autoAmerican anarchy

The cyclists are revolting against autoAmerican anarchy. Up the revolution!

In New York City hundreds of cyclists laid down for a “die-in” at Washington Square Park after three cyclists were killed in just one week (15 Big Apple cyclists dead so far this year). “People are literally dying on the streets because they’re not being adequately protected,” Joseph Cutrufo, of Transportation Alternatives, said. Biking “shouldn’t be seen as a dangerous behavior.”

In Boston cyclists formed a human chain to protest the city’s decision to install painted bike lanes on dangerous streets. According to the Boston Globe “The 8 a.m. demonstration consisted of more than 100 people standing in the roads near the intersection of Fenway and Brookline Avenue during the busy morning commute to ‘highlight the dangerous conditions cyclists face every day when given no protection beyond paint.'” Paint isn’t enough, protestors say, they want bike lanes that are physically separated from cars. 

These protests follow a well-attended “Rally For Streets That Don’t Kill People” in Washington, D.C. “Cyclists laid down in the street, and activists read aloud the names of 128 people who have been killed on D.C. roads since” 2016 reports USA Streetsblog. 

Meanwhile, an NYC cop intentionally ran his patrol car into a cyclists who had apparently ignored an order to pull over. The cop later told the cyclists in front of witnesses “you’re riding recklessly, and you’re refusing to stop after multiple lawful orders that you acknowledged. So I am going to use whatever means necessary to stop you, OK? And that’s for your safety.” On the plus side, at least he didn’t shoot the guy. 

In Florida’s Indian Rocks Beach 17-year old Sophia Delott was riding her bike home from school when she was struck and killed by a drunk driver. Delott was well known in the community as the only girl on the Seminole High football team. The team posted on its Facebook page: “Last night, one of our own was taken from us by a drunk driver. Sophie was a Warhawk through and through…Most of all, she was our family.”

The City of Orangetown, NY, has passed an ordinance requiring cyclists to ride in single file or suffer penalties of up to $300 in fines and 30 days in jail – this despite a state law that stipulates otherwise. “Apparently, upstate motorists were upset that cycling tourists wouldn’t move out of the way of cars,” reports Streetsblog USA. Oh the humanity.

Want to know why the simple act of walking on public streets is hazardous for your health? Consider these survey results from Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance. Despite a “must stop” law requiring drivers to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, fewer than 1 out of 5 Chicago drivers do so. “Compliance is really, really low,” says Active Transportation Alliance spokesman Kyle Whitehead in a classic understatement. 

Speaking of pedestrians at risk, Strong Towns poses the $64,000 question with this recent headline “Why are U.S. drivers killing so many pedestrians?” U.S. pedestrian deaths have increased 51 percent over the last 9 years. Meanwhile the pedestrian death rate in Europe is steadily dropping. “It’s worth noting that this trend is occurring even though walking is far more common in Europe, streets are generally narrower, and in older cities, there aren’t sidewalks, but pedestrians share the roadway with cars.” Hey, if you don’t love autoAmerica, Pal, go back where you came from. 

On the plus side, police in five southeast states are cracking down on speeders – for exactly one week. “The speed limit is the speed limit,” Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Derrick Rahming said in announcing Operation Southern Shield. “We are going to be focusing on drivers who are failing to observe posted speed limits…to make sure the roads are safer during this season.” It’s rather like declaring a hunting season when you can bag your limit. The rest of the year we call ’em “speed traps.”

Sympathy for the Donald

With apologies to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
Been around for a long, long time
Stole many a man’s soul to waste
I was ’round when Jesus Christ
Has his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name.
Cause what’s confusing you is just the

Nature of my game.

I stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was time for a change
I killed the Tsar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain
I rode a tank, held a general’s rank
When the blitzkreig raged and the bodies stank
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name.
Cause what’s puzzling you is just the
Nature of my game
I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the Gods they made
I shouted out
“Who killed the Kennedys?”
When after all
It was you and me
And I laid traps for troubadours
Who get killed before they reached Bombay
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah, get down, baby
Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
Cause I’m in need of some restraint
So if you meet me
Have some courtesy
Have some sympathy, and some taste
Use all your well-learned politesse
Or I’ll lay your soul to waste, um yeah
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, um yeah
But what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, um mean it, get down
Woo, who
Oh yeah, get on down
Oh yeah
Oh yeah!
Tell me baby, what’s my name
Tell me honey, can ya guess my name
Tell me baby, what’s my name
I tell you one time, you’re to blame
Ooo, who
Ooo, who
Tell me, sweetie, what’s my name
Ooo, who, who
Ooo, who, who
Ooo, who, who
Ooo, who, who
Ooo, who, who
Ooo, who, who
Ooo, who, who

Oh, yeah

Just give us 800 feet

San Francisco’s Market Street and New York City’s 4th Street are now off limits to most cars. This, according to CityLab.com, being indicative of a “wave of cities around the globe pedestrianizing their downtown cores and corridors…”

To which it is worth nothing that college towns have been way ahead of the curve in reclaiming their downtowns for people – not just to save lives but to promote economic vitality.

I’m thinking of Pearl Street, in Boulder, Col.; State Street, in Madison, Wis.; and Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, hard up against “Mr. Jefferson’s’ University of Virginia.

I’ve visited all three of those cities and walked all three streets. My observation was that the downtown street life in those communities is more diverse, prosperous and enjoyable than anything we have here in Hogtown. And unlike Gainesville’s, which is primarily a nighttime downtown, those three university downtowns generate considerably more daytime activity.

Boulder and Charlottesville are mainly pedestrian malls, while State Street – linking the University of Wisconsin and the state capitol building – is still a people magnet despite making allowances for buses, taxis and select other vehicles.

Here in Gainesville we’re willing to close portions of University Avenue for the Homecoming Parade, and the rare Open Streets event. But that’s about it when it comes to making life a little less convenient for motorists as a trade-off for an enhanced street life.

But, say, here’s an idea. What if we started out small and liberated just three downtown blocks from autoAmerican tyranny? Heck, we could even ease into it and start with weekends only.

The City of Gainesville is going to collaborate with the University of Florida on a downtown master plan. If I were looking at ways to enhance downtown’s “street cred,” while making it a friendlier and more inviting place for dining, retail, relaxation and collaboration, I’d take a serious look at turning SE 1st Street, from University Ave to The Hippodrome, into pedestrian haven. This following either the Boulder and Charlottesville (people only) model or Madison’s (vehicles restricted) example.

That stretch of 1st. is just about 800-feet long, and that’s a good thing. “Car-free shopping streets have a better chance to succeed when smaller and their limited scale makes them easy to implement. Most car-free shopping streets are between one and three blocks long. Their more intimate settings offer retail on a human scale, with sufficient points of interest, and places to linger, encouraging customers to browse at their own pace and make connections with shop proprietors.” This from Build A Better Burb.

Creating a “people” corridor on First Street wouldn’t affect downtown traffic flow one wit. Yes, it would sacrifice dozens of on-street parking slots along 1st. But with two downtown parking garages and lots of on-street parking remaining on the perimeters, that’s a small sacrifice to make in return for a prosperous, people-centric downtown.

And there is a powerful case to be made for rethinking downtown parking.

Imagine the former parking spaces of SE 1st sprouting outdoor cafes, street vendors, sculptures and fountains. Imagine travel lanes being given over to buskers, flower sellers and street bands. If we’re not careful we might create all manner of inviting places for folks to converge and collaborate and see and be seen.

No question there would be initial resistance from business owners who fear the loss of free parking just outside their doors. But if planners do their jobs correctly they can make a case that restricting vehicles will reap greater rewards.

