More autoAmerican anarchy

“How bad might the post-pandemic carpocalypse be?” asks Streetsblog USA. Well, let’s take a look, shall we?

Should it surprise anybody that the internal combustion engine has become the counter-insurgency weapon of choice in autoAmerica? Cops, truck drivers and other grumpy Americans with lead feet have been using their vehicles to plow into Black Lives matter protestors. “It’s unclear how many vehicles were aimed at demonstrators,” reports USA Today, “but witnesses said that the incidents seemed intentional and that the drivers accelerated as they went through the crowds.” Collisions being as American as apple pie.

Seems the state of Georgia suspended on-road driving tests as a COVID19 expediency. Rebecca Serna, executive director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, objects: “While we support the desire not to put instructors at risk, if we want to protect public safety, a better policy would be to stop issuing driver’s licenses until it’s safe to take the test again.” Not in autoAmerica Rebecca.

That’s probably why a West Virginia Fire Chief was surprised at being fired just because he posted on social media a “an image of a blood splattered truck with the caption ‘Just drove through Minneapolis, didn’t see any protesters,’” and a photo of himself “wearing a t-shirt with the words ‘All lives splatter. Nobody cares about your protest. Keep your ass out of the road.’” Clearly the good chief was a victim of political correctness run amok.

Which is not to say that the automobile cannot itself be victimized in these riotous times. Turns out that some riot cops have been deflating tires as a means of venting their, um, frustrations. Reporting on the slashed tires surge in Minneapolis, CBS News says cops “deflated tires to keep the vehicles from being used in attacks against law enforcement or protesters and for the vehicles to be towed if a collection of evidence was necessary.” Et tu Brute?

Elsewhere on the law enforcement front comes evidence that nearly half of American drivers are not at all deterred from using their devices by the inconvenient fact that doing so is against the law. “While drivers acknowledge that certain activities behind the wheel – like texting — are dangerous, some do them anyway,” say David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. (Come to think of it, I think I read that in a text.)

In the What Else Is New Dept., it turns out that federal auto safety standards were only designed to protect people inside vehicles, leaving outsiders, like pedestrians, to fend for themselves. The Government Accounting Office “is pressuring the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to do what forward-thinking countries around the world did over a decade ago, and finally require automakers to start testing how likely their cars are to kill a pedestrian in a collision,” reports Streetsblog USA. Good luck on that.

One reason for the above may be that a lot of transportation planners continue to think that “distracted walking,” is a major factor in pedestrian deaths. So why inconvenience motorists when it’s the walker’s fault? According to Rutgers University researchers “Transportation professionals who worry about distracted walking were “more likely to support educating walkers about ‘safe’ walking behaviors, and less likely to support reducing driver speeds — even though driver speed is among the strongest predictors of pedestrian mortality.”

Turns out that while the pandemic has wrecked havoc on car sales, pickup trucks are still, um, trucking along. “While sales of passenger cars and SUVs have fallen sharply, pickup sales have held up surprisingly well as Americans take advantage of low-interest financing offers and refuse to let economic concerns stop them from getting the vehicle they’ve had their sights set on,” reports USA Today.

If you though the pandemic economy would steer more people to smaller, less expensive and more efficient cars, think again. This is still the land of Big Ass Trucks pal, and auto dealers know that. Which is why “The good small cars still aren’t coming to the US,” reports jalopnik.com.

And from our Kids Do The Darndest Things in autoAmerica Dept.: A cop in Utah pulled over an SUV that was doing 32 MPH on a 70 MPH road. Turns out the driver was a five-year-old boy who told the cop he was “heading to California for the purpose of buying a Lamborghini.” This after an argument with his mom, who probably told him they can’t afford a Lamborghini.

Next, Fast Company explains why pedestrian and cyclist deaths are still rising even as many American cities are actively promoting walking and cycling. No mystery here: “Modern U.S. cities are designed largely for motor vehicles,” FC reports. “From the 1950s forward, city streets lost their conviviality. Roads were engineered for fast-moving and unhindered vehicular traffic, with few pedestrian crossings or bike lanes. Even today, motorists in many cities are able to turn onto streets at intersections where pedestrians are also crossing. Most pedestrians and bicyclists are killed or injured while they are obeying the law.” Why did the pedestrian cross the road? (To at least try to get to the other side.)

