Protecting people on our streets

…pedestrians are 2-3 times more likely to suffer a fatality when struck by an SUV or pickup truck than when struck by a passenger car…The higher risk of fatality associated with being struck by an SUV or pickup also applies to a vulnerable population — children.  In a study conducted by Columbia University, school-age children (5-19 years old) struck by light trucks were found to be twice as likely to die as those struck by passenger cars.  The risk was even greater for the younger set (ages 5-9); their fatality risk is four times greater from SUVs and pickup trucks than from passenger cars.  –Detroit Free Press, “Death on foot: America’s love of SUVs is killing pedestrians

Although the title of this story from the Detroit Free Press oversimplifies the cause of the rise in deaths of people who are killed while walking in America, the story is very substantive, probing the complex causality associated with traffic safety for pedestrians.  The type of vehicle we are driving is a factor, but so is street design, driver awareness, driver training, vehicle mass and speed, and traffic culture.  One factor the article doesn’t address is exposure.  We don’t know how much people are walking or cycling because we don’t measure it systematically, like we do cars.

The good news is there is a lot we can collectively do to make our roads safer.  New York City reduced pedestrian deaths nearly in half in four years with a combination of enforcement targeted at driver behavior, lowered speed limits and training for cab drivers. Other cities such as Seattle have implemented ‘road diets’, also known as ‘right sizing’, to calm traffic and improve conditions for people walking and biking.  NHTSA (the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration) is planning to overhaul its vehicle-safety rating system to include a new score for pedestrian safety.  There is global innovation happening around designing vehicles to protect the safety of people outside of them, including modifications of the vehicle shape and material composition, as well as implementing new technologies such as automatic braking.  Creating great transit systems can be one of the most effective strategies, so people don’t feel like they have to drive, especially higher risk driving populations like elderly and younger people.

This is a monumental opportunity to advance traffic safety and take on the challenge of making transportation greater.  Designing healthy places is crucial for supporting public health and wellness and economic productivity.  The best way to get exercise is by integrating it into our daily routine, and nature has designed human beings with the mobility powers for getting ourselves where we want to go.  Buildings are wonderful and often the focal point of some of our most talented designers and architects, but the places in between–that circulatory system of paths, trails and roads–is the architecture connecting our worlds together. Reversing the trend of dangerous roads means designing places that inspire us to use our own powers, and interact with a reverence for life, offering people the freedom to choose the healthiest means to get where we want to go.

We are facing a global crisis today […] because of how our ethical systems function.  Getting through the crises requires […] understanding those ethical systems and using that understanding to reform them.  –Donald Worster, “The Wealth of Nature”

Credits and Resources:

The graphics, leading quote and most of the data are from this article:  https://www.freep.com/story/money/cars/2018/06/28/suvs-killing-americas-pedestrians/646139002/

The Mid-Region Council of Governments of New Mexico (MRCOG) has been working on a Regional Transportation Safety Action Plan:  https://www.mrcog-nm.gov/transportation/technical-services/safety-analysis

The New Mexico Department of Transportation has adapted a Road Diet guide:
http://dot.state.nm.us/content/dam/nmdot/Plans_Specs_Estimates/Design_Directives/IDD-2018-16_Road_Diet_Guide.pdf

The New Mexico 2040 Plan has goals to “provide multimodal access and connectivity for community prosperity” (goal 4) and “improve safety for all users” (goal 2), and goes on to say “Walking is an essential mode of transportation and a component of nearly every kind of trip…NMDOT will seek to make pedestrian mobility safe, enjoyable, and convenient…”
http://dot.state.nm.us/content/dam/nmdot/planning/NM_2040_Plan.pdf
more info. here: http://dot.state.nm.us/content/nmdot/en/Planning.html

The Safe Transportation for Every Pedestrian (STEP) is active in New Mexico:
https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/everydaycounts/edc_4/step.cfm?utm_content=&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

Creating a national bicycling policy

Here is my superstition: When you focus on creating more good things, you get more good things;  When you focus on solving problems, you get more problems.  —Jing Zhang, May ITE Journal, “member to member”

As we develop a national bicycle policy promoting the most sustainable form of transportation imaginable, we’ll do well listening to experienced cyclists and educators.  It is tempting to fit new knowledge around what we think we already know.   With cycling it helps to see things directly from the cycling perspective, and this changes our outlook.

