AB 550 allows speed cameras

AB 550, by Assemblyman David Chui, would allow the use of Automated Speed Enforcement (ASE, or speed cameras) in certain circumstances. I can’t point you to the language for specifics, since the legislative website has not been updated yet. You might call this a gut and amend bill, but since the original subject was ‘pedestrian safety’ it is really more of an amend.

The bill would establish a pilot program, which local transportation agencies could participate in. It would not start until July 2022, more than a year from now, in order for CalSTA (California State Transportation Agency) to develop an implementation plan. The program would rest with Caltrans and local transportation agencies, not with law enforcement agencies, which is a critical distinction to reduce the use of discriminatory pretext stops by law enforcement.

This legislation for ASE is a key component of the Vision Zero movement: “Managing speed to safe levels.”

It has long been my theory that most fatal crashes, whether the victim is a driver, passenger, walker or bicyclist, are caused by egregious speeders, drivers who travel more than 10 mph over the speed limit, the sort of people that CHP occasionally catches going 120 mph on the freeway, and is the same person driving 50 mph on a residential street. If that person is getting repeated automated speeding tickets, then they (he) can be targeted for more serious consequences like loss of freedom and loss of vehicle. Of course loss of vehicle probably requires other law changes, but this bill is at least a start.

When the bill language is available and hearing scheduled, I’ll post again. Keep an eye out here, or Streetsblog, or Twitter.

Streetsblog SF: Lawmaker Tries Again on Automated Speed Enforcement

from Streetsblog SF, original source unknown

use Amazon? – support this!

This afternoon I was walking along P Street, not riding my bicycle, when I saw this Amazon delivery van parked in the separated bikeway (cycletrack) just past 13th Street.

When I asked the driver why he was in the bike lane, he said there was nowhere else to park. But in fact there is a cross-hatched, implied no-parking, area just behind the photo on 14th Street, not more than 30 feet from where the van is parked. I can’t show you an aerial of this because the parking has been reconfigured since the last historical Google Earth imagery without leaves on trees, but tomorrow I’ll take a ground photo and add it here. There were also several empty parking spots on 13th Street both north and south of P Street, but apparently this was too far for the driver to walk.

Once making several deliveries, the driver finally left, traveling down the separated bikeway all the way to 13th Street. I reported the parking violation to the city’s 311 app, but of course the van was gone before they could respond. However, I think it is important for everyone to report these violations, otherwise the city can claim it was not aware of the situation.

This is the Amazon attitude, that our deliveries are more important than public safety, and if we actually get caught, the ticket is a small price for our way of doing business, which is raking in the big bucks. So, please think about this photo the next time your order from Amazon. I am not saying Amazon is the only guilty party, other delivery services do similar things, though Amazon seems to be the most brazen. And it is partly the city’s fault. When they repaved and restriped P Street to create the separated bikeway, they could have created delivery spots on both the 15th-14th block and the 14th-13th block, but they did not.

2021-03-12: Adding photo better showing context for the illegal Amazon parking. On the right is the separated bikeway that was being blocked by the Amazon driver. On the left is the crosshatched area that sets off diagonal parking on 14th Street. This morning it was being used by an exempt vehicle, perhaps CADA, but when the Amazon van was there, this was empty and available for delivery.

pandemic of red light running

There is a pandemic of red light running in Sacramento, and probably everywhere else. There have always been some red light runners. But since the pandemic emptied many streets of prudent drivers and left them wide open to egregious violators, the problem is much worse now. I am not talking about drivers who ignore or speed up on yellow, and are still in the intersection when the light turns red, I am talking about drivers who enter the intersection when the signal is already red. Often, they speed up approaching the intersection, guaranteeing that any crash will be more serious.

I know many people will not believe this, or will offer up one of many windshield perspectives on why this is not really a problem: bicyclists run red lights all the time and pedestrians jump into the street, so that crashes are their fault and not the fault of the driver. Bullshit. This is an intentional behavior by people who know that they are driving in a dangerous manner, but think they’ll get away with it. And they often do, since other drivers and walkers and bicyclists mostly know not to enter an intersection without looking to see if any of these criminals are coming.

So, if you are a doubter, I ask that you spend time observing a busy or moderately busy intersection. It probably won’t take more than 10 minutes before you see someone run a red light. This behavior truly is pandemic.

One of my observations is that about 2/3 of these are drivers of high value cars, BMWs and huge pickup trucks being the worst offenders. These people, in the unlikely event that they get a ticket for their violation, probably just see this as a minor expense for driving the way they want to. If you don’t believe that the drivers of different kinds of vehicles behave differently, please see Driving Drunk: Car Models with the Most DUIs.