And if you thought the lockdown was going to mean safer streets, think again. Reports Streetsblog USA, “Drivers aren’t just speeding up on our empty roads — they’re also braking harder, scrolling cell phones longer, and crashing more, new data show.

“In the five weeks after many states announced lockdown orders on March 16, the data company Zendrive said drivers’ use of cell phones behind the wheel is up 38 percent over pre-lockdown numbers. The number of drivers who exceeded speed limits was also up 27 percent, as was hard braking (25 percent) and collisions per million miles (20 percent.)”

So no big surprise that on emptier roads, auto fatality rates spiked by 14 percent in March compared to the previous March. “What really strikes me is the incredible speed of the changes we’re seeing on a roadways,” Ken Kolosh, manager of statistics at the National Safety Council, told NPR. “Looking at other recessions what you usually see is a decrease in the number of deaths, or the injuries and fatality rate holding steady or decreasing slightly.” Nobody can say we autoAmericans don’t try harder to keep those stats up.

And it’s not just pedestrians that need to be careful out there. Endangered Florida panthers keep getting run over too. “The May Panther Pulse report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission shows that 13 cats have been killed this year, 12 by vehicle strikes and one after being hit by a train in Polk County,” reports Florida Today. Clearly we need to do something about trains if we want to save the critters.

Finally, a bit of poetic protester justice: After the death of George Floyd, thousands of Minneapolis residents protested by marching on I-95, tying up traffic. “It was this highway that, in the 1950s and ‘60s, tore apart the once-thriving neighborhood of Rondo — the heart of St. Paul’s largest African-American community — and helped spur decades of racial segregation in the region,” noted CityLab.com. “This kind of destruction and devastation are familiar to older African Americans in other cities across the U.S., whose communities were decimated by the construction of the Interstate Highway System. And as protesters take over major highways — from I-630 in Little Rock, Arkansas, I-40 in Memphis, Tennessee, I-75 in Cincinnati, Ohio — the symbolism has not been lost on some of those marching.” Well played, marchers.

An anonymous way to die

Remember when we said goodbye to Granny?

Rose McDonald was killed by a hit and run driver on Waldo Road on Jan. 30. Gainesville police waited a month to release her identity.

That’s when we discovered that Rose and Granny were one and the same: An irrepressibly upbeat and eminently likable street person who was admired by scores of Gainesville residents.

It was a tribute to Granny’s popularity that her friends held not one but two memorial services for her at Bo Diddley Plaza.

I mention this because under a new Florida Highway Patrol policy – one sure to be adopted by other law enforcement agencies – Granny’s name would never have been released. And her friends would not have known what became of her.

As of April the FHP no longer identifies the people involved in its press releases about traffic fatalities. This due to agency interpretation of a state constitutional amendment, popularly called Marsy’s Law, intended to protect the privacy of crime victims.

No question that Granny was the victim of a crime. But the FHP’s blanket policy assumes that every person killed in any auto accident no matter the circumstances is, by default, a crime victim.

And it’s not just the dead who go unnamed. When a pregnant woman in Broward County was killed, the other motorist, charged with gross vehicular manslaughter, was also not named.

Does that mean drunk drivers are also crime victims?

In a way I can buy the logic that anyone killed in traffic is a crime victim. That’s because we as a society routinely design our roads and write our laws to facilitate, or at least encourage, fast, careless and distracted driving. That’s a major reason why upwards of 40,000 Americans die on our streets and highways every year.

Of course, if you accept that logic, then all of us are perpetrators of the crime of death by motor vehicle.

Not surprisingly, the FHP’s new policy isn’t without critics.

“When the government, particularly law enforcement, withholds information from us, it erodes public trust,” Barbara Petersen, president emeritus of the First Amendment Foundation, told the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s government’s job to give us the information that we need to be informed and engaged in our communities.”

