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.

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.

Scooters (Part 1 of 2)

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

This web site promotes self propulsion above all forms of transportation. Other forms of transportation should of course be considered as an advancement. However, an advancement doesn’t entail perfection.

Before we consider kick scooters, take electric cars, for example: they may be potentially fossil fuel free, but any plastics in their design are likely petroleum products and, currently, natural gas (a fossil fuel) provides the electricity for the bulk of electric cars in California, a forward-thinking state that admits humans have a pollution problem.[1] In addition, electric cars may involve manufacturing pollution[2] and disposal pollution[3]—as well as human rights abuses.[4]

Eventually, I assume, the gas/diesel powered car will become a museum piece, not that electric cars address the primary concerns of Person vs. Automobile: they still impinge upon the environment, menace people and animals, and make annoying tire noise at highway speeds.

Onto the Kick Scooter

Vosh, Stockholm ( 1090722)

On one hand, electric scooters address all the negative aspects presented by electric cars: they don’t make annoying highway-speed tire noise (rarely reaching highway speeds, as well as lacking the mass and surface area to generate much noise); the materials required for manufacturing and disposal are markedly less than for automobiles. Furthermore, although we will look at collisions with pedestrians, as a pedestrian, I’d sooner be hit by a scooter than an SUV any day.

On the other hand, scooters have established a gnarly reputation at best. One hears of homicidal and suicidal driving habits, as well as rivers and lakes being polluted by scooters that make their home in these watery beds. Rules are unclear. Helmets? Sidewalks? Streets? Gutters? Some jurisdictions require them to avoid streets, while others insist they use the streets. In Ireland one cannot insure them, but the police reportedly confiscate them precisely because they are not insured.[5]

Scooters make bicycles appear as a well-accepted form of American transportation (and anyone who rides a bike knows that isn’t true).

In an extensive interview, I asked four people about their experience riding scooters. Three of them said it simply felt dangerous, one of whom rode for less than a minute before returning to ambulation. These three were millennials. The fourth person was a grandfather. He said that where he rented one (at a touristy waterfront), helmets were both legally required and unavailable. But the clerk did hand him a piece of paper with the name of a company that would take a mail order for a helmet.

Between 2014 and 2018, among millennials, injuries on micro-mobility devices increased nine-fold. “One quarter of injuries included a broken bone and one-third of injuries were to the head, double the rate among bicyclists. A separate 2019 study found less than 5% of e-scooter riders wear helmets” (“Electric scooter injuries tripled in one year among US millennials, study finds”, Guardian, January 8, 2020).

Companies such as Lime and Bird have injected electric kick scooters into major cities with the result that by downloading a smartphone app and (I assume) including a credit card number, users can rent a scooter and, in a matter of seconds, be riding a low-polluting vehicle. At the same time, they may be endangering the lives of pedestrians and other scooterists, as well as bicyclists. Finally, after the scooter gets parked wherever its driver needed to go, the scooter may be picked up by a disgruntled citizen and tossed into a river, lake, or ocean.[6]

As Carlton Reid notes in his book Roads Were Not Built for Cars, bicycles had an uneasy reception, endangering and aggravating pedestrians as scooters currently do. Lobbyists and the sheer elegance of the bicycle won the day (for the most part). The history of bicycles demonstrates that a form of transportation that initially threatens the public may find eventual acceptance. Whereas bicyclists were first considered the aggressors who endangered pedestrians, now they are more commonly the victims, assaulted by careless and belligerent automobile drivers.[7]

Not every technically sweet form of transportation makes the transition though. As Reid points out, in spite of its capabilities, the Segway encountered many difficulties as it entered the market. The price ($3,000-$6,000) was a deterrent. Worse, cities provided no infrastructure for these vehicles. They were fit neither for sidewalks nor streets. As it has turned out, they remain popular as service vehicles for policemen, security guards, and medical personnel (i.e. those who can do what they want), but not for the consumer.[8] As Jordan Golson remarks in an article in Wired: “No, the problems that sank the Segway weren’t technological. They were social.”[9]

Segway Polizei 4.jpgPhoto by Reinhold Eder, posted on Wikipedia

It is easy to see how kick scooters have circumvented the problems encountered by the Segway: they are rented, not owned. Moreover, they have been injected into some cities in such great numbers that it is a matter of asking forgiveness, not permission when it comes to riding them. The smart phone, no doubt, has been indispensable in assisting their popularity.

What, one wonders, is the net effect of electric kick scooters on society? Are they completing the transportation line, picking up riders where trains and buses leave off? Is there one documented case where the use of an electric scooter supplanted the use of an automobile? Are they primarily an alluring substitute for a healthy walk or bike ride—with the added disadvantage of ending up in and polluting urban waterways? The people who throw these vehicles into rivers, lakes, and oceans—are these people concerned that the scooters are cluttering sidewalks, sometimes parked carelessly (which still doesn’t explain cluttering waterways), or are they, dare we say, envious that for one reason or another they cannot join in the fun (low fear threshold, no smart phone, bad balance)?

The answers to these questions elude me. I’m new to the business. Part 2 of 2 of this investigation will involve my first (and probably last) ride on a scooter. As the reflections on the history of the bicycle suggest, the jury is still out on the role of kick scooters in urban areas. But, judging by the 2018 data graphed below, my bet is that with increased regulation, along with scooter vandals being fined stiffly, scooters will become respected as a relatively innocent form of urban transportation. After writing the previous sentence, I bought some kick scooter stock—just to make good on my prediction.[10]

Applying the popularity test among US cities, scooters get a net win, as this graph from statistic illustrates (2018):

Infographic: Majority of U.S. City Dwellers View E-Scooters Positively | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

 

____Footnotes____

[1] “Electric Cars Mostly Run On Electricity From Renewable Energy Or Natural Gas”, February 6, 2018.

[2] The production of electric cars—as a result of their massive batteries—may increase the greenhouse footprint 15% above producing gasoline cars. “Electric cars may be the future, but they’re still critically flawed in a key area”, February 6th, 2018. This view is challenged, however, by an article on Forbes.com: “Are Electric Vehicles Really Better For The Environment?”, May 20, 2019.

[3] This review article in Nature provides a hierarchy of preferred responses to the problem of both creating and disposing of lithium batteries. The goal is to reuse as much of the battery as possible, which action addresses both manufacturing and disposing issues.“Recycling lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles”, November, 6, 2019.

[4] “The dirty secret of electric vehicles”, March, 27, 2019.

[5] “Motorized scooter”, Wikipedia, last updated January, 21, 2020.

[6] All these points, as well as a discussion of the reception of bicycles, is mentioned in this excellent article: “What the Fight Over Scooters Has in Common With the 19th-Century Battle Over Bicycles”, December, 2019.

[7] I appreciate the reminder of Reid’s work provided by the aforesaid Smithsonian article: “What the Fight Over Scooters Has in Common With the 19th-Century Battle Over Bicycles”, December, 2019.

[8] Roads Were Not Built for Cars: How Cyclists Were the First to Push for Good Roads & Became the Pioneers of Motoring, by Carlton Reid, 2015

[9] “Well, That Didn’t Work: The Segway Is a Technological Marvel. Too Bad It Doesn’t Make Any Sense”, Wired, last updated January, 16, 2015.

[10]As it turned out, I couldn’t find a publicly traded company, so I bought three shares of Lyft stock instead, since they now rent scooters.

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”

It’s Easy Not to Drive…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What My Friend Said

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

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

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

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

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

What’s More Exciting than a Car?

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

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

 

____Footnotes____

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

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).