A walker who steps off the curb when the pedestrian signal gives them the right of way are significantly more likely to be hit, or narrowly avoiding being hit, by these criminal red light runners. Same for a bicyclists or other drivers who enter the intersection when the light tells them it is their turn. The situation is slightly different for walkers, who do have the right of way, and bicyclists and drivers, who can enter the intersection when it is safe to do so. But in all cases, the violator is endangering the lives of others.

Red light running is a behavior that is certain to result, sooner or later, in serious injury or fatality. As such, it should be a high priority for enforcement. Both red light cameras and on-the-ground enforcement are needed, and must continue until this criminal behavior recedes at least to pre-pandemic levels, and then beyond that, until it is eliminated.

Some specifics:

  • red light running tickets should be based on the value of the vehicle, so that high income people with high value cars are penalized at a level that will actually change their behavior, and conversely that low income people are not penalized in a way that leads to a downward spiral
  • all red light tickets, whether camera or on-the-ground, must require an appearance before a judge; short-term suspension of the drivers license should be the default punishment meted out; repeated violations should result in permanent revocation of the drivers license and confiscation of the vehicle
  • law enforcement should prioritize observation of and enforcement of driver behaviors that are most likely to result in serious injury or fatality; these behaviors in my mind include egregious speeding (more than 20% over speed limit), failure to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk, and of course red light running; CHP really only cars about speeding, but this must change. Other law enforcement agencies are more likely to pay attention to other violations, but still not enough.

Some places have red light cameras to catch red light runners, but many places do not. The City of Sacramento has eleven locations with red light cameras, out of about 900 intersections. Sacramento County and the City of Citrus Heights have cameras, but I’ve been unable to find locations or numbers. Rancho Cordova has four locations. The City of Folsom apparently has none.

prudent vs. irresponsible drivers

The previous post was about prudent drivers. The table below shows how I think of prudent drivers, and irresponsible drivers. It is so hard to not be snarky about driver behavior, but I have toned it down quite a bit. If you think I am exaggerating, then you don’t spend much time on the roads walking and bicycling. I spend a lot of time doing both, probably averaging three hours per day, all of it closely observing driver behavior and the roadway built environment, because it is both my job and my advocacy. The irresponsible behavior is something I see every day, from a significant percentage of drivers. Notice that I did not use the term negligent driver, as is the legal term in my prior post on a prudent driver, because only some of this is negligent; much of it is just sociopathic.

Prudent Driver Irresponsible Driver
yields to pedestrians in crosswalks and waiting to cross never yields to pedestrians
takes turn at stop sign intersections goes out of turn at stop sign intersections
obeys speed limits, within 5 mph drives as fast as possible in all situations
on multi-lane roads, always slows or stops if a vehicle in another lane is stopped on multi-lane roads, pulls around other vehicles that are stopped, honks, and proceeds at full speed
rarely uses their car horn, and only to prevent a crash often uses their car horn to make those other idiots pay attention and get out of the way
is aware of what is going on around them is focused on other things than the road
doesn’t use their smart phone while driving, other than wayfinding holds ongoing conversation on smart phone; texts when they think they can get away with it
passes bicyclists with a safe distance, even when it means waiting yells at, honks at, and close-passes bicyclists, because they don’t belong on the road
believes all people have a right to share the public space on the roadway believes that right to the roadway is determined by the value of their vehicle and social status
will do anything to avoid a crash revels in crashes when they know they are right
knows the the cost of building and maintaining roads is subsidized by everyone is certain that gas tax monies are being illegally diverted to other uses
knows that parking is never ‘free’ and someone, or all of us, are paying believes that the right to free parking is guaranteed in the constitution, and that the parking space in front of their house belongs to them
could be a male or female (or non-binary) is almost always a male

a prudent driver

700. Basic Standard of Care: A person must use reasonable care in driving a vehicle. Drivers must keep a lookout for pedestrians, obstacles, and other vehicles. They must also control the speed and movement of their vehicles. The failure to use reasonable care in driving a vehicle is negligence.

Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions, 2019

The term ‘prudent driver’ does not exist in law or case law for California, though it does for some other states. The concept is useful enough that I’d like to explore it here. The term is closely related to other concepts such as a ‘reasonable person’, ‘prudent man‘, ‘prudent person’, ‘duty of care’, and ‘standard of care’. The Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) document, excerpted above, is often referred to a ‘case law’, instructions for how to interpret legal codes, based on court findings. Many terms in California Vehicle Code are left intentionally fuzzy, but case law removes much of, but not all of, this fuzziness. In civil law, which is what this document covers, the three criteria for establishing liability are negligence, causation, and harm, meaning that the person acted in a negligent way, and harm was caused by the negligence.

Of the two issues most relevant to people walking, speeding and failure to yield are the most significant.

706. Basic Speed Law (Veh. Code, § 22350): A person must drive at a reasonable speed. Whether a particular speed is reasonable depends on the circumstances such as traffic, weather, visibility, and road conditions. Drivers must not drive so fast that they create a danger to people or property.

Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions, 2019

Section 706: Basic Speed Law (and sections 707 and 708), presents the idea that violation of the speed limit is not, per se, evidence of negligence on the part of the driver, but that the test is whether the speed was reasonable. In most European countries, violation of speed limits is negligence, but unfortunately that is not the case in the US. But the document does lay out pretty clearly that the driver is responsible for controlling their vehicle and anticipating the presence of other users on the roadway.

710. Duties of Care for Pedestrians and Drivers in Crosswalk (Veh. Code, § 21950): A driver of a vehicle must yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian who is crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection. When approaching a pedestrian who is within any marked or unmarked crosswalk, a driver must use reasonable care and must reduce his or her speed or take any other action necessary to ensure the safety of the pedestrian.

A pedestrian must also use reasonable care for his or her own safety. A pedestrian may not suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. A pedestrian also must not unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.

The failure of a pedestrian to exercise reasonable care does not relieve a driver of a vehicle from the duty of exercising reasonable care for the safety of any pedestrian within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.

Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions, 2019

Section 710 covers the failure to yield to pedestrians violation, CVC 21950. The case law does have some interesting quotes:

“While it is the duty of both the driver of a motor vehicle and a pedestrian, using a public roadway, to exercise ordinary care, that duty does not require necessarily the same amount of caution from each. The driver of a motor vehicle, when ordinarily careful, will be alertly conscious of the fact that he is in charge of a machine capable of projecting into serious consequences any negligence of his own. […]”

“It is undisputed that defendant did not yield the right of way to plaintiff. Such failure constitutes a violation of the statute and negligence as a matter of law in the absence of reasonable explanation for defendant’s conduct.”

To summarize, my interpretation of the judicial guidance is:

  1. Drivers must control the speed of their vehicle, no matter what the posted speed limit, in recognition that they must always be aware of other users of the roadway and take all reasonable precautions to ensure that crashes do not occur.
  2. Drivers must yield to pedestrians who are exercising reasonable care in crossing the street, and the pedestrian has a presumption of right-of-way in the absence of other evidence.

So, a prudent driver would not be negligent, and a negligent driver would not be prudent.

Next post, more about how a prudent driver behaves.

the city could do this now

Some things the City of Sacramento could do today, and this week, to improve transportation and safety now and in the future:

  • Paint red curb offsets for all marked and unmarked crosswalks. These are upstream offsets, which have a strong safety value of increasing the visibility of drivers and walkers to each other. Downstream offsets, beyond the crosswalk, are much less important. Paint is cheap! Yes, maintenance of paint is more expensive, but this is important enough to make the investment.
  • Set all pedestrian signals to auto-recall, city-wide. Later we can have a discussion about whether to leave them this way, and how this interacts with the audible signals for limited vision people. I’m NOT saying disconnect the buttons, they would work if you pressed them, rather, that you no longer need to press them.
  • Convert the southbound light rail lane on 12th Street from a shared general purpose travel lane to a transit lane, from C Street to K Street. Having drivers interfere with light rail should never be OK. Consider doing the same for the portions of 7th Street and 8th Street where there is excess vehicle capacity.
  • Enforce, with a vengeance, speeding and failure to yield to pedestrian laws. Impound the cars and revoke the licenses of anyone who has more than one of these violations in a week. Our streets have been taken over by lawless joy-riders, and we need to take them back, for the safety of walkers, bicyclists, and other people in vehicles, and yes, people in adjacent buildings. Yes, these situations will end up in court, about whether the city has the power to do this, but in the meanwhile, we get these people off the street. This is an emergency, after all, and this seems a reasonable use of police emergency powers.
  • Close at least one street of at least a eighth mile length in every census tract. Since census tracts vary by population size, in a very rough way, this distributes the closed streets in the fairest manner. It provides people safe walking space in their neighborhoods, to ensure physical distancing.
  • Close the extra lanes on any street that has more than two lanes per direction, and re-allocate that space to either pedestrians or bicyclists, as demand seems to indicate.

There is construction going on right now on N Street adjacent to Capitol Park. The street has been narrowed from three lanes to one lane, and it is working just fine. The prudent driver, the one following speed limits, or at least in the range, now sets the speed of the roadway, and the egregious violators have to live with it. Which is, I think, why I’m not seeing problems on N Street right now, and am still seeing it on other wide roadways.

What else would you recommend, actions that could take place almost immediately and would not cost much?

Is policing part of a Strong Town?

This is a response to the post on Strong Towns, titled “What’s the Role of the Police Department in Building Strong Towns?