References and Resources:
The video is from CyclingSavvy, founders of the American Bicycling Education Association (ABEA).  Subscribe for free to their newsletter for “empowerment for unlimited travel”.  https://cyclingsavvy.org/cycling-law/
Here is a guide for improving the conditions for walking and cycling, published and recently updated by transportation leaders from our government and private sector:  https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/ped_bike/ped_focus/docs/fhwasa17050.pdf
For more specific measures to improve mobility safety, see https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/provencountermeasures/
Traffic safety involves complex causality, but speed is a primary factor.  This study by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) includes recommendations for planners, engineers and various government agencies.  https://www.ntsb.gov/safety/safety-studies/Pages/SS1701.aspx
May’s ITE (Institute of Transportation Engineers) Journal is dedicated to “Making Active Transportation Safe” http://www.nxtbook.com/ygsreprints/ITE/G93877_ITE_May2018/

Always leave enough time in your life to do something that makes you happy, satisfied, even joyous.  That has more of an effect on economic well-being than any other single factor.  —Paul Hawken quoted in “The Artist’s Way”, by Julia Cameron

What is sustainable transportation?

Once when I did a visioning session with some German engineering students, they had no trouble seeing sustainable farms, sustainable forestry, even sustainable chemistry… But none of these engineers could envision a sustainable transportation system, though some of them actually worked in designing solar vehicles. Finally they concluded that transportation is a cost, not a benefit, that it’s noisy, disrupting, energy- and time-consuming, and inherently unsatisfying, and that it would be best if everyone were already where they wanted to be, with whom they wanted to be. In a sustainable society, they concluded, travel would be almost unnecessary.  –Donella Meadows, Envisioning a Sustainable World

Changing our world begins with imaginative ideas.  A vision of where we are heading.  What does it mean to want sustainable transportation, and what would that world look like?  A scientist advised me that nothing in nature is sustainable.  We use things and matter changes form.  Since then I’ve thought of sustainability as more of a guidance system, a continuum.  Not a point of perfection that we’ll reach, but a standard we’ll measure by, an ideal to strive for, a prism to look through.  We want to work wisely with nature, not use it up.  We want to align our lives with nature, not work against it. Sustainability is a principle we infuse throughout our living processes.  When applied to transportation, sustainability steers our approach so it is more renewable, uses less finite materials, and is fitting with the whole context of nature, especially as indicated in the human form and measured by wellness and self-sufficiency.

The good news is nature equipped us with renewable transportation.  Sustainable transportation is human-powered mobility.  When we exercise it makes us stronger.  Since we were babies we longed to move our feet.  Walking and talking develop together.  They are simple yet profound.  Combine them and you have some of the most compelling expressions of human force, such as public marches, and lifestyles that show a commitment to “walking the talk”, metaphorically speaking.  It’s strange that we’ve designed transportation systems that alienate us from our native powers and make us reliant on more costly methods.   Just like no-till agriculture prevents unnecessary waste, human-powered transport meets most of our needs neatly and sufficiently.  And in fact, it seems almost like it is a requirement to live close to our nature, as our health and well-being suffers if we don’t.  It seems that tending to nature is a moral imperative.  We should plan and design for walking and cycling at every instance, so citizens can act on our positive inclinations whenever we can, especially for transportation needs at the local and community scale.  Transportation needs include commuting, recreation and exercise.  We need recreation and exercise!

