Gravel - Cycle Oregon

Comment of the Week: The real cost of having unsafe streets

Posted by on June 5th, 2015 at 6:34 pm

Eleni rides home alone-1

On her own.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Portland is, thankfully, a relatively safe city to get around. Even the United States in general, with our 30,000 road deaths every year, is full of hundreds of millions of people who aren’t getting physically hurt.

But the real cost of Vision 30,000 (as I saw a local transportation planner put it the other day) isn’t broken bodies. And it doesn’t have anything to do with biking in particular. It’s the fact that almost all of us spend our entire lives in a constant, low-level fear of losing our daughter, our son, our spouse, our best friend, to traffic.

How does that perfectly reasonable fear shape our lives? How does it lead us to shape theirs?

That’s the haunting argument that BikePortland reader SD made in a comment Monday, responding to another reader’s argument that the BikePortland community is hateful toward people who drive.

Emphasis added:

I can see where you are coming from tnash and can see how this article in this context looks like a way for cyclists to take revenge on motorists. But, we can also look at this in a manner that leaves cyclists out of the equation.

I feel fairly confident that the biggest danger almost every Portlander faces each day is being in proximity to motorized vehicles. We have gone to great lengths to reduce the risk and harm done by cars and trucks because of the benefits that they provide, but irresponsible use of and overuse of motorized transport continues to create a significant threat and we all live in its shadow.

I desperately want to see safer driving practices partially as a cyclist but primarily as a parent. We can measure the harm from bad driving by counting the morbid events that happen daily and focus on them as a marker of failures of our system. However, the far greater impact of irresponsible driving is more insidious. It is the fear of our children or our friends being hit by a car. It keeps us from walking, riding our bikes, or letting kids play outside and have autonomy in our neighborhoods.

Restricting active transportation weakens our neighborhoods and our communities. Many people live inside their houses or inside their cars with brief moments spent at the places they traveled to in their cars. This type of living undermines the social cohesiveness of communities. Being outside, seeing each other, talking to each other is very valuable and much harder to do when you are inside your car.

We are all very lucky that there are so many people in Portland who want to walk and bike on public streets. Although there is risk, there is also the realization that our streets are not only for cars and that a culture that normalizes irresponsible and inattentive driving is not acceptable.

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With traffic, there is a risk, and there is a tendency to escalate precautions in a manner that also escalates risk. Many places in the US, the conversation about traffic safety isn’t about how it is unsafe to ride a bike, it is about how it is unsafe to drive a small fuel efficient vehicle. The argument is often made that if you are driving a small car and are hit by an SUV then you are partly responsible for the harm caused to you because you weren’t driving an SUV. It is frustrating to see this same logic applied reflexively to cyclists. Essentially, the argument is if you do anything that makes you vulnerable you are responsible for the harm done to you by others, even if the harm was caused by someone acting illegally or with malice.

This argument undermines our liberties and our quality of life and it normalizes and empowers bad actors, in this case irresponsible and inattentive drivers. Cycling safely is very important and something that we should all embrace, but it is not a solution to dealing with bad drivers and poor infrastructure. As far as I am concerned, it is a separate conversation and it is disingenuous to tout it as an antidote to the 3 left hooks and red light incident over the past 3 weeks. It is similar to blaming people who are physically or sexually assaulted for the way that they dress or for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. It is also an argument to maintain the status quo.

There will always be vulnerable road users who may be operating legally but not perfectly on infrastructure that sometimes can be confusing. I make every effort to drive in a way that allows people not to be perfect, but still safe. I had to learn how to drive like this after moving to Portland and I was highly motivated because I cycle and I have children living in a dense urban area. The more productive safety conversations are those that imagine everything the operator of a deadly force could do to prevent harm instead of normalizing the deadly force and focusing on its victims.

If we want Portland to be the city we all know that it can be, we have to deescalate the danger that surrounds us. This doesn’t mean staying inside our houses or our cars. This means more active transportation and creating a culture of thoughtful driving, that is cooperative instead of selfish and honors the people on our roads who chose to leave their cars at home; that respects the fact that we are driving where people and their children live and play.

Fortunately for all of us in Portland, there is no going back and there are fantastic dedicated people who believe in community and quality of life. We should all be them/help them.

P.S. I would be concerned about the lack of due process in the “shaming” approach and that it could ultimately cause more problems than it solves. But, I would also love to hear suggestions on how to stop cars from speeding and running the stop signs next to my house that is on a low traffic, residential road with lots of families.

Thoughtfully and powerfully said.

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52 Comments
  • Kelly Francois June 5, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    Bike snob had a similar blog post today: http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com/2015/06/bsnyc-friday-fun-quiz.html?m=1 My favorite quote from the article: “I’m teaching my kids the number one thing they should be afraid of is drivers. DRIVERS!!!”

