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Still Crazy After All These Years

A friend of mine once told me his definition of insanity: “doing things the same way and expecting a different outcome.”

We, collectively, the people of these United States , we are insane. We must be; how else can you explain our willingness to accept the death each year of over 40,000 people (with millions more sustaining serious injuries) in traffic-related crashes with nary a shrug? Though we mourn each death as a tragedy, no one seems to be interested in actually changing the behavior or street design to change this outcome this year or the next.

In June 2005, I was invited to take part in a government-sponsored “National Forum on Speeding.” About 200 so-called leaders of the highway and traffic safety movement were gathered together for two days to wring our collective hands over this behavior. Speeding is a contributing factor in about one-third of all fatal traffic crashes in the U.S. And this is a very conservative estimate. Still, when the moderator asked for a show of hands from those individuals who do not speed when driving, only two hands went up. When the moderator acknowledged the two individuals a voice rose from the masses, sounding the word, “liars.”

Before leaving this farce of a conference, I heard the executive director of the Federal Highway Administration refer to the annual death toll on our highways as “intolerable.” His statement gave me pause since these crashes and subsequent deaths are, obviously, something we do tolerate. In fact we seem to accept that some level of fatalities is the price to be paid for our supposed high level of mobility. And, we sure as hell are not falling all over ourselves to do what needs to be done to alter this outcome. We are in a profound state of denial and the only good news is that some of our leaders seem to be suffering from their own cognitive dissonance.

Consider this fact: the chance of death when a pedestrian is struck by a car at 40 mph is 70%, at 30 mph, 40%, and at 25 mph, 5%. So what speed seems appropriate for motor vehicles in high pedestrian density urban areas? Well, it sure as hell ain’t 40 mph! New York City ‘s speed limit is 30 mph but anyone who has ever walked or driven along arterials like the Grand Concourse, Queens Boulevard , Flatbush Avenue , or Manhattan avenues knows that deadly speeding is rampant. A 1999 study on Queens Boulevard by the NYC Department of Transportation found that 25% of motorists exceeded 40 mph.

Given these deadly facts, here are a few nuggets I find difficult to reconcile:

•  Why do we feel sorry for drivers who hit and kill pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vulnerable road users and blame the victim?

•  Why do we have laws to take away a driver’s license if they take off without paying for the gas they just pumped, but we only give them (at most) a little ticket if they happen to hit and kill a pedestrian as they exit the gas station?

•  Why do traffic engineers, who tell us that the design of the road determines the speed at which people will drive, use a “design speed” that is higher than the posted speed limit?

•  Why is it that every car sold in the U.S. is capable of exceeding the highest posted speed limit in the country by at least 40 mph (and in some cases by more than 100mph)?

•  Why do some traffic engineers set the timing for traffic lights so you will keep getting a green light if you drive faster than the posted speed limit?

A national survey by the motoring rights organization AAA, found that most motorists regularly drive dangerously. “Safety requires three things: safe cars, safe roads, and safe drivers,” said Susan Pikrallidas, AAA’s vice president for Public Affairs. “so far, the focus has been on making cars and roads safer. But driving is a complex task and many of us have very poor driving habits.” AAA is right, driver behavior in the U.S. must be significantly improved.

Enough. This is insane. Where is the outrage? We are, collectively, a body at rest and inertia is a powerful force. In order to overcome it and to begin the process of recovering our sanity we must reject that status quo and demand change.

What would we do differently if we were committed to the outcome of eliminating traffic-related fatalities?
AAA Bad Motoring Survey Highlights:
71% speed 5mph or more over limit.
75% say speeding 5 mph over limit is ok.
20% say speeding 10 mph over limit is ok.
33% of men say speeding 10 mph over limit is ok.
13% admit to driving aggressively.

Bill Wilkinson, AICP is the Executive Director of the National Center for Bicycling and Walking ( Wikinson formerly served as the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bicycle/ Pedestrian Program Coordinator, and later as Director of Programs for the Bicycle Manufacturers Association, before joining the National Center for Bicycling and Walking (formerly the Bicycle Federation) in 1983.

Reprinted with permission from the Fall 2006 issue of Transportation Alternatives Magazine

Eamon’s Ride

Eamon's Ride :: The unknown bike ambassador of Co. Sligo, Ireland

This is Eamon. The Simpson family met him on the road near his home in Co. Sligo, Ireland when we stopped to admire his bike. He told us he has never owned a car, using this bike for all his transportation needs since he bought it for £16 in the 60’s. Eamon’s eloquence about the bike and its usefulness soon convinced us he should be world ambassador for human-powered transportation. Alas, he has never been out of Co. Sligo and has not had the chance to deliver his message to those in need of it.

CRBC Member Succeeds in Wal-Mart Bike Rack Effort

Wal-Mart Bike Rack :: Thanks to Terri's efforts, this new rack now rests in front of the Benner Pike Wal-Mart

Congratulations and thanks to CRBC member Terri Lukens-Gable who has succeeded in her single-handed effort to have a bike rack placed at the Benner Pike Wal-Mart. Here’s her account of the effort:

“After 6 months of back and forth with the Benner Pike WalMart and their corporate office, they now have a bike rack again. The history of this started last year when they started construction to become a ‘Super Center.’ The bicycle rack that they had understandably disappeared during construction.

After the grand re-opening in September 2005, it was not replaced.

I didn’t make a fuss until after the beginning of the new year and in February I was a bit too eagerly told that they ‘would not be replacing the bike rack.’ Discouraged, I dropped the subject until I read about your victory in clearing the Wegman’s bike rack area. Mid May, I called the WalMart corporate office to explain that the decision of their Benner Pike Super Center to not replace it’s bike rack was ‘unacceptable.’ Within 2 days, I received information that a new bike rack had been ordered.

Last Friday, June 16, a rack with over 25 ports for bicycles was installed in the very front of the store. I went to check it out and photograph it that evening and met a man who was unlocking his bicycle from one of the benches. I told him about the new bike rack which he had not noticed and he brought his bike down to be photographed along with mine. He seemed very pleased and I hope others will be too.

Thanks for your encouragement and support!