Gregory Branch, William Moore, Denise Griffiths, Dwight Jenkins, D.J. Washington.
And Rose M. McDonald, aka “Granny.”
If those names ring no bells, I’m not surprised. Had they been the victims of, say, Coronavirus, their deaths would be front page news.
But they are just people who have been killed while trying to bike, cross or walk a public street in our county since November.
For the most part their untimely deaths rated only a few paragraphs in print or scant mention on the air. They were a 16-year old boy walking in the bike lane on SW 20th Ave., a UF student killed while crossing University Avenue, a 45-year old man run over by a truck on U.S. 441 near Turkey Creek, a 60-year old Melrose man run down on SR 222, a 45-year old man killed while crossing NW 39th Ave.
And then there was “Granny,” left to die on Waldo Road, on Jan. 30, by a hit-and-run driver.
That their deaths attracted little note is no rap on local news. The sad truth is that we kill so many pedestrians and bicyclists in autoAmerica that any single death by vehicle typically rates brief notice.
“Pedestrian deaths rise more than 50 percent in the U.S.,” a recent story in The Sun was headlined. Just a reminder that, even as traffic related deaths in general have gone down, the number of walkers or cyclists being killed is at a 30-year high.
If you happened to read that story, you may have thought: I’m glad I don’t live in Miami, or Orlando, or Tampa…or any big city where cyclists and pedestrians are at risk.
To which I would respond: Gregory Branch, William Moore, Denise Griffiths, Dwight Jenkins, D.J. Washington.
And Rose M. McDonald.
Rose was the only one of those victims I knew by sight, if not by name.
She was a prominent figure among Gainesville’s downtown homeless community. Small and frail, suffering from multiple emotional and physical maladies, she was nonetheless a relentlessly cheerful woman.
“She was one of the first people I met in Gainesville, as she bummed smokes and change from folks downtown,” says Assistant City Manager Dan Hoffman. “Her story is sad and her fate too common these days. Dangerous roads. A life lived on the margins. She was dealt a really bad hand in life.”
Local playwright Michael Presley Bobbitt also appreciated his exchanges with Granny. She “was as Gainesville as it gets…a relentless source of positivity and encouragement. A bright light in this community has been extinguished by a careless, murderous hit-and-run motorist, and we are all poorer for it.”
Sadly, justice for Granny is unlikely.
Gainesville Police Department just issued a press release asking “witnesses or persons with information about the traffic homicide to please come forward.” That’s a cold trail indeed, the release coming more than a month after she was left for dead.
As a community, we don’t have to accept such deaths with an “Oh well, accidents happen” shrug. We know how to change the autoAmerican status quo. We know how to repurpose our public streets and roads, especially in urban areas, to reduce fatalities.
Call it Vision Zero. Call it traffic calming. Call it Complete Streets. Call it what you will.
The only thing you can honestly call the status quo is unacceptable. That or obscene.
It’s not the spirit that’s lacking, but the communal will.
(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at www.floridavelocipde.com.)
Rose M. McDonald, aka “Granny.”