In a recent piece in CityLab.com, Brooks Rainwater, senior executive with the National League of Cities, points to initial resistance to Rotterdam’s decision to limit cars in the city’s center. “At first, area shopkeepers were concerned that customers wouldn’t be able to reach their shops without the ability to drive up to their storefronts,” he wrote. “But as evidence continues to show, retail actually improves in pedestrian zones.”

All I’m saying is give people a chance, Gainesville. A chance for them to claim a space of their own without the hassle of having to dodge heavy moving objects. Who knows, it might even lead to the downtown revival that has so far been elusive.

Since I wrote this for the Gainesville Sun I came across a recently issued “pedestrian zone” report from the National League of Cities. “The idea of pedestrian zones existed far before the introduction of automobiles. But old ideas can be made new again, serving as solutions to our most modern problems. With this guide, local leaders can consider strategies to build people- centered communities, both now and in the future,” writes Clarence E. Anthony, Executive Director National League of Cities.

“Rethinking urban mobility is not a new trend, but it is a timely one,” the report continues. “As cities continue to feel the effects of climate change, high levels of air pollution and increasing traffic, local leaders are tackling one of the biggest culprits: private vehicles. With the growth of micromobility and increased use of public transit, residents are increasingly utilizing non-car options. And cities are rethinking and redesigning city spaces to accommodate these changes in mobility, while simultaneously addressing the environmental and health concerns plaguing urban dwellers.”

It’s time for Gainesville to rethink its urban mobility options for all of the above reasons.

Wither downtown?

I’m not sure when the south end of downtown’s First Street began to turn into skid row. But the signs were there.

Like when the outside seating disappeared from Starbucks.

And when they tore down Jon Wershow’s old law firm building, and the adjacent pocket sculpture garden, to be replaced by a dirt parking lot with a shabby wooden slat fence.

Each morning street people congregate along the fence – joking, smoking, panhandling. Still more gather in the Sun Center courtyard.

Some even bring their own chairs because, well, you can’t sit outside Starbucks anymore.

The parking lot is supposed to be temporary. Presumably when it’s a hotel the “pop up” skid row will pop up somewhere else.

Still, these days you can practically follow the trail of shopping carts, sleeping bags, blankets, cans and bottles down South Main.

Listen, our homeless issues pale in comparison to those of many other American cities. And we are an intelligent, and compassionate, enough people to manage those issues without panicking.

But here’s the thing about our downtown street scene.

When students descend en masse, from sunset into the wee hours, the street people tend to be lost in the crowd. It is in the cold light of day that the area’s growing air of seediness is revealed in stark relief.

Downtown doesn’t have a homeless problem so much as a people problem.

Ours is basically a two dimensional downtown: Party central at night, a parking lot for government workers during the day.

It doesn’t have to be that way. And thanks to a still-blossoming town/gown strategic partnership we may soon have the opportunity to decide what downtown Gainesville ought to be when it grows up.

City Manager Lee Feldman is negotiating with the University of Florida to create a master plan for downtown Gainesville. “We’re just in beginning stage of talking about how we will approach a new planning process,” he says. “Downtown is critical, not only to city but also to the university. And we both recognize the need for it to be successful.”

Of late we haven’t had many downtown champions. GDOT (Gainesville Downtown Owners and Tenants) has gone dormant and is about to reorganize under another name. The Chamber of Commerce is located downtown, but its heart has long been in the suburbs. And while the city has invested millions of dollars to reengineer Main Street, redesign the Bo Diddley Plaza and build Depot Park, its day-to-day downtown stewardship might best be described as one of benign neglect.

“We’re looking at this to see how we can engage all the stakeholders in a process to come up with a common idea of what to do about downtown,” says Andrew Telles, UF’s collaborative initiatives director. “We have interesting resources at the university, cultural (institutes), arts in medicine, programs that are of the university but can’t exist without the people of the community.

