Life in the fast, fast, fast lane

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve checked in on the current state of autoAmerican anarchy. So much to lament…so little time.

Are women more likely to die in crashes than men? Yes, according to Streetsblog. And for reasons that, upon reflection, seem pretty obvious.

“Women drivers are more likely to die in crashes because the male drivers who hit them are more likely to be driving trucks and SUVs, a new study finds…Aggressive driving plays a role, too. The researchers also found that women-identified drivers were more likely to be struck by another driver from the side or front of the vehicle, while men-identified drivers were more likely to cause the crashes in which they were involved.” Talk about a deadly gender gap.

Of course women drivers aren’t the only vulnerable users out there in autoAmerica’s fast lane. Outside magazine spent a year monitoring cycling deaths in 2020 and discovered that “record numbers of cyclists (and thousands of pedestrians) on our nation’s roads are being killed by drivers often without any media attention beyond a brief local news story.”

“In 2018, 857 cyclists died in crashes with drivers, the deadliest year for people on bikes since 1990. In 2019, while the total number of deaths dipped slightly, to 846, cities like New York recorded their highest number of cyclist fatalities ever.”

“Last January, in response to those disturbing numbers, we launched the #2020CyclingDeaths project, which aimed to track every person on a bike killed by a driver in the U.S. over the course of the year. In the end, we recorded 697 cyclist deaths. Since we were only able to count deaths reported by local media, the actual total is likely significantly higher. The five victims of the Nevada crash were numbers 662 through 666 in our database.”

Speaking of those five cyclists killed in a single collision in Nevada, they might not have died entirely in vain. In Clark County, scene of the fatalities, bicyclists may now legally take the full lane if riding on the right side of the road is too dangerous. The previous mandate to keep to the right side of the road no matter what, county officials now concede, was “outdated and inconsistent with state law.”

The cyclists could have told them that…if they could still talk.

There’s been a 50 percent increase in pedestrian deaths in America in the last ten years. And as Angie Schmitt points out in her new book “Right Of Way: Race, Class and The Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America”: “Walking deaths fall disproportionately on those who are poor, black and brown, elderly, disabled, low income or some combination thereof.” Give it a read.

By the way, if you are a fan of daily TV and radio traffic broadcasts, don’t be taken in by the light tone of most of them.

“I’ve long found these breezy reports horrifying specifically for the way they’re clearly not meant to be, nor are they widely understood as, horrifying,” writes Daniel Herriges for Strong Towns. “The list of traffic jams the upbeat DJ wants to inform you about over a techno beat as you plan your commute is, in some measure, a list of places that people have just been injured or killed…Of course, they’re not going to tell you that they’re nonchalantly listing off places where someone may have just died. You’re not going to learn the name of anyone who was rushed to the hospital…There’d be no reason for them to tell you that even if they could; it’d be a heck of a downer, and it’s completely beside the point of these little updates.”

No, whole the point of the updates is to let drivers know which roads to avoid when they want to get to where they’re going as fast as possible. Talk about accidents waiting to happen.

By the way, if you thought COVID lockdowns would mean less autoAmerican anarchy, think again. “The rate of traffic deaths jumped in the first half of 2020, and safety experts blame drivers who sped up on roads left open when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down businesses and limited commuting,” reports USA Today. “When the pandemic significantly lowered traffic, the rate of traffic fatalities per miles driven jumped by 18%, reaching a level not seen in at least 12 years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Safety experts have blamed speeding for the increase as reduced congestion gave motorists more room to roam.”

Turns out that traffic congestion saves lives because drivers are forced to slow down.

From our Feeding The Beast Dept. comes word from Bloomberg City Lab that the pandemic can’t even slow down the relentless pace of highway expansion projects – never mind that fewer people are driving, more people are working at home and there are less tax revenues available for pressing needs.

The biggest boondoggle? Where else but right here in The Sunshine State? “Florida’s M-CORES project, a $10 billion, 330-mile plan to build three toll roads through rural southwest and central Florida. Dubbed the “Billionaire Boulevard” by critics who characterize the project as a handout to developers, a state task force recently found a lack of “specific need” for any of the roads, which would run through environmentally sensitive areas.” Roll on, autoAmerica.

And from Smartcitiesdive comes a report that should surprise absolutely nobody: “U.S. cities are less walkable than their counterparts elsewhere in the world, according to a report from The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).”

Why so? Because “Efforts to make streets safer for pedestrians require a culture shift in city halls across the country, where planners have for too many years been purely focused on building new roads and trying to make it quicker for cars to get from one point to another…” Big surprise, right?

Speaking of which, it should also surprise nobody that the automobile is increasingly becoming the weapon of choice for American ‘patriots’ who are angry about protests. Consider this recent incident from the New York Times about the driver of a BMW who injured six people at a march in support of immigrant detainees: “The episode was the latest in a series of similar altercations between drivers and protesters in New York City and elsewhere in America this year, as some motorists respond to street-blocking demonstrators by plowing through them, not always with legal consequences.”

And, really, what could be more autoAmerican than this deadly form of freedom of expression?

Another troubling autoAmerican trend: Hit and runs are up the upswing. In Florida alone, drivers who elect to not stick around at the scene of a collision jumped 18 percent this year. “We had over 91,000 crashes that were hit and run crashes. That means people left 91,000 scenes. Keep in mind, about 254 of those crashes resulted in a fatality. 137 were involving pedestrians, so that’s very scary.” Florida Highway Patrol Public Affairs Officer for Troop A, Lieutenant Jason King said.

And finally, a shout-out to my own city, Gainesville Florida. We have known for decades that University Avenue – a traffic sewer running through the heart of Gainesville – is a death trap for pedestrians and cyclists. But the deaths of three University of Florida students in the space of just one year has mobilized the city, university, UF students and parents….and even, apparently, the auto-centric Florida Department of Transportation…in a communal determination to finally make University Ave. a complete street.

If you walk down University Ave. today you may notice a ghost bike – a memorial to a dead cyclist – a plaque honoring a Gainesville police officer who was killed on that stroad, and..most recently…dried flowers and candles to mark the place where the latest UF student died.

I suppose it is appropriate to say ‘Better late than never.’ But I personally have been writing about dangerous University Avenue for something like 30 years now. I just hope that, this time, we will finally get serious about fixing it.

Author: floridavelocipede

A sometime journalist who used to string words together for a living before I retired to run a non-profit cycle touring organization that will henceforth go unnamed, as I have subsequently retired from that career as well. I write a bi-monthly column, theater reviews and an occasional magazine piece for my old newspaper. If I still had a business card it would read: Ron Cunningham: Trained Observer Of The Human Condition. Because like The Donald, you know, ego.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s