What happened in lower Manhattan is a nightmare.
Unfortunately it’s a recurring one for many of us who ride bicycles in cities.
The idea that cars are weapons is not new to us. What’s new — now that even more innocent lives have been lost — is that thinking of cars as weapons isn’t as radical of an idea as it was 24 hours ago.
Cars are weapons. When someone drives one it becomes a loaded weapon. But unlike guns, cars are used by nearly everyone, everywhere, everyday. And unlike guns, cars don’t attract attention from authorities and they carry none of the constroversial stigma that guns do. On the contrary, cars and trucks are incessantly glorified in ways that normalize reckless disregard for everyone on the road except the all-important, all-powerful person behind the wheel. “Keep streets mean,” is Dodge’s irresponsible tagline.
Yesterday everyone saw just how “mean” streets can get when a man opened fire with a rental truck on that bike path. It has been officially tagged terrorism by authorities, making it just the latest in a disturbing global trend. Terrorist groups like ISIS encourage followers to use cars to inflict mass murder. These extremists have found our gaping weak spot. Like a Trojan Horse, weaponized automobiles are an easy way to breach America’s trillion dollar homeland security complex.
The disturbing thing is we didn’t need extremist propaganda to point out this vulnerability.
Just like America’s absurd inability to reign in gun violence has made us a laughingstock abroad, so too has our inability to reign in car abuse. Now we must add tool-for-mass-murder to the mile-long list of negative impacts we are all forced to live with due to the relatively unregulated use of motorized vehicles in this country.
What happened in Manhattan can happen in Portland.
On April 3rd of this year, Henry Nikila intentionally drove his car into a crowd of people in southeast Portland, injuring three of them. Why? They yelled at him to slow down.
On August 10th 2016, Russell Courtier used his Jeep to intentionally run over and kill Larnell Bruce. Bruce was black and Courtier had ties to white supremacy groups. The murder was ruled a hate crime.
And we’ve reported on numerous cases of intentional vehicular assault and of people who — for whatever reason — drove their cars onto bike-only paths.
To those of us who use bicycles as our daily vehicles, it doesn’t matter why people do these things. It’s the result of their actions we can’t stop thinking about.
Whether fueled by an ideological mission, malice, distraction, racial hatred, or road rage. Whether drunk with anger, alcohol, or religious fervor — there’s always one constant: the immense destructive potential of the automobile.
With anger in America — and anger towards America — at a breaking point, our transportation bureaus must act more like our police bureaus. Their job is no longer to just build roads, but to do whatever it takes to protect all the people who use them. There’s no homeland security until our bikeways and walkways are protected.
We don’t lack solutions, we lack the will to implement them. One solution stands out as both obvious and reasonable: More use of concrete barriers and steel bollards to keep drivers of cars and trucks away from vulnerable road users.
We use metal detectors to keep guns and knives out of buildings, we need bollards and barriers to keep cars out of bikeways.
An article in New York Magazine this morning makes the case:
The horror on the Hudson River Greeenway was an attack on pedestrians and cyclists. It was also eminently preventable. Sayfullo Saipov’s guns were fake, but his truck was real, and he used it to drive block after block after block, unimpeded by car traffic, free to crush Citi Bikes and their riders. He could do so because this ostensibly “protected” bike lane … isn’t…
In recent years, guided by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s allegiance to Vision Zero, the city keeps doling out new bike paths that are separated from ordinary traffic by raised curbs or parking spaces, or else just indicated by stripes of paint. That’s not enough…
We can’t crazy-proof all of New York, but the city could do a far more thorough job of safeguarding places where cyclists and pedestrians cluster.
We can choose to ignore the imminent threats Portlanders face on our streets everyday. We can keep planning and processing and promising forever. Or we can do something real and tangible about it. If our lofty “Vision Zero” proclamation is to have any shred of credibility, we’ll choose the latter.
For insights and updates from activists in Manhattan, follow @brooklynspoke, @transalt, @carolinesampo, @naparstek, @psteely, and @NYC_safestreets on Twitter.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
Never miss a story. Sign-up for the daily BP Headlines email.
BikePortland needs your support.
Just yesterday I was riding on a residential street by mt Tabor, on a street with “sharrows”. When an automobile driver speedily ran a stop sign turning on to the street I was riding on, I had to slam on my brakes and make an emergency stop which luckily I was able to do safely. The next block down at a stop sign he stopped and wouldn’t drive forward in what I took as an attempt to intimidate me while he held up a middle finger at me and yelled for a solid 10 seconds. Even if the car driver is the one in the wrong, he blew a stop sign, not me, they have all the power. He could have backed up into me and hurt me if he had wanted, so I just stood there and waited. Keep your head on a swivel out there.
Comparing victims of a real terrorist act with ordinary cyclists navigating issues inherent to cycling is a rotten idea and is disrespectful to actual victims and those who care about them.
Whipping everyone up about this stuff is exactly what terrorists want. Give them the attention they crave and you give them power while encouraging more of the same.
It is even worse to suggest that fully separated infrastructure would have helped. This attack occurred on fully separated infrastructure — guaranteeing that the attacker could mow down vulnerable users unopposed. That same infrastructure trapped them with the attacker.
Thanks for the comment. I disagree with you though. I feel it’s important to raise the profile of the issues that people face while cycling and I do think there are important comparisons to draw between what happened in NYC and what can – and does – happen in other cities all over the country every day. And FWIW, as reported in that article in NY Mag I linked to, the path in Manhattan wasn’t protected. It was separated, but it was very easy to drive up onto.