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    • JMak00 June 5, 2015 at 9:54 pm

      LOL…In NYC, there is far more to fear than drivers. But, the beauty of the quote is the derangement of you anti-car people.

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      • lop June 5, 2015 at 10:57 pm

        Most non automotive violence is not between strangers. If you don’t run with a rough crowd and you get killed it’s more likely to be from an errant driver than an errant bullet or mugging gone wrong.

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      • 9watts June 6, 2015 at 8:28 am

        JMak00 – you’ve only been here a few days and you’ve already twinned yourself, JMak.

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      • 9watts June 6, 2015 at 8:41 am

        “the derangement of you anti-car people”

        It is interesting to me that this is your takeaway, that you find us to be anti-car.
        What does that even mean in a society that is physically, economically, politically, psychologically defined by our embrace of the automobile, where billions of both public and private dollars are spent every year on car advertising, road widening, motor vehicle insurance, state and local bureaus of transportation, trauma care, legal proceedings to deal with the hundreds of thousands of injuries and deaths from motor vehicles, not to mention health care to redress the pollution of our soil, water, and air from the exigencies of driving, the purchase of gasoline, and the military misadventures to make sure that our oil which somehow ended up under their sand is safely headed toward our shores, etc.?

        Is it even possible in your mind to express a critical opinion about this scourge without you hurling the anti-car epithet at us? Why so averse to criticism? Do you think the automobile as an institution—automobility—is so fragile, is threatened, that you must tamp down any critical discourse?

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        • A.H. June 6, 2015 at 11:00 am

          Well said! Car culture is death.

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      • gutterbunnybikes June 6, 2015 at 10:01 am

        Though NYC has high collision numbers, per capital it is still the safest pedestrian/bicycle large city in the US.

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      • Tony T
        Tony T June 8, 2015 at 9:37 am

        Far more? No.

        2013
        murders = 334
        motor vehicles = 294

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      • q`Tzal June 8, 2015 at 1:05 pm

        Perhaps you thought you’d browsed to the druge or breitbart: it is not. This is a much less “head in the sand” place unbought by corporate dollars and thus un-brainwashed by their agenda.

        Perhaps you think you will sway people to your way of “thinking”. Maybe if you yell loud enough or repeat the same corporate lies over and over and over and over we will believe what you say to be true. We are based more in reality here.

        We know you are a lying corporate puppet (whether you know you are wrong is irrelevant) because we have the empirical evidence provided by scars, amputations, lost friends, family and sadly gained gravestones.

        You say “anti-car” when really we are “pro-not-dying” and “pro-drivers-actually-take-responsibility-for-your-actions”. That last part should appeal to a Conservative mindset and political platform: car drivers crash and kill people – -> they pay$$$ to rectify the situation.
        If the person is too unskilled to drive without killing or injuring people then they shouldn’t be given a document (driver’s license) by any government saying that the government approves of a known dangerous quantity driving +2,000lbs of metal at lethal velocity (really anything over 25mph).

        There’s a little quote I’m sure you are familiar with :
        “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”

        This applies to automobiles as well: they are a useful and for now irreplaceable technology for many things but they have been allowed to displace transportation modes that they are ill suited for and used too inexpertly by people that really barely have the skill and attention span to walk through a doorway without hitting something.
        On foot the unskilled will only hurt themselves, on a bicycle themselves and maybe injure someone else. A car “accident” usually kills people as attested to by the US Department of Transportation’s fatality tally for automotive related deaths for the last century.

        You don’t have to want to ban cars or hate cars to understand that some areas are just too crowded to go fast and some people just too distracted and klutzy to be allowed to drive.

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  • Pat Franz June 5, 2015 at 7:45 pm

    Thoughtfully and powerfully said indeed. We pay for our auto convenience in so many ways, and we need to get them all out in the open if we’re to ever sort this out. All the hidden negative things we take for granted are robbing us of a lot. A whole lot.

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    • JMak00 June 5, 2015 at 9:54 pm

      Like what, exactly?

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      • Eric June 6, 2015 at 10:10 am

        Roll your window down, quiet your engine a bit, and hear it for yourself.

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  • 9watts June 5, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    SD’s comment is an example of the very best of what bikeportland conversations inspire. Super impressive, thoughtful, with an appreciation of the subtleties that dog the issues we wrestle with here. Thank you.

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  • Spencer June 5, 2015 at 9:16 pm

    +1, well said

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  • JMak00 June 5, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    “It’s the fact that almost all of us spend our entire lives in a constant, low-level fear of losing our daughter, our son, our spouse, our best friend, to traffic.”

    When lacking facts, just make ’em up, right?

    I note that the use of the phrase “low-level”. The author doesn’t have confidence in his assertion, so he minimizes the intensity to get away with what is a wholly fabricated perception being attributed to the rest of us…notwithstanding that some reading it in this echo chamber will mindlessly nod their head in agreement.

    “How does that perfectly reasonable fear shape our lives? How does it lead us to shape theirs?”

