5 modes
August 22, 2016, 2:58 pm
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who owns the street?
January 4, 2015, 3:09 pm
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I recently saw a guy in an oversize pickup almost hit a girl while turning a corner. He yelled at her – watch where you’re going, you’ll get yourself killed – in his mind it was her fault. Some of us onlookers yelled back at him and he drove off. He wasn’t used to not getting his two tonne way.
Below is a history of what it used to be like: manslaughter charges, the driver responsible not the pedestrian, streets for multiple uses, fatalities a public issue. Car lobbies changed all that and might became right and today we have bullies in a playground.

It wasn’t always like this. Browse through New York Times accounts of pedestrians dying after being struck by automobiles prior to 1930, and you’ll see that in nearly every case, the driver is charged with something like “technical manslaughter.” And it wasn’t just New York. Across the country, drivers were held criminally responsible when they killed or injured people with their vehicles.


“If you ask people today what a street is for, they will say cars,” says Norton. “That’s practically the opposite of what they would have said 100 years ago.”


“If a child is struck and killed by a car in 2012, it is treated as a private loss, to be grieved privately by the family,” Norton says. “Before, this stuff was treated as a public loss – much like the death of soldiers.” Mayors dedicated monuments to the victims of traffic crimes, accompanied by marching bands and children dressed in white, carrying flowers.


Norton explains that in the automobile’s earliest years, the principles of common law applied to crashes. In the case of a collision, the larger, heavier vehicle was deemed to be at fault. The responsibility for crashes always lay with the driver.


The industry lobbied to change the law, promoting the adoption of traffic statutes to supplant common law. The statutes were designed to restrict pedestrian use of the street and give primacy to cars. The idea of “jaywalking” – a concept that had not really existed prior to 1920 – was enshrined in law.

The current configuration of the American street, and the rules that govern it, are not the result of some inevitable organic process. “It’s more like a brawl,” says Norton. “Where the strongest brawler wins.”

The Invention of Jaywalking, The forgotten history of how the auto industry won the right of way for cars, Sarah Goodyear

the transportation engineering profession’s historical disdain for the pedestrian
October 2, 2012, 11:32 pm
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Another quotation from an excellent series on why we don’t walk by Tom Vanderbilt at Slate:  his description of the anesthetic processes used by traffic engineers to diminish the importance of people … who happen to be walking:

And since our uncommon commitment to the car is at least in part to blame for the new American inability to put one foot in front of the other, the transportation engineering profession’s historical disdain for the pedestrian is all that much more pernicious. In modern traffic engineering the word has become institutionalized, by engineers who shorten pedestrian to the somehow even more condescending “peds”; who for years have peppered their literature with phrases like “pedestrian impedance” (meaning people getting in the way of vehicle flow). In early versions of traffic modeling software, pedestrians were not included as a default, and even today, as one report notes, modeling software tends to treat them not as actual actors, but as a mere “statistical distribution”, or as implicit “vehicular delay.” At traffic conferences like the one in Savannah, meanwhile, people doing “ped projects” tend to be a small and insular, if well meaning, clique.

The Crisis in American Walking, Tom Vanderbilt, Slate


some numbers on walking
October 2, 2012, 11:18 pm
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Statistics on walking are more elusive than those on driving, but from the latter one might infer the former: The National Household Travel Survey shows that the number of vehicle trips a person took and the miles they traveled per day rose from 2.32 trips and 20.64 miles in 1969 to 3.35 and 32.73 in 2001. More time spent driving means less time spent on other activities, including walking. And part of the reason we are driving more is that we are living farther from the places we need to go; to take just one measure, in1969, roughly half of all children lived a mile or more from their school; by 2001 three out of four did. During that same period, unsurprisingly, the rates of children walking to school dropped from roughly half to approximately 13 percent.

The Crisis in American Walking, Tom Vanderbilt, Slate

natural man – the pedestrian – becomes the intruder
August 26, 2012, 1:17 pm
Filed under: Cities, streets, Transit | Tags: , , ,

I never learned to drive. As a kid, I saw too many fatal accidents and I grew up hating the idea. Automobiles slaughter 40,000 people a year, maim a hundred thousand more, and bring out the worst in men. Any society where a natural man – the pedestrian – becomes the intruder, and an unnatural man encased in a steel shell becomes his molester, is a science fiction nightmare.

Ray Bradbury, from Brain Pickings

to change the behavior of drivers, change the laws

I don’t like Mondays, and last Monday was especially horrible:  I saw a woman – probably in her 30s – hit hard by a car at the corner of Fulton and Washington Streets, a block from where I live.  I heard the bang and looked and saw her body high above the SUVs hood, and then drop to the road.

Her adrenaline rush let her stand up and then she sunk back onto the pavement.  A crowd gathered, some people; including myself, called 911.  She was in deep shock.  It took forever for the ambulance to get there – I was on the subway platform over ten minutes later when I heard the sirens.

In New York, with it’s broad streets and avenues, taxis speed up when they see pedestrians in their path.  They’re hooked on their rights as defined by traffic signals, no doubt, and trying to make a buck and … entombed in their Nissan carapaces, maybe don’t care that the contest between speed and metal and warm flesh generally ends in a lot of pain.

I think occasionally about the woman who was hit last week.  She’s no doubt in a lot of pain, with broken bones, and may have chronic physical problems in the years ahead.

Apparently in New York, drivers hurt pedestrians and cyclists with impunity.  Somehow, in the development of this city, was lost the primacy of walking.  Was it a slow evolution away from this basic natural state:  from walking as a fundamental mode, to a balance between man and machine, and then, perhaps to an imbalance of machine over man?  However it happened, and anyway, we’re too far down that road, and neighbors and friends get hit by cars too often and with not enough outrage and too little change.

Alex Marshall proposes a solution:  make drivers more responsible:

New York City is probably a safer place to bicycle and walk then it was 10 or 20 years ago. In 2011, 21 people on bikes and 134 people on foot were killed compared with 13 cyclist and 191 pedestrian deaths in 2001. Even though cycling deaths have risen, there are a lot more cyclists out there now — four times as many, says the city. This is in large part because of the 350 miles of bike lanes installed under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, along with continued campaigns about bicycle and driver safety.

But safer is not the same as safe.

One way to change the behavior of drivers is to change the laws, and to enforce more fully and strictly those laws we do have. While no sane driver wants to harm a pedestrian or cyclist, drivers are likely to be more careful if they know that egregious behavior could result in higher insurance rates, points on a license or even losing their license entirely.

To Make Cycling and Walking Safer, Put the Burden on Drivers, Alex Marshall, Regional Plan Association

copenhagen denmark
June 21, 2010, 4:07 pm
Filed under: Cities, density, Energy | Tags: , , ,
CASESTUDY: Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Copenhagen began planning at an ecological level in 1947 with the conception of the Finger Plan.

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