“What can we bring downtown that will draw more people to the area during the day, late afternoon and evening? What can other stakeholders look to own? People will avoid that area unless there is something to draw them in.”

Downtown has been through cycles of prosperity and neglect, often driven by economic and social forces beyond our control. But if we are half as smart as we think we are in this university community, we ought to be capable of creating the downtown we want and deserve: A thriving, three-dimensional, 24/7, live work and play Heart of Gainesville.

(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at www.floridavelocipede.com.

I wonder

Five minutes of fame

Pop quiz. What did Margaret Mitchell have in common with Olson Bean?

No, the veteran actor was not in the celebrated author’s hit movie “Gone With The Wind.” Although, being 11 when it was filmed, in 1939, Bean could well have qualified for a child extra role if he had been hanging around Hollywood.

No, being in the entertainment industry is not the most intimate thing that connects Mitchell, who died in 1949 at the age of 48 and Bean, who died on Friday, at the age of 91.

Mitchell was an early causality in the autoAmerican war on pedestrians. Bean was one of the latest. They belonged to fraternity whose members risk life and limb for the singular privilege of presuming to cross American streets on foot.

Mitchell was crossing Atlanta’s Peachtree Street when she was run over by an off-duty taxi driver. She was on her way to see a movie. She died five days later. The cab driver had been drinking and was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Bean, a veteran actor whose credits stretch back into the 1950s, was crossing a street in Venice, Ca., when he was clipped by one car and then fatally struck by another. Too early for any talk about charges, but we live in an age when drivers are seldom punished overly much for taking another human being’s life. These days we mostly talk about “distracted walking” and shrug it off with an “oh well, accidents happen,” and then move on.

The thing that really connects Mitchell and Bean is that they were run over while being famous, which means their deaths got the requisite five minutes of fame before we all moved on.

We know virtually nothing about most of the 6,227 pedestrians who were killed in 2018 alone. If my local newspaper is any indication, the average dead pedestrian gets about three paragraphs in the next day’s “briefs” column before being consigned to old news.

What we do know is that while traffic fatalities on the whole have been decreasing for years, pedestrian deaths jumped by 41 percent in the last decade alone and now account for 16 percent of all traffic fatalities.

“There was a 30-year decline starting in 1979 in the number of pedestrian fatalities,” Richard Retting, of the National Governor’s Highway Safety Association, told citylab.com. “Now, the U.S. is reaching the peak of a decade-long surge. Something’s gone terribly wrong in the last ten years.”

What’s gone terribly wrong? Cell phones. Texting. Distracted drivers. Distracted walkers. The surge in SUV and heavy pickup sales. The average driver’s need for speed. The prioritizing of fast and efficient traffic flow over public safety. The refusal of cities to design their streets for all users. Pick your favorite villain.

But let’s at least be honest about who we are and what we do.

We are a callous society, and our indifference to the wellbeing of our fellow man is never more on display than when we seat ourselves behind the wheel of our climate-controlled, gadget festooned, power packed vehicle of choice, shut the door to the outside world and press the ignition.

Yesterday on my short cycle home from downtown I had two occasions to signal for left hand turns, both times on relatively quite Gainesville residential streets. On both occasions vehicles coming up behind opted to speed up and pass me – on the left! – rather than slow down and wait for me to safely make my turn.

Either one of those cars could well have ended my life. And I have no doubt that if that had happened, the social media comments at the end of the news article reporting my death would have been of the “well, he shouldn’t have been there anyway” variety.

I ride every day. And seldom a day passes that some friend doesn’t ask “but isn’t that dangerous?” And the truth is that the world will little note nor long remember my passing if it comes at the lead foot of some entitled driver.

But every now and then somebody of note gets run down in autoAmerica. A Margaret Mitchell or an Orson Bean. And then the world sits up and takes notice.

At least for five minutes.

Design is destiny

Not all roads must lead to ruin.

