I’ve been holding off on writing this post for several days. It’s really been hard to express my thoughts in a coherent way. Not only am I filled with anger and sadness at having to write another post about the tragic death of an Austin cyclist, but I’m also trying to wrap my head around the change that will be required to keep this from happening again. And I don’t want to sound condemning.
We as a city and a society are at a crucial point in history. The winds of change are blowing through, bringing new thoughts and new ideas. As that new philosophy starts to pollinate our minds, it causes a cultural clash. And in the midst of that, it gets a little chaotic.
Simply put: People are rethinking the way our streets should be used. Some see bicycles as a better way to commute. Plus, with massive growth over the last couple years, Austin is due for an infrastructure facelift. Now is the perfect time to talk about what we can do to improve the city to make it a safe place for everyone.
Another day, another tragedy
But first, I’ve got to share this:
This past weekend, a cyclist was struck from behind and killed while riding in the huge shoulder of 360. Here’s a picture of him smiling while on a bicycle. In this moment, he may be dressed as a cyclist, but you can see the joy and underlying humanity that connects each one of us.
Who blames who?
I could condemn the driver–but what good would that do? The person is also a human. And like all of us, that person has memories, sadness, and pain.
Rather, I’d like to think about what in our society has lead to nearly a dozen cyclists killed in 2012.
Is it because some rogue cyclists run red lights and stop signs? Maybe, but none of the folks killed got hit because of that. And for the record, I see at least 5 cars a day running red lights on my commute to work.
[See my previous post: 14 Tips to Help Cyclists and Drivers Coexist]
What about texting? I see tons of drivers texting despite it being against the law.
There are tons and tons of reasons to place blame. But that’s not going to help. Whether they are drivers in a hurry or cyclists who are trying to be bad asses, there will always be rogues. Nothing will change that.
Learning from the past
I read an article in Atlantic Magazine this week about the birth of Jaywalking. In the 1930s, there was a lot of resentment against cars for endangering the streets. After one particularly bad accident in Cincinnati, cities decided to start limiting cars through local ordinances. Knowing that more limits would decrease car sales, the automotive industry started lobbying to lessen restrictions and change perception of responsibility. Instead of manslaughter for a driver causing an accident that killed someone, they started shifting the ordinances to penalize the pedestrian who jaywalks.
It’s an interesting read that made my mind flip. For me, I thought streets had always been controlled by cars. I didn’t know that there’d ever been a time when people had questioned the purpose and use of the streets.
It got me thinking: What can be done to take back the streets? Aren’t we all just trying to get to work in the morning and home in the evening? Until we move beyond the automobile, what can we do to make the streets safe for cyclists, pedestrians, and cars?
Ok, what to do?
The answer is being addressed all over the country. LA, the pinnacle of car culture, is building 832 miles bike routes, making it the largest network of bicycle-protected lanes in the country. They are also putting problem roads on road diets, a new way of controlling traffic flow to make streets more pedestrian and bike friendly. (Check out Curbed LA’s full coverage of bikeification of the city).
Although Austin claims to be bike-friendly, it’s a joke; rather, we are a city that has a lot of cyclists, and our city government has built token bike ways. Our current bike lanes are shoulders with a bike logo in the middle. And, I mean, seriously: 4 blocks of protected bike way on Rio Grande, 2 protected blocks on 4th St, and another protected bicycle way that parallels the Lady Bird Lake trail does not a “bike-friendly” city make. Plus, meandering through neighborhoods, the current bicycle trails aren’t practical for commuting.
We need to move Austin away from the automobile in a smart way. We should look at commuting patterns to make safe, protected, viable North-South and East-West routes. We need to look at areas with heavy foot traffic and see how to make them safe. And maybe someone in the City Planning can look at this map:
[Check out the full interactive map of Bicycle vs Car Accidents here (via KVUE).]
That map shows the location of bicycle accidents since 2009. What’s interesting about it is that all of those accidents happen on major North-South and East-West thoroughfares. And most bicyclists know how unsafe all of those intersections and roads are. In fact, last week I was thinking about writing a post called: South First, Barton Springs, or South Lamar: Where will the next death take place?
Yes, we NEED safe streets for ALL people. And we need it now, not after another 100,000 people move to our city. Not after more high-density condos and offices go up downtown. Not after another cyclist gets hit. We need it NOW.
Today, you can join hundreds of cyclists in a peaceful ride to help ensure that our roads are safe for everyone. Won’t you join?
EXPERIENCE: Pedaling for Safer Roads; Thursday, May 3rd, 2012; 7-9P; Meet at City Hall then slow ride to the Capitol. Facebook Event