    It doesn’t…at all.

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    • The fear of being injured by drivers is real and constant. In the past week we’ve gotten 145 reports of dangerous situations through the new NearlyKilledMe near-miss reporting site. Those daily near-death experiences have a real psychological impact. It is a reasonable fear, and it is based on very real events. People biking and walking face significant risks every time they go anywhere near traffic. Many of us choose to accept this risk, but it also keeps many people away from active transportation.

      When I start a new job and people see that I bike to work, or when I bike to a social event, the first response from many people who haven’t met me before is “wow, you bike?” followed by “isn’t that dangerous?”. I’ve heard many parents say, “I wouldn’t let my kid bike to school, it isn’t safe” and choose to drive them to school instead. It’s real, and if you don’t see that, you probably haven’t spent much time walking or riding a bike in any big city in America.

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      • davemess June 7, 2015 at 8:43 am

        Parents today also won’t let their kids walk to school or spend 5 minutes alone. I don’t know that modern parenting is really going to “prove” anything regarding actual danger.

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        • invisiblebikes June 8, 2015 at 12:11 pm

          Dave,

          Not that I disagree with you but, the rules have changed since the last generation of kids that could “roam free” around the neighborhood.
          We now have big brother watching our every move and telling us what we can and (more often) cannot do with or without our children.
          In many states including Oregon it is against the law to allow children younger than 10 to walk without an adult to and from school, and an adult must be present for kids under 8 when arriving home on the bus.

          I don’t know about you but I was home alone after school most of the time from when I was in 2nd grade on. but now if I did that with my kids I would be facing child endangerment charges and a visit from CPS!

          It’s not the “parents today” that won’t let their children out of their site it’s the parents fear of legal trouble. And it’s a real fear, I’ve already been “thrown under the bus” by Multnomah School district and dragged through the streets by CPS and Multnomah public schools mandatory reporter policy of fear mongering! The cost of proving them wrong alone was way higher than the cost of just driving them to school everyday and avoiding the pitfalls of busing them.

          And don’t get me started on the Peer pressure of what other “adults” think about how “you” should be raising your children. See “free range parents story” http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/marylands-free-range-parents-cleared-of-neglect-in-one-case/2015/05/25/deb30e12-0093-11e5-805c-c3f407e5a9e9_story.html

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          • Tom Hardy June 8, 2015 at 5:53 pm

            I was raised as a what is now called a “free range kid”. Both of my kids were raised for the most part as free range. I walked 4 blocks to school in kindergarten when I was a kid. Both of my parents worked. I had an older sister that took me riding on her handle bars when she got home about 2 hours after I did.
            Both of my kids walked both ways to school from first grade until high school. The distance to grade school was 4 long blocks on a through street, state highway, with no sidewalk. Middle school was 2 long blocks on the highway and one block off road.
            The daughter grew up to be a federal agent that you don’t mess with. The son grew up to be an inspector for a PUD (green type).
            Now because of the mounting density of SUBURBAN sized armored personnel vehicles (SUV’s). The security of the kids has gotten to the point of absurdity. Buses drop off the kids at the driveways, if parents are waiting. Kids are not allowed to have friends outside of the classroom, no wonder we have major bullying problems. The worst part is the coaches promote bullying that they are supposed help suppress.
            This all carries over to young adults that ALWAYS think they must dominate (Bully) anyone else that they might think is less able, smaller,Not in an armored vehicle.
            Yes I drive also beside riding the bike. I see the same behavior every time I get behind the wheel. compact mini cars, beater pickups, SUV’s always want in front of me because they see me in the Mercedes and Know I am insured if I hit them. No wrecks for several decades.
            Personally! I think that school buses should be banned Permanently and the kids and parents should be informed that they MUST RIDE THEIR BIKES OR WALK TO SCHOOL! No soccer mom pickups or deliveries to schools unless the child is in a wheelchair.
            Just one opinion on the matter.

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    • Alan Love June 6, 2015 at 10:36 am

      How does one quantify “facts” in this case? What statistical evidence are you looking for? A “fact” is that helps supports SD’s assertion is that I do live in constant, low level fear when I’m outside with my kids. We live on a residential street, not a major arterial, but some drivers treat it as a freeway. Time is prioritized over safety. If my kid is out riding his balance bike or we’re out walking the dog in the middle of a sunny day with good visibility (no sidewalks in our area), there is a feeling of dread anytime we hear a car off in the distance. If people drove the way they are intended to on residential streets, I wouldn’t worry nearly so much. When I drive (indeed, JMak, I drive! I’m I still anti-car?), I do so in that way that I wish others would do.

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    • Alan Love June 6, 2015 at 10:39 am

      Typing too fast – delete that “is” after “facts” and “I’m” in the last sentence should be “Am”.

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    • gutterbunnybikes June 6, 2015 at 11:00 am

      How does it shape our lives? You’re kidding right.