South Main Street funnels traffic into downtown Gainesville. It traverses mom-and-pop businesses, an industrial district and Depot Park. Big trucks, cars, buses, walkers and cyclists all use South Main in more or less peaceful coexistence.

Archer Road also brings traffic into the heart of the city. On the way it runs right through Gainesville’s “medical mile,” past the VA Hospital and UF Health’s tightly packed hospitals, clinics and labs.

Archer is also traffic-,transit- and pedestrian-intensive. And some of its pedestrians must get around with the help of canes and wheelchairs.

Slowing traffic where there are lots of sick and elderly people – and thousands of health care workers – would seem to be good public safety policy. I assumed that was the reason 25 mph speed limit signs were once posted on Archer between SW 23rd St. and SW 13th St.

Because we know that speed kills.

But it turns out that the 25 mph limit was just a temporary inconvenience for drivers while road construction was underway. Last month, the limit was raised to 35 mph.

Not that posted limits count for very much. Archer was designed for speed. Multiple, broad travel lanes, no on-street bike lanes or parking, no roundabouts and good straight lines of sight all conspire to empower fast drivers.

The speed limit on South Main is 30 mph. But unlike Archer, South Main was deliberately designed to move traffic at a slow, steady pace. A single, narrow travel lane, on-street bike lanes and parking, roundabouts, landscaped median and other “traffic calming” designs induce motorists to behave themselves.

South Main used to look a lot like Archer, and it similarly invited rural highway speeds.

True confession: I got my last ticket on the old South Main speedway. In retrospect, I should have pleaded entrapment by design.

If you haven’t been paying attention, South Main is beginning to blossom. Depot Park and the Cade are people magnets, and new businesses are beginning to spring up in a corridor once known more for urban blight than vitality.

In contrast, Archer’s medical mile continues to be traffic-centric. Moving cars as quickly and efficiently as possible is goal No. 1, with public safety a distant second.

Why UF isn’t demanding that the state turn that stretch of Archer into a South Main clone is baffling to me. If though traffic was diverted around the medical complex and onto SW 16th Avenue, only people who had health business to attend to would need to drive through medical mile.

The old South Main speedway is newly redesigned by the City of Gainesville to improve the urban quality of life. It is reviving a once moribund part of the city without disrupting, only slowing, traffic.

Archer was designed by the state to do exactly what it does. Move a lot of cars very quickly.

But here’s the thing. All over America, cities are waking up to the necessity of obliging cars to behave themselves in order to make the public streets safer and accessible to people who do not seal themselves up inside protective metal cocoons.

In any sane society the safety of people who get around with the help of wheelchairs and walkers would take precedence over the convenience of fast driving.

But that’s the story of autoAmerica.

We can be better than that in Gainesville. We can choose to design our own destiny. Not all of our roads must lead to ruin.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at http://www.floridavelocipede.com.

autoAmerican anarchy

Here we go again.

Two adolescents, a boy and a girl, were throwing snowballs at cars in Milwaukee. One driver took umbridge, pulled over, and shot them. Would an autoAmerican jury even convict?

Meanwhile, in Kansas City, an off-duty police officer, a the mother of two, pulled her car over to help an elderly woman cross the street. As a reward for her good deed she was struck and killed by an oncoming vehicle.

Turns out, Halloween is a truly scary night. “The most disturbing thing about Halloween isn’t the fake blood, urban legends, or sexy clown costumes. It’s that the streets are full of actual child-killers: Pedestrians under age 18 are twice as likely to be struck and killed by a car on October 31 than on any other day of the year,” reports City Lab. Be very afraid, kids.

It is a perverse autoAmerican value that the act of walking is actually hazardous to your health. “Ten years ago, 4,109 pedestrians died. The number has risen virtually every year since, and last year, the death toll was up 3.4 percent to 6,283. Pedestrian fatalities in urban areas are up 69 percent over the last 10 years,” Reports McClatchy news service. On the other hand, don’t you feel really safe inside that big, tall, armored SUV?