I’m going to argue that a Strong Town does not depend upon or even much need policing. This strong statement comes from my experience in observing the interactions between law enforcement and citizens of color, citizens of low income. I’m a white male middle class person, so I have not directly experienced these issues, but I see them every day. Every day. In the city where I live (Sacramento), in the county where I live (Sacramento) to an even greater degree, and in most of the places I visit in the western US. There is data driven enforcement where I live, as follows: if they are black, they are guilty. If they are other people of color or poor, they are likely guilty. If they are black and poor and young and male, god help them, they will probably be dead no matter the nature of their perceived infraction. The district attorneys are part and parcel of the problem, as they will not prosecute law enforcement officers for violations of the law and of civil rights. The police unions are part and parcel, as they defend all officers, no matter how much of a bad apple they are.

I am not saying that all law enforcement profiles, in fact most probably do not. Not all officers are prone to excessive use of force, in fact most are probably not. However, the person of color has no way of knowing which kind of officer is approaching them. They have to assume they are going to be harassed, arrested for imaginary violations, and possibly murdered. Because that is what happens all too often. In fact, any instance is too often.

You might think I’m exaggerating. Let me refer to two cases in my area, both of which received national attention.

Nandi Cain was a young black male crossing the street legally. He was confronted by and severely beaten by a Sacramento City police officer for the imagined ‘crime’ of jaywalking. The officer did not lose his job and was not disciplined beyond administrative leave. https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/crime/article146114669.html

Joseph Mann was a middle aged black male killed by two Sacramento City police officers who first tried to run him over with their patrol car, and when they couldn’t hit him, pumped large number of bullets into him. What did he do? He was holding a pocket knife and behaving strangely. He had mental health issues. Neither officer was fired, neither was prosecuted, and it is not clear whether either were disciplined. Both eventually left the department. One later admitted in print that what they had done was probably murder, but the district attorney did not follow up. The interesting thing about this case is that other earlier arriving officers had largely defused the situation, the good officers, but the two later arriving ones assumed that the person was guilty of whatever and had to be killed, the bad officers. Data-driven enforcement, for sure. https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/crime/article180804391.html

This list could go on for pages, just in my region, and it could be a book nationally. I’m sure you have all heard of such incidents. The reason I picked these two is that they also relate to safety on the streets, which is a major component of a Strong Town. Nandi, the pedestrian, is the most obvious one. He could not safety cross the street in his own neighborhood, not because of traffic (though there are certainly issues with that as well), but because the police profiled and convicted him in the field. Joseph was killed while standing in the street. The officers used a deadly weapon, their patrol vehicle, to try to kill him, and only went to their other deadly weapons, their service revolvers, when that did not work.

The fact is, under our current policing paradigm, people of color, and particularly the young, black, poor male, cannot be safe. If any citizen is not safe, all citizens are not safe, and you cannot have a Strong Town.

The second major issue is the propensity of law enforcement to take the windshield perspective on all traffic collisions, and assume that the pedestrian or bicyclist was fully responsible for their injury or death. This shows up in the news media all the time. The officer on the scene will report that the bicyclist was not wearing a helmet, or that the pedestrian was wearing dark clothing. This is at the scene, before any investigation has even started. And that is the only thing the public ever hears. There is never a follow-up. And no one can get a copy of the investigation except the immediate family, if any, because friends and other family, and the public, is not considered an interested party.

Again, a specific example. I arrived on scene just moments after a student riding to school had been hit by a driver. His pack was thrown a considerable distance, and I made sure that it was not moved by anyone, as it gives an indication of the speed of impact. When I pointed it out to the officer, he went and picked it up and said it had no bearing on the crash. A neighbor who did not see the crash but had seen the student bicycling to school dozens of times, stated to me that she had never seen the student veer or do anything but ride in a completely safe and predicable manner. The officer would not take her statement since she did not witness the collision. How can anyone feel safe using the roadways if law enforcement sees only what it wants to see, not the facts? The student was transported to the hospital but did not have life-threatening injuries.

Traffic crash statistics, on which we base many of our decisions about traffic safety, investments in transportation systems, and how we value people who use the roadways and sidewalks, is suspect. Officers report that the pedestrian or bicyclist was at fault in most crashes, because that is what they want to believe. To believe otherwise would bring into question the built environment and the organizing principles of the city, and that is something most law enforcement personnel are not willing to consider.

Chuck Marohn has expressed concern about traffic enforcement, in More Thoughts on Ending Traffic StopsIt’s Time to End the Routine Traffic Stop, and many other posts and episodes. The Internet is full of posts questioning whether law enforcement can be a constructive partner in Vision Zero.

Robert Severance III of Cleburne TX is probably an honorable person. But I’d speculate that one or more persons on his force are not. As BWTrainer commented in response to the Strong Towns post, there is no mention of what the citizens think. A Strong Towns approach values all voices but emphasizes the voices of those who are not usually heard. That’s what I think.