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:
- Our roads are not designed for pedestrian mobility and safety
- 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.