Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday Musings: Jaywalker Found Guilty; Too Many Street Signs

Lots of headlines today about the mother in Georgia who's likely going to jail after being found guilty of jaywalking in an incident in which her 4-year-old son was struck and killed by a drunk driver. The driver got six months; she could get up to three years. Given my recent pledge to stop jaywalking, you'd think I'd be in favor of punishment for her. But I'm not.

She crossed 3/10 of a mile from a crosswalk in the dark. Why should someone have to walk that far to get to a safe place to cross a street? If even she had used the crosswalk, would it have been any safer? I've been to very few cities in the U.S. where people respect crosswalks. She's in Marietta, GA, part of the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta metro area, which is the 10th most dangerous metro area for pedestrians in the U.S. 

It comes down to this: if you don't have a car, particularly outside of some of the larger cities, you're out of luck. The whole transportation system is focused on cars. Pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation are afterthoughts. Streets are designed to move cars quickly, and heaven help anyone who gets in the way of that. 

Which brings me to a recent screed in Salon about children at play signs. My wife forwarded this to me knowing that these are a particularly bugbear of mine. Children at play, elderly person, baby on board, or blind child all bother me. Why? Because we should be attentive to everyone in any driving situation, particularly in crowded urban areas. The presence of children or anyone other group shouldn't make a difference to our driving behavior. Best lines in the article:

"But "Children at Play" signs are a symptom, rather than a cure—a sign of something larger that is out of whack, whether the lack of a pervasive safety culture in driving, a system that puts vehicular mobility ahead of neighborhood livability, or non-contextual street design. After all, it's roads, not signs, that tell people how to drive. People clamoring for "Children at Play" signs are often living on residential streets that are inordinately wide, lacking any kind of calming obstacles (from trees to "bulb-outs"), perhaps having unnecessary center-line markings—three factors that will boost vehicle speed more than any sign will lower them."

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