By CycleRecycle, Jan 5 2016 11:24AM
As 2015 drew to a close, many of us felt tremendous frustration at the issues confronting us across the globe. I won’t comment on politics and war since I will probably dig a pit I can’t climb out of. But those of us who want safer streets and better infrastructure see plenty of work ahead in 2016.
Here in NYC we saw the launching of Vision Zero. This is a model based on a program launched in Sweden with the intention of reducing pedestrian and bicycle fatalities caused by drivers. In NYC speed limits were reduced from 30mph to 25mph on most city streets. It’s been shown that reduced speeds decrease the likely hood that injuries will be fatal if a person is hit by a car. But here’s the hitch. Reduced speeds only work if drivers follow the law. In just over 1 week there were 11 fatalities caused by speeding drivers who often lost control of the car. Some of these drivers had suspended licenses and histories of previous dangerous driving episodes.
So why are these people even behind the wheel? What happens when they get caught? Essentially nothing happens. A taxi driver who sped through an intersection hitting a father and killing the young son who was holding his father’s hand got fined $250. This was not an isolated case. I don’t know what happens in other states or countries. In NYC it seems that a person is viewed as having God given rights to get behind the wheel. And God help the pedestrian for thinking he has a right to cross the street safely. Unless the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they literally get away with murder.
The Mayor of NY likes to tell us that deaths have decreased. However, I read something intriguing. The number of injured has not decreased. Why is this? Assuming that the driver has slowed down somewhat, i.e. going 30-35mph instead of the 40mph he used to do, the individual hit has a greater chance of surviving the crash.
The Swedish model for safe streets works on the theory that people are fallible and will make mistakes. Based on this theory, streets were redesigned to make it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to get where they need to. It also made it harder for drivers to do the wrong thing. Corners were bumped out shortening the distance needed to walk across the street. These bump outs also force drivers to slow down to make a turn. More bike lanes are protected. Other changes were made to street design and to alter driving culture.
An activist group has been working with the Department of Transportation to make several areas of Brooklyn safer. These are trouble spots known for high incident rates.
In one neighborhood, proposals were shot down by people who fear that improvements such as creating a small crossing plaza will lead to gentrification. Apparently, it’s better to keep the neighborhood dangerous for the middle and lower income families that negotiate this intersection trying to get to school and work. Sounds like a strange form of discrimination to me.
In Australia the laws have created a war on bicyclist, particularly those who use their bicycles as transportation. Violation of helmet laws carries stiff fines. Nothing substantial has changed to make the daily bike commuter safer. UK has issues with safety, driving culture and street infrastructure as well. This is despite a long bicycling tradition.
So our work continues in 2016. I would like to challenge all of you (and spread this challenge to others). When making all those well intentioned New Year’s resolutions make and follow through with this one. Join an advocacy group and become actively involved. If you are already involved then get someone new to join, take on a new project or just give a little more time or money. Here’s to success across the globe to make our streets safe and enjoyable places. Enjoy the ride.
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