      People choose cars for safety reasons, though the car is the least safe transportation choice. Cars account for more than 50% of serious brain injuries (bicycles are only 1%).

      http://www.traumaticbraininjury.com/understanding-tbi/car-accident-tbi/

      Yet bicycle riders are “suppose” to wear helmets.

      Of those 33,000 fatalities on the roads in in 2013, only 930 involved bicycles, of those 930 only 5% didn’t involve a motor vehicle in some way. Bicycles accounted for only 5 deaths in collisions with pedestrians. Of those 33,000 only 52 fatal incidents can be attributed to the bicycle solely.

      All in all, even with incidents that involve cars and bicycles though no exact number has ever been established a cumulative average of those studies put the collision liability on average around 65% for driver error, 575 of those 930 bicyclist killed were from driver error. With that number only 1/3 of those 930 bicycle incidents can be considered the fault of the bicycle rider.

      Kids ARE required to wear helmets, though that drops the number of kids or perhaps their parents willingness to ride by over 50%. Which has been shown in studies in Sweden and Alberta. Though there is no proven link, the current youth obesity “epidemic” (from 7% in the early 80s to the current 20%) started roughly 30 years ago, the same time that helmet laws for children were started.

      On a per mile fatality basis the bicycle appears to be them most dangerous transportation, though interestingly enough, in every other country in the world they are about equal. is this some weird anomaly or example of American exceptionalism? or just bad data? This whole subject is a book all unto itself byt a really good write up on some of the issues and the problems with the VMT method are found here http://streets.mn/2014/07/01/bicycling-relative-safe/.

      And again when differences in travel speed is considered (per Vehicle miles traveled), the bicycle is much safer around the rest of the world, and roughly the same in the US. If one considers that a bicycle average speed is between 10-15 Mph, and a car is 35-40 a car is almost always traveling at least 3x the speed of the bicycle, and so it’s VMT risk is three times their rate when compared to bicycles.

      How much real estate, and money in infrastructure is wasted in projects for automobiles that don’t work. It’s been long known that adding lanes to existing roads and highways only increases congestion which also over the long term increase maintenance costs. How much does private land values drop as a result of increased auto traffic with the noise and pollution levels increased from such road “improvements”. How much of that land could have went to more houses or businesses?

      As for how it effects at an individual level, on average roughly 20% of a persons lifetime income is dedicated to their automobile, an item which on average is only used for 4% (roughly 7 hours) of the hours of a week. How much more money is that in the pocket for the average person. Over 40 years it’s huge, invested in low risk bonds with a fairly low interest rate were talking about a lifetime earning difference between 400-500k between those that opt not to own a car to those that do.

      I could go on forever, and probably have gone on too long already. But these are just a few examples. I gotta go and get on my bike and head to the store, seems we’re out of bread and I’m getting kinda of hungry.

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      • Tait June 7, 2015 at 2:41 am

        Of course there are more accidents and fatalities with motor vehicles than there are with bicycles. There are orders of magnitude more cars on the nation’s roads in any given day than there are bicycles. Bicycle riders should wear helmets, in my opinion. And I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t (on multiple occasions). Europe, for whatever reason, doesn’t see as much helmet use as the US, and it shows in their injury types and severity for bicycle accidents. There was a link on this very topic on BP not long ago. The figure that 50% of parents won’t let their kids ride **because they need a helmet** feels way off to me. I can see that being true in a place where helmet-wearing is considered weird and abnormal but that is not the case in the US.

        I’m not sure where you’re going with differences in travel speed and its relation to incidents per vehicle-mile-traveled. Are you arguing that we should assess risk on an incident-per-time basis instead of incident-per-vehicle or incident-per-distance? I don’t think that approach makes sense for comparison, because putting speed into the denominator is going to make measurements highly sensitive to that factor. (Consider the slope of 1/x vs. the slope of x near zero — low speeds like what we’re talking about here.) And speed is highly variable, not just between riders but also depending on conditions. And there’s not good data on those things.

        Opting not to own a car has consequences far beyond just not spending income on the car. It’s a choice to live a lifestyle, and I applaud those who are happy with a car-free lifestyle. I did it for a while, and I am not one of them. So the income I spend on a car isn’t about deliberately perpetuating car-centric living; it’s about being able to live the life I want, which I cannot do today without that car.

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    • Amy Subach June 7, 2015 at 6:40 am

      When we lived in Mountain View California, and my oldest daughter was just starting to walk on her own, I spent most of my time and energy when we were outside of our car, or outside on the sidewalk walking to the playground, teaching her over and over again that she needed to be on the lookout for cars. I did this by saying, “the cars can’t see you, they want to kill you, you need to watch them.” This was way before we moved back to Portland. She is now amazing at stopping at the corner before crossing the street, even when she’s riding her little bike on the sidewalk. But she’s only amazing because I spent so much time and energy trying to keep her safe by teaching her to be afraid of drivers in cars. She is afraid of exactly nothing else.