In an essay called Living Lightly and Inconsistently on the Land from The Global Citizen newspaper column, Donella Meadows cautioned against “setting up us/them and right/wrong categories”.  We live in a culture and era where living lightly on the land is nearly impossible.  The key is keeping our life simple when we can, and growing in areas where there are no limits, such as developing our capacities to understand and appreciate the world, extending our network of relationships and growing our concept of family so it’s more inclusive, and increasing our compassion and care.  Walking and cycling are amazingly practical tools that help us to grow as people, accomplish our daily living objectives, while simultaneously activating curiosity, wonder, empathy and vision.  They actually shift our perspective, transform us.  Through better integration of the activities of walking and cycling in the way we design our cities and set up our living arrangements, by refining our transportation practices, we may even experience a taste of the world we envision, as if our picture of the ideal life we wish for could be granted today.  Try and we shall see.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:  “The central Unity is still more conspicuous in actions…An action is the perfection and publication of thought.  A right action seems to fill the eye, and to be related to all nature.  The wise man, in doing one thing, does all; or, in the one thing he does rightly, he sees the likeness of all which is done rightly.”  Sustainable transportation doesn’t mean we have to walk and cycle all the time, only that these choices should be primary, open, dignified, seen as useful, and be well-planned for, so that we may join freely with nature, while exercising our own good nature to make a better, longer lasting and more fulfilling world.  We can see it out there and move towards it.

Cycling for climate adaptation, water and stories

It [language] crossed mountains and oceans as if they werent there.  –Cormac McCarthy, “The Kekule Problem:  Where did language come from?” in Nautilus, issue 47

Devi Lockwood is traveling the world by bicycle with the goal of collecting 1001 stories.  The Guardian newspaper has run a couple of features about Devi’s trek to talk with citizens across the globe about their personal experiences with water and climate change, issues that Devi sees as being key challenges of her times.  “I use my bicycle as a tool for human connection..a way of meeting people and listening to their stories,” says Devi.

We use language to organize our unconscious knowledge into narratives, or stories, that we communicate across space and time and around the world.  Devi is intentionally cycling as slowly as possible in order to be a close listener, so she can hear the stories that people have, and diffuse an understanding about the changes happening.  In New Zealand–a place long thought of us a last refuge of wild space–she observes farmers struggling to come up with a system to manage the booming dairy industry, the waste of which is running into the water supply.  Devi’s observations at the community and individual level documents the real but oftentimes unaccounted-for costs hidden in our economy.

Devi’s work is pretty amazing, but we can also be close observers in our own communities at home.  A lot of citizens are struggling and it is an important time to listen to our stories and understand what is happening.  Cycling awakens our senses and helps us tune in, even to how the changes around us affect our own bodies, emotions and mind.  Cycling lends itself well to exploring our complex, interlocking world.  It teaches us more about place, more about our co-citizens, and gives us direct knowledge through our own biological feedback system–our health and well-being–while at the same time building up resiliency, sustainability and connections.  Cycling stories help us put together all of  that data we are gathering about the world in a way that is engaging, illuminating and fun.

Devi Lockwood’s professional website:  http://devi-lockwood.com
The Guardian bike blog stories on Devi:
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2015/sep/21/one-bike-and-1001-stories-on-climate-change
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/28/devi-lockwood-climate-march-1001-climate-change-stories

How we think about transportation

“There is no question that conditions for bicycling and walking need to be improved in every community in the United States; it is no longer acceptable…that two desirable and efficient modes of travel have been made difficult and uncomfortable.”  —FHWA’s recommended approach for designing for cycling & walking

Ian Lockwood’s article in the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) journal this January makes a case for changing the language standards in the transportation professions.  For a long time roadway design was synonymous with serving the automobile, and the language developed around this singular goal was exclusive and limiting.  Lockwood suggests we use a more objective and representative vocabulary.  Language reflects our thoughts, and also shapes how we think.  Changing language is one important step in changing our thinking.  Take a look at Lockwood’s article for a stimulating read.

Resources:

Read Ian Lockwood’s succinct 2-3 page article in the ITE Journal (page 41) or download a PDF file here:
“Making the Case for Transportation Language Reform: Removing Bias” by Ian Lockwood, P.E.

 

placitas-overlook

Bicycling the overlook in Placitas, New Mexico