solving traffic violence with: yes, and

It is common among many transportation advocates to posit that we can only really solve the traffic violence problem by redesigning roadways to reduce the opportunity for drivers to speed, and many other driver behaviors which endanger walkers, bicyclists, and other drivers (not to mention sign posts, street furniture, and business fronts). It is true that we have designed our roadways to encourage fast driving, and to passing through rather than stopping, which is to say mobility instead of access. All of this is true. Everything from roadway design standards (federal, state and local), traffic law, signing, widening, and removal of street trees, makes roadways more dangerous and less usable by anyone not in a motor vehicle. So, yes, we need to redesign roads.

Yes, and. At the same time, we need to hold drivers accountable. The focus on fixing roads tends to ignore the contribution of reckless (sociopathic and psychopathic) driving to traffic violence. Every decision to go faster than is safe, to fail to yield to walkers, to pass a bicyclist too close, to use your motor vehicle to intimidate others, to disrupt people’s lives with intentionally loud exhaust and sound, to make unnecessary trips, is a decision. It could be decided otherwise.

I acknowledge that the trend towards blaming roadways, and the engineers who designed them, is a reaction to law enforcement using traffic law as an excuse for pretext stops, where the intent is not traffic safety but the identification and oppression of people of color and the poor. That is demonstrably true, for anyone who reads the research data on traffic stops, or for anyone out on the street paying attention, for that matter. So I am absolutely not advocating for traditional law enforcement, and in fact think that law enforcement has no place in Vision Zero efforts.

But there are other ways of holding drivers accountable. Automated traffic signal enforcement is already in place, though at far too few locations. Automated speed enforcement could be in place if CHP and other law enforcement agencies stopped killing it at every legislative session, with complicity of our windshield perspective governor. Automated enforcement of failure to yield to pedestrians is more complicated, but achievable. I continue to believe that it is a small though very significant portion of drivers who most egregiously violate the law, and kill the most people. If we can control those people, then we can eliminate much death and destruction. Not all, but most.

But how do we control those people? In my experience, most of those people are high income, entitled people, driving expensive cars and SUVs. They are often the people that others consider leaders in business and government. These are not people whose behavior will be controlled by a traffic ticket. We must up our game on them. First, base fines for violation of traffic law on the value of the vehicle being driven. That has the advantage of removing the valid concern about the effect of enforcement on lower income people. Second, impound the vehicle after a certain number of tickets. Third, confiscate the vehicle, sell it off, and use the proceeds to improve roadway safety.

So, after three rants about drivers (red-light-running bullies, Yield to walkers? Nah., and this one), I’ll go back to roadway design. Yes, that is where the ultimate solution lies.

Yield to walkers? Nah.

This is essentially the second part of my red-light-running bullies post. Except that it applies to every intersection, not just signalized intersections.

This is another driver behavior that accelerated with the pandemic. But it didn’t start there. It primarily started with the election of Donald Trump. There was a noticeable change in driver behavior immediately after the election. Many drivers apparently thought, well if the president can say and do whatever he wants without consequence, so can I. It was really noticeable to me how belligerent drivers became. I’m guessing that it was because many drivers see people walking and bicycling as ‘other’, people with different values and political views. Used to be communists, then it was “lib’rels”, and I won’t use the current round of words here. If you are walking or bicycling, you are ‘other’ and if you are walking or bicycling and black or poor, you are truly the enemy. God meant us to drive, and anyone who thinks otherwise or gets in my way is against both God and me. That may sound outlandish, but it does accurately reflect how many drivers view the world.

But back to the driver behavior. Most drivers no longer yield to people using crosswalks. Of course most drivers are not aware that there is a crosswalk at every intersection, whether marked or not. And the DMV is complicit in this, they make no effort to educate drivers about pedestrian right-of-way. The law doesn’t require a driver to stop until the walker steps off the curb (or ramp) and into the street. Common decency would mandate yielding to waiting walkers, but common decency is not common among drivers. Once the walker has stepped into the street, they have the right of way. But most drivers will not stop. They may change lanes to avoid the blood splat on their car, but they won’t stop.

There are drivers who do stop, but when I look at them, I see the fear in their eyes, that they are going to get rear ended by an inattentive driver, or that on a street with more than one lane in the same direction, another driver in another lane will fail to stop or even slow, and they will have to see someone die right in front of their eyes. I understand that fear, because both these things happen with disturbing frequency.

Continue reading “Yield to walkers? Nah.”