      If you don’t believe that parents are scared of their children being killed by drivers who aren’t paying attention, then you have never been around the parents of young children.

      The fear is real because the danger is real.

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      • invisiblebikes June 8, 2015 at 12:29 pm

        Amy,
        I’ve done the exact same thing with my young children, I’ve taught them that people driving cars have zero respect for them and will not hesitate to kill them.
        Yes it may seem over protective but I’ve known more people who have died from traffic violence in my life time than any other cause of death.

        yes, the fear is very real.

        I’ve taught them that cars will not see them, ever, and not even a cross walk with stopped cars in it is safe. They must be vigilant at all times especially while walking or playing near people driving cars.

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    • soren June 7, 2015 at 8:23 pm

      “It doesn’t…at all.”

      An absolute position like this is often rooted in emotion rather than reason. What are you afraid of, JMak/JMak00?

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  • JMak00 June 5, 2015 at 10:11 pm

    SD says, “I feel fairly confident that the biggest danger almost every Portlander faces each day is being in proximity to motorized vehicles. ”

    Well, that settles it…your confidence is the epitome of fact-finding and logical reasoning.

    But, notice…the total lack of reasoning. His perception of the biggest danger is merely a naked assertion, supported by no data, no reasoning, nothing.

    I could just as easily assert, “I fell fairly confident that the biggest danger almost every Portlander faces each day is from contaminated water”. And then go on to write nothing at all that supports this assertion, but demands action.

    Most of you, I hope, would question such an assertion were I to make it. Just as you should question SD’s assertion. That you are sympathetic to his larger theses of instill more thoughtful driving behaviors, for example, shouldn’t override the thinking part of your brains.

    Further from SD, “However, the far greater impact of irresponsible driving is more insidious. It is the fear of our children or our friends being hit by a car. It keeps us from walking, riding our bikes, or letting kids play outside and have autonomy in our neighborhoods.”

    But it doesn’t keep us from walking, riding our bikes or letting kids play outside (and, please, stop with the it’s-for-the-kids pandering). It is not the driving behaviors of other drivers that keep us in the suburbs from walking to the grocery store letting kids play outside. The layout of the burbs is what stops most people from walking to the post office, store, bakery, etc. Further, where there are kids, if they’re not outside, they’re not inside because they’re parents are fearful of their safety. Is SD a parent??

    We have all the autonomy in our neighborhoods that we want and that we choose to have and driving a car is just one expression of that autonomy.

    Further, if poor driving behaviors instills these types of fears, why all the foot traffic around pioneer square, along the streets of NYC, Chicago, Boston, etc., etc., etc.?? Well, because no such fear exists.

    “Being outside, seeing each other, talking to each other is very valuable and much harder to do when you are inside your car.”

    And there it is…car hatred. Cars are turning us away from our neighbors and families…uh, no.

    “The argument is often made that if you are driving a small car and are hit by an SUV then you are partly responsible for the harm caused to you because you weren’t driving an SUV.”

    Another wholly unsupported assertion. Who makes this argument??

    Whenever I have seen arguments or debates about small cars and auto accidents,whether in the NYT or WaPo or at The Nation or National Review or elsewhere, it is normally argued that government fuel standards to a) force people to buy small cars; and b) requires automakers to make small cars and, well, that doesn’t work as we see more and more people choosing larger, more safe vehicles to drive. Not that those who drive small vehicles are responsible for the damage inflicted by others.

    “It is similar to blaming people who are physically or sexually assaulted for the way that they dress or for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. It is also an argument to maintain the status quo.”

    But no one blames the victims here. Yes, those with a vested interest in perpetuating the supposed rape culture on college campuses, for example, will condemn those who suggest that campus drinking should be dealt with as blaming the victim. It doesn’t make true though that the person asking for stricter campus controls is blaming the victim.

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    • caesar June 6, 2015 at 6:53 am

      Thank you for reminding us (and exemplifying for us) that in a diverse society such as ours there will always be those who will not or can not accept certain basic truths. Here are some of the facts that you say you crave but apparently are either unaware of or have chosen to ignore:

      1. Unintentional Injury is the leading cause of death in the 1 yrs – 44 yrs age group, and the third leading cause in older individuals (after cancer and heart disease). (1)

      2. Unintentional Motor Vehicle Traffic is either the first or second (after poisonings) most common cause of injury-related death in the USA in all age groups over the age of 1 yr.(2)

      If common things occur commonly, a logical and rational approach by a prudent person would include fear and avoidance, whenever possible, of automobiles.

      So what was your point again?

      ————————————
      (1) http://www.cdc.gov/injury/images/lc-charts/leading_causes_of_death_by_age_group_2013-a.gif

      (2) http://www.cdc.gov/injury/images/lc-charts/leading_causes_of_injury_deaths_highlighting_unintentional_injury_2013-a.gif

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    • 9watts June 6, 2015 at 8:32 am

      “But, notice…the total lack of reasoning. His perception of the biggest danger is merely a naked assertion, supported by no data, no reasoning, nothing.”

