bike.”[3]

Boardman 1992 Olympics
From Boardman’s web log, https://www.chrisboardman.com/about/

After he won the first British gold metal in cycling in 72 years on the revolutionary carbon-frame bike, he became, according to Laverne, the “first Brit to win the Prologue in the Tour de France two years later; then set the UCI [Union Cycliste Internationale] absolute hour record in the now-famous Superman position with his arms stretched out to minimize drag.”

Citizen Boardman

The competitive achievements continue; they are well-documented and well-known. But it’s the non-competitive side that gains the attention of Person vs. Automobile. After retiring from racing and pursuing several ventures (including the creation of his own line of bicycles), Boardman has become the Cycling and Walking Commissioner for Greater Manchester. According to a Manchester government web page: “Cycling and Walking Commissioners from across the UK have today called on the government to empower them truly to do their jobs by giving cycling and walking the funding it deserves, making a political commitment to minimum quality levels and accounting for the true cost of car use to society.”[4] And I ask myself: does anything like this exist in the United States? Or has the love of driving rendered that unpatriotic?

In this role, Boardman says, “I just want people to use bicycles to get around, and I care more about that than gold medals by a million miles. My definition of success isn’t winning; it’s the guy using his bike to go to the shops.”[5]

He continues, stating that being Commissioner of Cycling and Walking has “got nothing to do with cyclists; I think this is the weird, almost perverse bit; this is for people in cars, because it’s not people who already ride a bike that need convincing. You need to be able to look out of a car window and think, ‘Oh, I quite fancy that,’ because if you don’t, why would you get out of the car?”

As was clear to Boardman, what people needed was a safe space, so what they set out to build in Manchester was a fully connected network that could safely be used by a competent 12-year old. It will take 10 years to complete. It will bring Britain closer to the Nederlands, a country successful at self-propulsion because of how they use their streets. Somebody walking has precedence over someone on a bike, who has precedence over public transport, which has precedence over people driving. “Everything they do from legislation to the streetscape reflects that.”

If all were well in the world, this Person vs. Automobile site would not exist, nor would this final biographical note. Speaking to the British television, ITN, Chris Boardman said it was his mother who inspired him to ride.[6] This statement is, unfortunately, part of the story of his mother’s death when she was run over by a pickup truck in a roundabout. Both Boardman’s parents were bicycle enthusiasts. His mother, 75, was out riding and fell off her bicycle. Before she could clear out of the way, a driver, who had 4 seconds earlier been on the phone, ran over her. He went to jail for 30 months and lost his license for about 18 months. This loss of his mother, according to the “Desert Island Discs” interview, is something Chris Boardman continues to grapple with. He advocates for harsher penalties for careless driving, not wanting prison sentences as much as permanent revoking of driving rights.

In Memoriam

It is the elderly who are at greater risk of most things, and that may have contributed to the passing of a friend of a friend, Anne Seller, 79. She lectured at the University of Kent in Canterbury throughout her professional life. She visited Boulder several times, teaching at the University of Colorado as an exchange professor. After retirement, she practiced art and “sang in the Amici choir, contributed to reading groups, and was actively involved in the St Paul’s Church community.”[7] On November, 11, she was hit by a van on a street outside a Waitrose grocery store. The street does not look menacing, but only a week earlier a 20-year-old man was struck and killed by an automobile on the same road. Darkness probably played a role in both collisions, happening as they did at night.

 

____Footnotes____

[1] Incidentally, in 2009, Boardman “took part in the London marathon, finishing in 3hrs 19min 27sec.” according to Wikipedia Chris Boardman.

[2] Chris Boardman was interviewed on “Desert Island Discs,” October 25, 2020, Chris Boardman, cyclist.

[3] Chris Boardman, About.

[4] Empower Us to do Our Jobs….

[5] Again, from the interview on “Desert Island Discs,” October 25, 2020, Chris Boardman, cyclist.

[6] Motorist jailed for 30 weeks over death of cyclist Chris Boardman’s mother.

[7] In memoriam: Anne Seller.

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

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”

The Most Dangerous Activity in which I Engage (guest post, Don Bushey)

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

[Don Bushey, owner of Wilderness Exchange and, along those lines, quite active in rock climbing and skiing, wrote the following in an email.]

I honestly think that recreational road riding is the most dangerous activity I engage in—at least statistically this seems true. The main difference is that with the other dangerous things I do—rock climbing, backcountry skiing, and surfing—there are behaviors and actions that can minimize and reduce my risk. With road biking, it is entirely out of my control (except for wiping out), and getting hit by a car from behind is a purely objective danger. I should tell you sometime about my near death experience that I had on a road bike up Sunshine Canyon . . .

[So I asked for more, getting the account along with his theory of risk ~ Louis]

Near Death in Sunshine Canyon

One cool crisp Fall evening about eight years ago, with the light reddening through the slot of Sunshine Canyon, I reached the end of the climb up Poorman’s on my road bike and pointed my front wheel down the steep [Sunshine Canyon Drive], winding through the canyon.