From our Best Intentions Dept: San Francisco adopted “Vision Zero” goals to eliminate traffic deaths. But the city has since declared a “state of emergency” because the death toll is actually climbing. “San Francisco is midway through its Vision Zero goal to eliminate street fatalities, which don’t count highways or underground transportation, by 2024 but faced a setback…this year has seen at least 24 people die in street collisions and 16 of those have been pedestrians or cyclists. In all of 2018, there were 23 deaths counting against Vision Zero,” reports SFWeekly.

And if you think technology is going to keep us from killing each other, think again. It turns out that the reason an Arizona woman was killed by an Uber self-driving SUV last year was because the car apparently didn’t know that human beings don’t always heed the rules of the road. “Much of that explains why, despite the fact that the car detected (Rafaela) Herzberg with more than enough time to stop, it was traveling at 43.5 mph when it struck her and threw her 75 feet. When the car first detected her presence, 5.6 seconds before impact, it classified her as a vehicle. Then it changed its mind to “other,” then to vehicle again, back to “other,” then to bicycle, then to “other” again, and finally back to bicycle,” reports Wired. Back to the drawing board on that one.

After a 37-year old cyclist was run over by a truck in Chicago, cyclists turned out in protest bearing “Please don’t kill us” signs. But don’t just blame the driver. ““You had a bike lane that is completely gone, it hasn’t been maintained. The plan was to make it a protected bike lane but the area pushed back, so it was just a faded, painted bike lane,” Christina Whitehouse, founder of advocacy group Bike Lane Uprising, told Block Club Chicago. “We had a cyclist that was in it and who was clearly an experienced cyclist based on the bike, and you had a commercial truck that right-hooked her.” The moral to this story is that life is cheap – or at least cheaper than the cost of laying down a little paint or installing barriers.

The city of Elizabeth, N.J. decided to ban Lime electric scooters after a teenager rented one and was killed. By a tow truck. ““It didn’t matter if he was 16 or 18. He was hit by a tow truck. No matter how old he was, he would have been killed,” Elizabeth resident Danielle Fienberg told StreetsblogNYC. “We have no bike lanes, we have no basic pedestrian safety measures, and we have drivers that are aggressive. We were not ready for Lime scooters.” No word on whether Elizabeth now intends to ban killer tow trucks.

They are serious about jaywalking in Gwinnette County, Ga. A man on his way to a job interview reportedly got tased three times for walking outside the line. “You jaywalked again right in front of us. Again, bro,” the officer said, according to a WSBTV news report. “Y’all doing all that over jaywalking?” the tasee responded. Hey, this is autoAmerica, pal, you need to watch your step!

Professional wrestler Matt Travis was a tough guy. “Wrestling is my lifeline. Every night I come home and hear how someone got shot… like, what if I’m next? But with wrestling I feel like, finally, I have a shot,” he once said. “It didn’t take a bullet to kill Matt Travis. It took a 10,000-pound dump truck,” reports StreetsblogNYT. “According to police, Travis was coasting down the Willis Avenue bridge bike path at around 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, intending to continue across 125th Street — but a dump truck on a service road parallel to the bridge made an illegal left turn onto 125th Street and then another left onto the bridge, hitting Travis in the process.

And, listen, you don’t have to be a pedestrian or cyclist to be at risk in autoAmerica. In Toms River, N.J. a red Porsche was traveling so fast that it actually went airborne and lodged itself into the second story of a real estate building, killing both driver and passenger. “The red Porsche Boxster was clearly visible upside down in the second story,’ reported USA Today. “Toms River building inspector John Gerrity deemed the building unsafe, police said.” And the building wasn’t even jaywalking.

Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle reports that “Texas has not had a death-free day on its roads in 19 years.” Texas Transportation Commissioner Laura Ryan said “They die silently and violently,’…noting the numbness many drivers have to Texas leading the country in fatalities.” On the plus side, you get to drive really, really fast in Texas.