      Well I can tell you, JMak/JMak00, that the good folks who teach the Share the Road Safety Course up at Emanual Hospital (a former judge, a trauma nurse and a cop) all said exactly what SD said, over and over and over throughout their two hour joint presentation: “The most dangerous thing any of us does regularly is get in our cars and drive.”

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    • 9watts June 6, 2015 at 8:50 am

      “We have all the autonomy in our neighborhoods that we want and that we choose to have and driving a car is just one expression of that autonomy.”

      But, you see, your WE is far too monolithic. Those who choose to drive everywhere effectively own the streets. The legal system tends to find in their favor if something untoward happens. We who either at the moment or generally are not in cars but might also happen to be in proximity to them skedaddle when cars approach, teach our children to *always* be watchful, even if they have the right of way, are in a crosswalk, etc. We who walk or bike or simply sit on the sidewalk emphatically do not have autonomy in our neighborhoods, on our streets, as we once did before the automobile. You should read Peter Norton’s Fighting Traffic sometime. I think you’d find it…educational.

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    • ~n June 6, 2015 at 11:50 am

      JMak00 wrote: “It is not the driving behaviors of other drivers that keep us in the suburbs from walking to the grocery store…The layout of the burbs is what stops most people from walking…”

      If people in said ‘burbs understood (in their bodies) that walking a mile & a half takes maybe 30 easy minutes, and that this walk to & fro the grocery store counts as doctor-recommended exercise, more might give it a try. IMO what stands in their way of trying is more lacking a concept of how far something feels outside of a car. To me, things in the suburbs seem farther away by *car* than on foot or bike. Suburb dwellers, load up googlemaps to check distance & give walking a chance! (Could also try jogging to the store & walking or MAXing back with your shopping bags. Build arm strength!) P.S. Once walking becomes more of a habit for you & your neighbors, JMak, please write back & let me know if you haven’t developed a low-grade fear/stress after encountering drivers out there.

      But I digress: If the layout is the problem, let’s change the layout & increase bus transit; that way we can preserve roads for emergencies and trips of over 5 miles. It’s one more way to “share the road.”

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    • HJ June 6, 2015 at 12:12 pm

      “But it doesn’t keep us from walking, riding our bikes or letting kids play outside (and, please, stop with the it’s-for-the-kids pandering). It is not the driving behaviors of other drivers that keep us in the suburbs from walking to the grocery store letting kids play outside. The layout of the burbs is what stops most people from walking to the post office, store, bakery, etc. Further, where there are kids, if they’re not outside, they’re not inside because they’re parents are fearful of their safety. Is SD a parent??”

      Funny. I live in the suburbs. My nearest grocery store is within a walkable distance yet I have never walked to it. Why? Because it’s not safe for me to walk to it. It’s a real shame too because the road to it (Miller) would be the 1 option for flatish walks or runs near me.
      I’ll grant you that a part of this problem is that despite us begging for decades for sidewalks and bike lanes on the road nothing has ever happened. Heck, it took over a year to get some nasty potholes poorly fixed.
      Now I’d be completely willing to deal with walking in the dirt by the side of the road if 1 thing was different. The behavior of the drivers.
      This is a high income area. The vast majority of drivers around here suffer from what I like to call “Rich Entitlement Syndrome”. Basically they think they own the roads and everyone else is just a peon to be squashed and they drive accordingly. This behavior includes constantly crossing centerline, people using cells phones while driving, speeding (it’s 45mph, but drivers will often go up to 60), randomly going 20 under the limit (a big hazard combined with the speeders), applying makeup while driving, etc. Basically take your pick of horrible driving behavior and we’ve got it in spades.
      When you add to this the fact that in over 30yrs of regular (sometimes daily) use of this road I have NEVER seen a single cop on this road enforcing the law you’ve got about as hostile an environment for vulnerable users as you can get. Did I mention that there is zero enforcement despite the presence of an elementary school on this road?

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      • KristenT June 9, 2015 at 10:40 am

        I also live in a suburb. The nearest Walgreens is 1 mile from my house. To get there, I have to cut through a couple of neighborhoods to get to the sidewalk, as my city hasn’t gotten around to the part of their 5-year plan (as explained to me 8 years ago) that will put sidewalks on 121st between Gaarde and Walnut.

        There’s a middle school almost exactly one mile from my front door, but none of the kids in my neighborhood or the ones on either side of mine can walk there. See above about the part about Tigard’s 8-year delay in their 5-year plan.

        I’ve tried walking there, but have been almost run over and forced into the ditch by people driving who won’t a)slow down and b)wait a couple of seconds for oncoming traffic to clear so they can swing out into that lane to get around me. This is partly an infrastructure problem, and partly a behavioral problem. Don’t tell me that the only reason I’m not walking to the stores and restaurants one mile from my house, or the parks and schools one mile the other direction, is that my suburb has a poor layout.

