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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.”

We run over people don’t we?

He really said that, didn’t he?

“And you look at automobile accidents, which are far greater than any (projected COVID-19 deaths) numbers we’re talking about,” The Donald bloviated at a briefing, “that doesn’t mean we’re going to tell everybody no more driving of cars.”

And Trump’s not the only one chanting the “we run over people don’t we?” chorus. U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, of Wisconsin, piped in. “We don’t shut down our economy because tens of thousands of people die on the highways. It’s a risk we accept so we can move about.”

Um, no, that’s not quite right.

We don’t “accept” upwards of 40,000 traffic deaths a year as a necessary price to pay so Americans “can move about.”

It is, rather, the blood that we spill so we can drive as fast, as carelessly and as distractedly as we please in our increasingly oversized, overpowered and over-engineered vehicles of choice.

Because that is the autoAmerican way.

Listen, if we’re going to be honest about it, ‘We The People” built that staggering death toll atop nearly a century of bad public policy. Everything from the way we design roads to the way we do land use planning to the way we calculate speed limits – and then mostly turn a blind eye when drivers routinely ignore them – all of that and more conspire to keep those death numbers up.

We’re all so freaked out about coronavirus, hardly anybody noticed the recent news that, at the Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety, in Stockholm, the US was the only one of 140 nations to refuse to sign a global pledge to eliminate road deaths by 2050.

No surprise there. The feds have zero vision for Vision Zero.

Not that most state or local officials are much better.

StreetsblogUSA reports that, when states sent their fatality reduction goals to the Federal Highway Administration “18 states explicitly told the federal agency that their roadway fatality target was actually an increase in total pedestrian and cyclist deaths over the previous year.”

And, yes, Florida was among them.

Here’s more. A recent Boston University survey of American mayors found that 76 percent believe their cities are “too oriented toward cars,” and about 37 percent think pedestrians and bicyclists are unsafe in their cities.

Nevertheless, 80 percent believe their speed limits are just right or too low – and never mind that speed is the number one determining factor in pedestrian deaths.

Again, no surprise. Cities that ticket too many speeders are roundly shamed as greedy “speed trap” operators (ask Waldo). Many states prohibit or restrict the use of cameras to ticket red light runners and speeders.

Just as we know the steps necessary to keep Covid19 from spiraling out of control, we also know how to drastically reduce highway deaths. Design urban roads with safety, not speed, in mind for a start.

The same technology that enables Florida to bill drivers who use the Turnpike without a SunPass could also be deployed to dun motorists who drive recklessly through city streets. But that would make motor voters mad.

If you want to get away with murder in autoAmerica kill a pedestrian or cyclist with your car. The dead can’t tell their side, and if your story is convincing enough “He came out of nowhere, officer!) you may not even get points on your license.

But, sure, let’s pretend all those dead people are the legitimate price we must pay “so we can move about.”

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

So now I’m a digital guy

Hold my beer while I commit a little newspaper heresy.

I’m a newspaper man. It’s how I made my living for nearly 50 years. My veins might as well corse printers ink as blood.

I have subscribed to my daily newspaper for more than 40 years.

Every day I read the Gainesville Sun, the New York Times and USA Today, and I browse selected other news sources.

But I haven’t held an actual newspaper in my by-now un-inkstained hands for nearly a year.

No, I didn’t drop my subscription to the Sun. I just read it online.

At first I did it for the sake of expediency. My wife and I were doing so much traveling that we were frequently having to stop and restart home delivery.

Now we’re finding that we can read the Sun wherever in the world we happen to be without constantly bothering the circulation department.

And no, I don’t miss the feel of a physical newspaper in my hands. I believe that the true purpose of a “newspaper” is to feed our intellects, not give us yet one more reason to wash our hands.

And I’ll admit this, too. During my long career in journalism I often pondered the irony of cutting down whole forests so we could tell our readers about, oh, deforestation, climate change, environmental degradation and such.

Digital journalism means never having to say you are sorry.

I only bring this up now because, thanks to the coronavirus, some unsustainable newspaper business practices are becoming ever more unsustainable. Because of a drop in advertising the Tampa Bay Times just announced that it would only print an actual paper edition twice a week, while reporting the rest of the week’s news online.

Says Times CEO Paul Tash “while we are in the depths of this pandemic, we simply cannot afford to produce the ink-and-paper version every day.”

I’d like to believe that once the COVID19 thing ebbs, everything can go back to normal. But newspapers were losing advertisers and shedding staff long before the virus arrived, and I suspect they will continue to do so when it’s gone.

So what to do?

I think readers will always turn to their most trusted local news sources. And in most communities that means their local daily newspaper.

But I also think that the switch to all-digital-all-online-all-the-time news is probably inevitable and not a bad thing. Ink on paper is so last century.

I actually have two Sun apps on my devices. One is the app that allows you to read The Sun, page by page, just as though you are reading the honest-to-goodness newspaper.

The other app allows you to read constant updates as they are posted.

In other words you don’t have to wait for tomorrow to read today’s news. And we’re certainly learning how important that sort of immediacy is.

Ben Smith, the New York Times media columnist, believes the survival of news gathering may depend on moving “as fast as possible to a national network of nimble new online newsrooms.”

Smith’s main question is whether the future of news gathering should be left to for-profit or given over to non-profit hands. But either way the future of news is almost certainly going to be digital