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Posted by on Jan 21, 2011 in General | 14 comments

“Blame The Victim” Ploy Misses Mark

Family Crossing Semoran

Family crossing Semoran btwn Old Cheney & Colonial

Today I received an article from Transportation for America entitled “Blaming Pedestrians Won’t Solve The Problem”.  I recommend the article, it’s short and to the point.  It cites an article in USA Today on pedestrian deaths increasing in 2010 that hints that pedestrians may be to blame.  The Washington Examiner then picked up the story and it went downhill from there with Michelle Obama’s program to promote walking receiving blame.

This is not a new approach, to blame pedestrians for their own slaughter.  It’s done time after time, across the country, here in Florida, here in Metro Orlando.  Rarely is a motorist cited when a pedestrian is mowed down.  It’s almost always pinned on the pedestrian for crossing where and when they shouldn’t have.  But this conveniently sidesteps the real problem, that is our roads are extremely dangerous for pedestrians and as long as our roads remain this way, pedestrians are going to continue to die and be injured in obscene numbers.

The deck is stacked against the pedestrian.  Our roads are designed solely for moving large volumes of motor vehicles at high speeds.  Pedestrians by definition are people on foot that use these same roadways designed for cars.  More often than not, today’s pedestrian is someone who is forced by circumstance to use the roads to get from place to place on foot.  The penalty for crashing into a pedestrian, sending them soaring through the air or mangling them beneath the vehicle, and killing them is the same as squashing a possum crossing the street – nothing.  Unless of course the pedestrian decides to go out of their way, wait for signals to change, and uses a marked and signalized crosswalk.  Then if a motorist crashes into the pedestrian her survivors can collect from the motorist’s insurance company.

And think about this:  A motorist today is protected by a steel cage, safety seat belts, padded interior, energy absorbing chassis, collapsible steering column and air bags to absorb the force of a collision.  A pedestrian is protected by…  nothing.

The real problem is twofold:

  1. Our roads are not designed for pedestrian mobility and safety
  2. Our traffic laws do not discriminate among the potential victims according to their vulnerability

The reason our roads are designed the way they are is that the motoring pubic has an insatiable appetite for more and faster roads.  The more of these roads they get, the more they want.  This phenomena is not unlike an addiction.  Motorists want to be able to get where they want to go as fast as possible.  Once roads are built, motorists push the envelope again by getting houses and jobs further apart, and the roads fill up again, prompting the need for more and faster roads.  The process repeats continuously.

In the process of designing and building these roads, our highway engineers are constrained by economics.  The road demand is so great the engineers are forced to produce them at minimum cost.  The first things to go are pedestrian amenities.  They cost money and they have a tendency to slow traffic.  What we’re left with is high speed roads with lots of traffic and almost unusable by pedestrians.

Naturally pedestrians are hit, injured and killed on these roads.  After all, they’re designed for motor vehicles.  Pedestrians don’t go away because the roads are made bigger and faster, they have more difficulty negotiating the roads and are just injured and killed in greater numbers.

Likewise our traffic laws are designed for motor vehicles.  Pedestrians are the lowest user on the totem pole.  There are specific places where pedestrians are allowed, the rest all belongs to the motor vehicles.  Hit a pedestrian where they don’t belong?  Shame on the pedestrian.  Mrs Motorist doesn’t even get a ticket.

It shouldn’t be this way.  Our traffic laws should reflect the basic rights of pedestrians to use the roadways conveniently and safely, and further reflect the basic fact that people on foot are vulnerable and require more protection than an empty soda can or animal crossing the street.  It should be the law that injuring or killing a person on foot is a major crime with severe penalties.  Just like we protect the most vulnerable amongst us from predators and violence, people on foot, pedestrians, should be protected against other people driving in steel cages completely protected against injury.

Our obsession with getting places faster and faster must be tempered with the fact that those amongst us that use the roads on foot must be protected.  Our roads and our laws must be brought up-to-date to reflect this basic right.

14 Comments

  1. Dead on (no pun intended).

  2. Mostly, I liked this post a lot, but I found myself shaking my head at the notion of traffic laws attempting to discriminate amongst the potential victims according to their vulnerability. That leads us to a slippery slope where different classes of potential victims lobby to get their own special status. IMO, the law’s proper function is to define what the crimes are, and whether they are minor or major crimes. If you define driving along and hitting ANYTHING as a major crime and not just an “accident,” I think the judiciary is perfectly capable of taking the victim’s status into account when apportioning the penalty.

  3. Did you notice in your photo that the driver in blue Chrysler is talking on the phone??

    There’s your problem. Plus the typical “Auto’s only” road design along with rise in SUV’s, which due to there higher front ends, are more likely to kill pedestrians dead.

    Also, ever been to Germany? They have high-speed roads there as well but they don’t mix their pedestrian environments with those high-speed roads. Shops and other destinations, that are likely to attract pedestrians, are typically in dense urban locations where speed limits are slow and a pedestrian infrastructure is in place.

    You would just about never see something like you show in your photo. There would rarely ever be, let’s say, an apartment complex on one side of a high speed, multi-lane arterial, with a shopping center on the other. The road might be an urban arterial but the speed wouldn’t be greater than 50kph (30 mph) and pedestrian infrastructure to cross would be plentiful and well designed.

    I think scenes like you pictured are the result of sprawl that requires high speeds to access destinations in a reasonable amount of time by automobile but puts pedestrians into an infrastructural “meat grinder.”