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    • A.H. June 6, 2015 at 2:51 pm

      If you’re really looking to convince anyone to scrutinize SD’s words, you’ll need to come up with something to support your argument other than “uh…no.” (“And there it is…car hatred. Cars are turning us away from our neighbors and families…uh, no.”)

      Also: “Further, if poor driving behaviors instills these types of fears, why all the foot traffic around pioneer square, along the streets of NYC, Chicago, Boston, etc., etc., etc.?? Well, because no such fear exists.”

      There’s foot traffic in the centers of major urban areas because *they’re major urban areas* and the buildings don’t all connect to one another via skybridge. Have you… have you never been to a city? If you’re really not afraid of rampant poor driver behaviors, I invite you to attempt to use a crosswalk on Powell for until the inevitable happens. Good luck, and don’t forget your helmet/ hi-vis vest/ flashlight/ signal flare/ tornado siren/ disco ball/ forward-facing Batman-style searchlight/ first aid kit!

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  • rick June 5, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    It costs a lot of money for police and fire departments to take care of all of these hit-and-runs.

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  • Justin June 6, 2015 at 8:14 am

    First of all – brilliant post. Thanks to SD for the comment.

    I used to live on a bike boulevard, and now live on another residential street here in SE Portland. But my new street is a frequent cut through for drivers. I’ve been amazed at the difference in community feel since moving. A lot of what I ascribed to Portland culture in my last home was actually bike boulevard culture. The bikers passing by, and their interactions with pedestrians, created a humanizing environment that carried over into the neighborhood itself.

    All of that is to say that transportation priorities can have a very real, if unconscious, effect on how we live our lives and interact with our neighbors. Getting rid of the fear – for active transport AND drivers – will make for a happier community.

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  • SD June 6, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    Wow. Thanks Michael, for highlighting my comment. More importantly, thanks to you and Johnathan and BP commenters for creating a forum for discussion where we can share our thoughts without feeling like its a huge waste of time. It goes without saying that bikeportland is a crucial part of the cycling community and the work that you guys have put into it and the standards that you have maintained over the years are invaluable.

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  • Tom Hardy June 6, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    I live on a state highway with a bike path. I have a decent automobile. I used to drive it too and from work when the weather was cruddy. Now I only drive it when the wife wishes to have me take her somewhere, she cannot drive because she can see the hood ornament but not the road. I ride the bike for anywhere I need to go for personal, social, or fitness purposes. I have been riding greater Portland streets since 1953 with the exception of when I was in the service in Viet Nam. I still get wierd looks from some neighbors and fellow church members (where I have gone for 46 years) “Oh you ride a bike?” Even the younger members do not and will not ride a bicycle on the streets, in spite of them living on bike paths and going to a school less than a mile a way connected by a bike path.
    Many times I have tried connecting with the schools to promote the “Bike to school” program for the last 30 years, but the cycling promotion is still being run by non cyclists that teach “Ride against the traffic like a pedestrian!”

    Just a little spooky.

    Less than 5 students were riding on the streets period at the local middle school at the end of the year. School bus’s were picking up and dropping off students within a quarter mile of the school. The picking up and dropping off lines were 1/4 mile of SUV’s daily.
    Strangely enough, Cyclists have not had any problem in the neighbor hood within 1-1/2 miles.

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    • gutterbunnybikes June 6, 2015 at 1:24 pm

      There is a big generational attitude difference in people that ride bicycles.

      Sometime in the 80’s riding bicycles started being perceived as a dangerous activity (personally I blame helmet laws -but I might be wrong). And this perception has completely taken over the topic from every angle. Drivers don’t feel responsible because people are voluntarily taking up a dangerous activity. And even bicycle riders and advocates stress over and over, that riding a bicycle is dangerous.

      Once the “dangerous and crazy” part is taken out of the equation, everything else will start falling into place.

      Even with the recent abnormally large number of local bicycle incidents, the last three weeks or so statistically speaking you’re more likely to be injured by wild buffalo attacks in Yellowstone Park.

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  • Glenn June 6, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    Well this sums it all up pretty well. After 23 years of biking for daily transportation in the PNW, I can’t help but feel like “What, everybody doesn’t know all this already?” But no, a new high school graduating class is born every year, that needs to learn it. Which of course leads to, shouldn’t this perspective be at least touched-on in schools? Well anyway…

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  • The Odd Duck June 7, 2015 at 12:09 am

    If you truly believe that cars in general are dangerous then after reading this blog destroy your driver license at one that way you won’t be tempted to get behind the wheel of a car.

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    • gutterbunnybikes June 7, 2015 at 1:07 am

      They are, and like many I’d love to. But that is not always a possibility. It’s not that simple. Transportation like lot of other stuff in life, is filled with stuff you don’t wanna do- but have to do.