And the Florida Press Association says the patrol “seems to be reading Marsy’s Law way too broadly…if a person is injured in a wreck resulting from a driver’s negligence or a road condition, there is no crime and no crime victim that Marsy’s Law was intended to address.”

Which is not to say that identities will necessarily be locked away forever. News organizations have the option of buying accident reports, which do contain names…at $10 a pop. But the patrol has wide discretion in deciding when to release those reports.

More than 3,000 people per year die on Florida roads. So after a while you’re talking real money for newspapers that are already laying off staffers and reducing coverage.

It’s not hard to imagine that the patrol regards Marsy’s Law as a bureaucrat’s, um, vehicle of convenience. Just one more way to sidestep the public records law in a state that creates new exemptions every year.

As it is, death by traffic is already a uniquely anonymous way to go in autoAmerica. We slaughter so many people with our cars that each individual death typically rates only a few paragraphs in the briefs section.

In withholding names Florida only further consigns people like Granny to oblivion.

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

Life in the ‘human rut’

Your thought for the day:

“They would fail. We would always fail. We weren’t built to do anything but fail. We had the wrong kind of motives and we couldn’t change them. We had a built-in short-sightedness and an inherent selfishness and a self-concern that made it impossible to step out of the little human rut we traveled.”

All Flesh Is Grass by Clifford D. Simak

autoAmerican/CV-19 anarchy

This being the further adventures of the Sons of Henry Ford.

From Stateline Daily

From Strongtowns

From Streetsblog

From Streetsblog

From Streetsblog

From The Daily Beast

From Big100

From BBC News

From Frontier Group

From Bloomberg.

From Smart Cities

From the Los Angeles Times

From CNN

From Bloomberg

From Streetsblog

From Streetsblog

Henry Ford’s revenge

The unknown pedestrian

Two stories in the Gainesville sun. One of them prominent front page news. One an inside brief and quite easy missed.

Front page first:

We’ve all been wondering whether, or rather when, Alachua County will record its first coronavirus related death. “COVID-19, no deaths in county,” announced the April 15 headline.

That seems a minor miracle because we are a university city and many of our students and faculty had traveled the world before it became apparent that the world had a little virus problem.

Now the inside brief:

Just five paragraphs. “Pedestrian killed in crash on Waldo Road.”

Really, it’s hardly news at all. In fact, it happens so often around here that each “incident’ rarely rates much more than 100 words of reportage.

This time it was the early morning death of an unidentified (they almost always are at first) pedestrian run down by a logging truck. The brief report noted that the truck driver didn’t stop and, when detained, he “told police he was unaware the truck had been involved in the crash.”

Arguably the truck hadn’t been involved. Strictly speaking the “involved’ parties were the live driver and the dead walker.

Still no COVID-19 deaths in Alachua County. One of those would have been real news.

But as I noted in a column I wrote in March, at least six people have been run down in the roads and streets of Alachua County in the space of just a few months. Possibly more as such “incidents” barely rate as news.

But wait a minute: Hardly anyone’s driving in this time of coronavirus. Shouldn’t a pedestrian’s death now be unusual enough to merit attention, if only as a sort of dog-bites-man story?

Not really. It turns out that while fewer people drive now, some of those who are tend to do so faster and more recklessly. This due to the sheer novelty of experiencing congestion-free highways.

Everybody hates congestion, but it turns out to be a quite effective traffic-calming device.

Ironically, in some places, most notably New York City, motorists seem to be killing more of each other than pedestrians. “If there is any good news to the speed epidemic it’s that the carnage is mostly limited to operators of motorized vehicles such as cars and motorcycles,” notes Streetsblog NYC. “Between March 2 and April 8, two pedestrians have been killed by motorists, likely a result of so few pedestrians being outside during the virus lockdown.”

Turns out fewer people are walking just as fewer are driving. In that bizarre respect the coronavirus is actually something of a life-saver.