Don's road bike
Don’s road bike: “Her name is Tomi. She’s Italian and dreamy!”

This is where the thrill lies with road biking—the stoke—the rush. I took a deep breath and performed a little self-assessment, as I always do when embarking on an experience like this. Do I feel balanced? Strong? Relaxed? Are there anxieties and apprehensions? If so, are they real or imagined? This will determine the speed and commitment level I am willing to give to the descent. I exhaled and realized that I was tuned in and feeling great. I launched into the descent and quickly gained speed and velocity.

I love this [particular] downhill because there is such light vehicular traffic, and the grade and the angle of turning are perfect—allowing the rider to push speeds as fast as a bicycle can travel (~50 mph) with only one mandatory switchback to brake.

I quickly gained full cruising speed, feeling my sweet Italian handcrafted steel frame flexing and carving beneath me. I felt like I was flying!

You try to zone in and out, gaining a new hyper-awareness of your surroundings; your visual perspective increases, and you begin operating from an intuitive place, rather than an analytical one. Do the movement of bushes on the roadsides indicate a deer hazard? Does the rustling of leaves in the trees suggest a breeze that you may need to counter? Is that water on the road or a mirage? What are the options and ways out if so?

In this hyper-aware state, I saw a car several hundred yards down the canyon making a left turn on Timber Trail, directly in my path of travel. They saw me, and completed their turn (meaning they got out of my lane and were now headed up their dirt road), so I continued on, without needing to brake.

The very next moment, now only a couple dozen yards from that intersection, a second car sped up and initiated the same left turn.

This can’t be happening!

map of sunshine canyon
Larger-than-life Don sees second car immediately in front of him, and, as he describes, narrowly misses death. (both the bike and car icons created by macrovector – www.freepik.com)

In a split second, my awareness changed from enjoying the thrill of a recreational road ride, to facing an almost certain head-on collision with a car at full speed. I vividly remember seeing myself from above, like I was watching a movie. I was not in my body anymore. Operating on some form of primal intuition which I’ve never before or since been able to access, I saw myself turn into the lane of oncoming traffic, bearing down on my front wheel, initiating the deepest and fastest carve (as we skiers say) and immediate deceleration I have ever achieved on a bicycle.

I miraculously stayed on the bike and did not lay it down. Fortunately, there were no other oncoming cars. Still mounted on my bike, I slowly came back down to earth, body coursing and shaking with adrenaline and endorphins. Pulling over, I buried my face in my palms, weeping uncontrollably.

Death on Lookout Mountain

Several years after this incident, my friend Tom was killed on a similar descent down Lookout Mountain in Golden. A car swerved into his lane, ending his life, while leaving behind a widow and a son. Road biking is like Alpine climbing—so full of objective dangers. It’s guilty of subterfuge—an objective danger fox dressed in subjective sheeps’ wool. The actuary rate far exceeds the 8 in 1 million chance I have of dying rock climbing. Person vs. Automobile? Auto wins every time. It’s the most dangerous damned thing I do. But I love cycling and wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Why Don Rides Again and Again

“With great risk, comes great rewards”
-Thomas Jefferson
“Except when road biking”
-Don

Bicycles are perhaps one of the greatest inventions of all mankind, except for the wheel, of course, which was only a small step forward in the invention of the bicycle. It’s hard to imagine a more direct union of human and machine—the stuff of dreams and imagination.

They allow us to become faster than we are; we soar, we carve and bank into turns, experience g-forces, exhilaration, acceleration, and an overall sense of fun and well-being—all generated by gravity and our own power.

Riding bicycles—whether engaged in recreation or transportation—is a risky proposition. The outcomes of interactions with cars have been sadly topical on this blog, and, leaving cars in their garages, the possible outcomes of mountain biking at 40 mph down steep forested trails over rocky mountainsides are obvious. Acceptance of risk is highly individual, and our relationship with risk is at play with almost every decision we make; in a way, it shapes the way that we express ourselves in the world.

Outdoor adventure sports like climbing, backcountry skiing, and surfing have informed and shaped my relationship with risk in almost every way—except, perhaps, running a business, which is ten times scarier than any of these sports.

But recreational road biking is not one of these activities where the Jeffersonian risk-reward ratio quite meters out.

Road biking is rife with objective risks, as I conclude with references to mountaineering and climbing. Subjective risks are risks that can be mitigated by an individuals’ judgement, behaviors, and decision making. Objective risks are risks out of an individual’s control. In Alpine climbing, which takes place in remote high mountain areas, objective risks like rockfall, icefall, lightning strikes, and avalanches, although mitigable, are an accepted part of the game. In sport climbing, where there are fixed anchors and a controlled environment, there are almost never objective dangers, and with proper use of equipment, the accepted risks are perhaps a sprained ankle, or an overuse injury. Tragedies in this environment almost always involve human error. Every climber quickly comes to a place where they are comfortable with their level of risk, decides what is acceptable and not acceptable, and works at exercising good judgement to ensure a long career.

None of this explains why I continue to ride my road bike. As I said, “acceptance of risk is highly individual.”

“Good judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement” -Mark Twain.

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