      Instead, I when I have to drive, I drive with the knowledge that every action I make behind the wheel is potentially a life and death decision. I drive at the speed limit or less with both hands on the wheel, no cell phones. I treat the vehicle I drive with the respect that those that are around me deserve. I leave early to make up for time lost to “traffic” to get to places on time.

      Like guns, cars aren’t dangerous on their own. It’s those that use the tools that make them dangerous.

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      • Brian K Smith June 7, 2015 at 4:25 pm

        I’m willing to agree that a gun and a motorized vehicle can both be operated safely. I still don’t think this is a reasonable analogy.

        Let’s consider both as tools:
        Gun-Makes holes in things at a range of 1 cm to several hundred meters with centimeter to meter level accuracy.
        Motorized vehicle-Transports people and useful objects from place to place.

        Making holes in things is really useful! The gun, the vehicle (motorized or not), most of the interesting objects to be transported, etc. would not exist if we weren’t really good at making holes in things.

        Transporting people and objects is really useful! I think it’s reasonable to say that our ability to do so is an important part of humans being the dominant species on the planet.

        But as a tool for making the most industrially important kind of holes (with millimeter or better precision, controllable depth, in very hard materials, etc.) the gun is completely inferior to the drill and lathe. The kinds of holes guns make are good for one primary purpose: killing animals.

        If we assume safety means “no humans are injured”, then yes, it is entirely possible to practice accuracy, take pleasure in making holes in unliving things, and hunt for food/sport safely. But the fact remains that the most useful ability of a gun is to kill things at a distance and the most useful ability of a motorized vehicle is to reduce the amount of time it takes to transport people and objects.

        It is an undesirable side effect that vehicles can kill people.

        A gun that can’t kill people can’t kill interesting game animals and is therefore useless as anything other than entertainment. It is a desirable primary effect that guns can kill people.

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    • soren June 7, 2015 at 8:15 pm

      Its patently obvious that cars are not in general dangerous because many western democratic nations with equally high rates of car ownership experience a tiny fraction of the “road violence” we experience in the USA. Advocating for safety improvements, increased enforcement, and legal reforms is a not a “war on cars”, it’s a conservative position that would save lives and money.

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    • Anne Hawley June 8, 2015 at 2:59 pm

      I did, basically.

      I’m extremely privileged, to be able to put my money where my mouth is. I live close-in. I have leisure time. I was able to earn a living with a single job. I have no kids (okay, choice, but a choice with privilege behind it). I’m white, so I don’t worry about harassment from police or racists while I’m out being visible in the street. Above all, I’m able-bodied. I CAN get around mostly by bike.

      Anyone flinging the “then just quit driving” rejoinder around isn’t paying attention.

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  • Tait June 7, 2015 at 3:07 am

    I don’t think active transportation is a primary, nor even significant factor affecting social cohesiveness around me. Seeing each other and talking to each other is a function of shared interests, local activities, cooperative projects, and recreational opportunities (in particular: a park or playground within short walking distance). These are things that public policy can shape and improve. But they have nothing to do with transportation choices. I’ve lived adjacent to neighbors who (primarily) bike and neighbors who car; I don’t think it’s made any difference to how much I talked to them or how well I knew them.

    The conversation about traffic safety faulting smaller motorized vehicles is foreign to me. Every conversation I’ve had on the topic realizes the greater maneuverability and handling of smaller vehicles as an advantage. SUVs have bigger crush zones to protect the occupants, but they also have larger momentum and handle poorly under duress. The best accident is one that doesn’t happen, and smaller vehicles win on that front.

    (And for the record, I do not share the overwhelming worry that’s been attributed to me that I or my children or friends will be injured in a motor-vehicle-involved accident. It’s a risk, among hundreds of others, that I realize and account for, but it certainly doesn’t keep me from walking, riding, or letting kids play outside or have autonomy.)

    So I agree (with SD) that we need to discourage bad actors, create better infrastructure, de-esclate danger, and respect the livable communities we want to foster. Let’s work toward those goals, even if we don’t agree on why we need them.

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    • Carrie June 7, 2015 at 8:10 am

      Tait – I also used to not worry. I knew it could happen, but then left it at that. But the recent incidents at 26th ave have made me fearful, and I am really mad about that. I love riding my bike. I love that my kids can get themselves places on their own and have fun. And I hate that now I flinch and am actually nervous, when I have never been before. Of car drivers could just slow the hell down, I could start riding with joy (instead of fear) again.

      I’m not stopping riding, and neither is my family, but I finally understand why people do. And, as I said, it’s making me mad.

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  • Spiffy June 8, 2015 at 9:10 am

    one of the best comments ever…

    easily a $10 comment…

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  • Patrick Barber June 8, 2015 at 9:25 am

    SD for president.

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  • rachel b June 8, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    Fabulous comment, SD.

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