If past is prologue, we may not read anything else in The Sun about the unidentified pedestrian killed on Waldo Road. Eventually the police will release the victim’s name, but whether that makes the “news” is anybody’s guess.

Really, in this country, in our autoAmerica, we ought to have something like the Tomb Of The Unknown Pedestrian to commemorate the thousands of little known and little noted victims who are sacrificed in our streets year after year after year.

By now they must surely outnumber the sum total unknown soldiers who are honored by the much viewed tomb in Arlington Va.

Now something like that would surely merit front-page attention, even in the United States of autoAmerica.

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.

We hardly knew ‘em

We’re killing people in our streets

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.”

The cruelest intersection

You can’t be in journalism for 50 years without having life’s ironies reach out of nowhere and slap you across the face on a regular basis. It just happened again.

My last blog was about six people – five pedestrians and one cyclist – who had been run down on the streets of my city and county in just the last few months.

For the record they are Gregory Branch, William Moore, Denise Griffiths, Dwight Jenkins, D.J. Washington and Rose M. McDonald.

The whole point of the blog wasn’t just that we kill too many people in our streets, but that because we do, their deaths almost invariably come and go with scant notice – a few paragraphs or brief mention on the air – in the news media.

As though they never really existed at all.

The lone cyclist especially seem to make my point, because she was killed by a hit-and-run driver on Jan. 30 on Waldo Road. And talk about anonymous – days passed, and then weeks, without police releasing her name to the media.

On March 2, more than a month later, I finally contacted GPD and requested her name and an update on her murder. I was told that her name hadn’t been released because they were having trouble locating next of kin.

I got that reply in the morning. That same afternoon, GPD issued a press release identifying the woman as Rose M. McDonald.

Oh, and it asked anyone who might have witnessed her death to please come forward.

That belated bid for cooperation isn’t likely to bear much fruit.

As for “next of kin,” police really didn’t have to search very far. While GPD remained mute, people right here in Gainesville were already getting worried because they hadn’t seen or heard from Rose in a while.

Most of them likely didn’t even know her as Rose M. McDonald, but rather “Granny.”

I even knew her, but didn’t know it. She was that emaciated woman who often approached me as I walked into the downtown Starbucks. She didn’t always ask for money, in fact, I can’t recall now if she ever did. But she almost always smiled at me and wished me well.

When word of her death got around – weeks after the fact – there was widespread sorrow and shock among the city’s homeless advocates. Not to mention among the artists, musicians, government officials, downtown workers and others who had regularly interacted with Granny. It seems that everybody knew Granny and admired her unrelenting cheerfulness in the face of a life of utter deprivation.

Granny’s “next of kin,” held not one but two memorial services for her on the downtown plaza.

Turns out Rose had friends in both high and low places.

I should let this go, because, as I mentioned, we use our vehicles to slaughter so many of our fellow Americans that we can hardly pause to linger over the memory of any one of them – especially, some might argue, a street person.

Some of my fellow Americas no doubt shrugged off Granny’s death with a “it was probably her fault,” or “she shouldn’t have been in the road anyway.”

Or even, as one Facebook contributor commented last year when a panhandler was run down in the streets of Gainesville, “one less beggar.”

These are literally throwaway humans in our coarsened society. We see them huddled in doorways and sprawled on the sidewalks, and we try to look through them, past them, around them….anything to avoid the uncomfortable notion that the only difference between them and us may be a one or two lost paychecks or an emotional breakdown.

Certainly to the driver who left her to bleed out on Waldo Road Granny was little more than human garbage. I’d like to assume that whoever killed her has lost more than a little sleep, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Neither is it hard to imagine that the police investigating her death put less than 100 percent effort into the pursuit of justice for Granny. A homeless woman dead on the street isn’t exactly considered a crime wave.

Forgive my cynicism, but the lonely death of Granny Rose McDonald occurred at the intersection of two of the cruelest paths in American culture: Our hostility to the invisible people who sleep in our streets and make us uncomfortable, and our indifference to the toxic autoAmerican culture that sacrifices 40,000 lives a year in pursuit of our need for speed.

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.