  4. I see that Orlando tops the “Dangerous by Design” chart as THE most dangerous city in the USA for pedestrians. Source:

    http://t4america.org/resources/dangerousbydesign/

    Many places (including where I live) have civil liability laws that place the onus squarely upon motor vehicle operators to avoid hitting people. Motor vehicle operators are automatically deemed negligent unless they can prove that they are not.

    This seems to have a calming effect upon the local car drivers.

  5. Just a minor point Kevin, the statistics in the Dangerous by Design report are for the Kissimmee-Orlando Metropolitan Statistical Area and encompasses three counties and probably 40 municipalities, one of them being the City of Orlando. The City of Orlando is actually quite dense by sunbelt standards, particularly near it’s downtown. It’s also quite bike and ped friendly. No, it’s not Boston, or Philadelphia or Copenhagen, but it’s a pretty nice place to live, work and play.

    • That is quite interesting. Do you believe that if the City of Orlando was broken out of its MSA that it would drop way down the “dangerous cities” list?

      Or, to put it another way, do you believe that it is much, much more dangerous in the suburbs than in Orlando?

      • outside the city’s core downtown area is massive sprawl. they aren’t even suburbs or neighborhoods, really. all the residences and businesses of people who can’t afford to reside in Orlando’s core reside there, where you have apartments and strip malls along roadways where the speed limits are 40-55 MPH, and where motorists routinely travel well above those limits. add to that distracted drivers, crosswalks and signals normally at least a half mile apart, and law enforcement’s ambivalence toward enforcing the laws to protect the rights of pedestrians for a somewhat bleaker picture than Laura paints. even in town, you can’t trust motorists to yield when you’re in the crosswalk with a walk signal.

  6. Great post Bill.

    I was just talking about this with a friend yesterday. I was talking about the forum we had last year with the CTST, BPAC and other interested parties designed to set up a public safety campaign. I was somewhat disappointed in the outcome b/c the law enforcement folks and many other participants wanted to focus on the pedestrians and not the drivers. I don’t want to blame drivers for the problem, but they are by far the largest group to target when designing a safety message.

    Also, what prompted my discussion yesterday was driving the new section of East SR 50. My god, it’s as wide as I-4! Signalized intersections are 1500′ apart. I saw many a stranded pedestrian waiting to cross between signals. It’s sad really.

    • Is the east colonial construction done? Seems like it would be with all the extra traffic clogging up colonial downtown.

      We’re going to have to widen that section now to keep up with demand.

      • I wonder if removing tolls from 408 (off-peak at least) would have been a better idea than rebuilding 50.

  7. “…the law enforcement folks and many other participants wanted to focus on the pedestrians and not the drivers.”

    Wow! So the people threatening the public with two-ton lethal weapons get away with it? Not around here. Here is our negligence law, from:

    http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_90h08_e.htm#BK291

    “When loss or damage is sustained by any person by reason of a motor vehicle on a highway, the onus of proof that the loss or damage did not arise through the negligence or improper conduct of the owner, driver, lessee or operator of the motor vehicle is upon the owner, driver, lessee or operator of the motor vehicle.”

    That’s for civil liability, but criminal law is also rather intolerant of dangerous, violent criminals whose lethal weapon is a car. I’ve posted here several examples of dangerous drivers who went to jail BEFORE they crashed into someone. Driving 50 km/hr (30 MPH) over the speed limit is good for six months in jail. Careless driving, also six months in jail. Dangerous driving, five years in jail.

    Rest assured, the police aggressively enforce these laws. And after the arrest, if the accused has been released on bail, one of the terms of release is ALWAYS a driver’s licence suspension until the trial. If convicted, when the criminal gets out of jail, that licence isn’t coming back any time soon.

    Proper laws and law enforcement is one reason why Ontario’s roads are the safest in North America.

    • We have a pretty messed up system where hitting a pedestrian incurs the same penalty as failing to signal a turn.

  8. Kevin, I’m very jealous. And while I know we need a similar set of laws here, I’m not optimistic it will happen soon. It is, however, on my wish list.

    Laura, I agree that section of East Colonial is a disaster for pedestrians. We’re working hard to see that doesn’t happen again. I’m not sure what the best fix is for the present condition. Traffic comes racing down off the overpass and right at the bottom is where the pedestrians want to cross. Couldn’t be worse if it was planned that way.

    Andy, “meat grinder” says it all.

  9. I see from today’s newspaper that the Ontario Provincial Police just laid charges against yet another dangerous driver BEFORE he caused a crash.

    A pick-up truck driver performed a “brake stand.” This is a stunt where one puts on the brake and throttle simultaneously. Then one slides his foot off the brake horizontally to give a sudden lurch of acceleration.

    The driver was charged with “Stunt Driving,” which carries a penalty of up to six months in jail. On-the-spot his drivers licence was suspended and seized and his pick-up truck was impounded.

    Full details at:

    http://www.thestar.com/wheels/article/928282–opp-charge-man-with-stunt-driving-after-brake-stand-in-front-of-cruiser?bn=1

    The Ontario Provincial Police has a safety study that shows that motor vehicle drivers that crash and kill or injure themselves or others have, on the average, previously committed 23 acts of dangerous driving. I have no idea how they arrived at this number, but I do know that they are very keen on arresting dangerous drivers BEFORE they cause a crash.

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