By the way, if you think driving doesn’t go to your head, think again. “New research has linked air pollution nanoparticles to brain cancer for the first time. The ultra-fine particles (UFPs) are produced by fuel burning, particularly in diesel vehicles, and higher exposures significantly increase people’s chances of getting the deadly cancer,” reports The Guardian. “Toxic air has been linked to other effects on the brain, including hugereductions in intelligence, dementia and mental health problems in both adults and children. The World Health Organization says air pollution is a “silent public health emergency.” Talk about distracted driving.

But don’t get the impression that all drivers are oblivious to the world around them. When St. Petersburg cyclist Steven Weldon got nailed by a speeding motorist, he got assistance from an unexpected source. “The unidentified driver stopped and helped pull an injured Weldon off the roadway. He also moved the bike out of the road,” reported the Tampa Bay Times. Then “the driver got back into his car and drove off. Now it’s being investigated a case of hit-and-run.”

Be careful out there folks.

The forever war

Listen, Donald Trump’s war on Iran could save hundreds of American lives. Maybe thousands.

But not against acts reprisal or terrorism. That blood letting is likely to be terrible, and we will live to regret our strategy of promiscuous drone warfare.

But it could save lives back here on the home front.

How? Because if things really go sideways with Iran, the price of oil will likely skyrocket.

Cheap gas is killing us, and we’ve been drunk on the stuff for years.

About 40,000 Americans were slaughtered in traffic last year alone. And it is a fact that the less we pay for gas the more we drive. And the more we drive the more likely we are to kill each other.

“During hard times, or when gas prices surge, people drive less: some shift to cheaper travel modes, some just stay home,” the online news service CityLab observes. “One predictable and well-documented result of big spikes in gas prices is fewer car crashes…”

Not to mention that less driving means less climate-changing carbon emissions spewing into the atmosphere.

The Union of Concerned Scientists points out: “Our personal vehicles are a major cause of global warming…cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all US emissions, emitting around 24 pounds of carbon dioxide and other global-warming gases for every gallon of gas.”

We’ve been fighting this forever war in the Mideast for what seems like forever now – squandering our national treasure and throwing away young American lives to keep the oil spigots flowing. It’s not honor, but slavishness that makes the bloody Saudi regime our best pal. We have pledged our allegiance to Aramco.

What does “patriotism” even mean in war time these days? The Bush administration told us to go shopping while it knocked off Iraq. And thanks to all the oil we “liberated,” too many of us went shopping for gas guzzling SUVs and pickups.

That’s not patriotism. That’s self-indulgence.

To end the forever war, the ultimate act of patriotism would be to drive less, drive smaller and drive slower. Doing so would simultaneously save lives and help stave off climate change.

What might a rational homeland security strategy look like in a post-forever war America? Well, instead of spending billions on bigger highways we would be investing in transit…and then make it free as an incentive to not drive.

Rather than subsidizing suburban sprawl – as we’ve done since World War II – we would instead redesign our cities to be more walkable and bikable. Traffic calming by design saves gas and makes us more free to get around.

Here on the home front, pedestrian deaths in cities like New York and Denver are on the rise. This despite the adoption of much-touted “Vision Zero” policies.

Does that mean Vision Zero doesn’t work? No, in Norway, Oslo saw just one traffic fatality last year, thanks to a Vision Zero plan that takes itself seriously.

“The great tragedy of the American postwar development pattern is that we’ve built a world where a productive life is only possible if we do our daily travel at truly crazy, historically unprecedented speeds,” argues strongtowns.org. “These are speeds that make doing everything by car (with the attendant risk of injury or death, to yourself or others) the unavoidable ante to participating productively in society.”

To end the forever war we need to stop playing Aramco’s game and resolve to make America a civilization that doesn’t run on cheap gas.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at floridavelocipede.com.