I also think it’s important to take away that I’m calling for more protection of vulnerable road users in general. We can debate the technical details about how to achieve that protection, but in general, I think we need much more protection in general and I think what happened in Manhattan — and what has happened in other cities around the country and the world lately — is just another reason why.
Respectfully, Jonathan, Kyle’s right. This is in very bad taste, and is a dangerous conflation. While the horror of daily traffic “accidents” is a real one, there’s a world of difference between the systemic issues involved in that, and the very focused, intentional violence of a specific act. You pointed out some specific acts motivated by road rage, or racism, and that’s closer to terrorism, yet there’s still a major difference between a “crime of passion” and a premeditated act.
Bollards are not going to cure terrorism. Also, side note – they cause major issues for cargo bikes, trailers, and other “nonstandard” bicycles.
We have 3 very seperate populations of people killing people on bicycles – premeditated, “crime of passion”, and unintentional. They require three different solutions. Conflating them masks the complexity and ignores the specific problems. It’s not helpful. It’s shoddy journalism, and unwarranted opinion.
Thanks Matt. I hear your feedback differently because I know you. And I take it to heart. I feel like the post accurately reflects my feelings on the topic and I also understand how it can be read as being “wrong”. Thanks.
Your “true terrorists” typically do multiple dry runs and surveillance before finally acting, just as I can be reasonably sure that every driver who plows into a group ride or group of people has probably done many aggressive close passes and intimidation before they finally reach the point of direct assault over their feelings and beliefs. A pre-conceived bias that leads to murder is absolutely the same. I strongly doubt anyone goes from respectful road user to muderous rampage in one single easy to dismiss “crime of passion”.
people who drive routinely behave in ways that put human beings in harm’s way. this qualifies as a “dry run”, imo. and terrorism is a very broad term that encompasses many systematic attempts to intimidate and/or terrorize a group (often a minority):
the USAnian idea that “terrorism” should somehow only be used to describe extreme acts by particular groups is, IMO, rooted in prejudice/racism.
To be fair Soren it seems nearly everything you discuss comes from that assumption.
You gotta hand it to the guy — he’s consistent
Certainly many different methods can target each of these groups. They are indeed very different in intent as well as in the eyes of the law. However, place each of these groups in a location where truly separated infrastructure exists such as Copenhagen. The probability of the premeditated, the “crime of passion”, and the unintentional are all significantly reduced through physically separated infrastructure.
first of all, “intent” means eff all to the people being harassed, threatened, hit, injured, maimed, and/or killed. secondly, even accepting your deontological premise (i don’t) the casual acceptance of dangerous/threatening driving behavior by many drivers is intentional.
people who chose to speed and end up killing someone due to this choice are motorist-fascist terrorists.
What about those who don’t speed and kill someone?
I think part of what Jonathan’s getting at is that ideology (or lack of) behind a drivers running over people is perhaps not so important to the person being run over? He’s not equating IS terrorists with road ragers or making parallels or comparisons in motive, reasoning or anything other than the physical act, which he simply says could and should be made more difficult to commit. Can anyone disagree with this?
Motor vehicles aren’t weapons unless someone deliberately intends to use them as a weapon, contrary to what purpose they were designed for.
Civilian passenger cars, pickup trucks, minivans and so on, aren’t weapons. Tanks, troop carriers, also motor vehicles…are weapons. The islamic guy that decided to cause havoc on the streets of NYC, appeared to have re-purposed a light truck available for rent from Home Depot. Didn’t even bother to cover over the Home Depot logo on the side of the bed, with some slogan of his own. Not absolutely sure it was HD, but did see a shot of the light truck with the distinctive square orange panel with white letters. I wonder if HD’s stock took a hit as a result of the incident.
Terrorists have shown on many occasions in the past already, that they don’t need a motor vehicle as a weapon to do their misdeeds. Simply walking on their own two feet is amply effective. Motor vehicles can conveniently serve a terrorist, enabling them variations on what they seek to do.
Perhaps a clarification…corporations through recent historical design changes in motorized vehicle design have knowingly “weaponized” vehicles by increasing their ability to kill or injure vulnerable roadway users (or passengers is less protected vehicles) by increases in speed, kinetic energy, higher / blunter hoods (poorer post impact outcomes for pedestrians), etc. and by through marketing these behaviors…while increasingly protecting the passengers inside of the terrorizing vehicle…
…and this is just an ad for engine oil lubricant !
“…Perhaps a clarification…corporations through recent historical design changes in motorized vehicle design have knowingly “weaponized” vehicles ……….” racer X
I understand that the evolution and expansive use of motor vehicles for travel and transport has brought them to inherently represent an increasingly dangerous potential for injury or even death to vulnerable road users.
If you’re referring to motor vehicles designed and built to be sold to civilians, your suggestion that:
“…corporations through recent historical design changes in motorized vehicle design have knowingly “weaponized” vehicles …”,
…just isn’t true, if you’re saying, which you seem to be, that corporations, specifically automobile manufacturers, are deliberately, for civilian American and foreign use, making such vehicles to be weapons.
The potential capability of the vehicles to be used as weapons, is an inadvertent one on the part of auto manufacturers, I believe. Example, aligned with this idea, I thought was very interesting when I first learned of it years ago: the civilian light import pickup trucks middle east insurgents commandeered and fitted onto the pickup bed, automatic machine guns that could fire over the pickup cab. That they thought to do that was astonishingly resourceful and cost efficient. And effective.
Interesting comparison: the fabled and sentimentally adored military Jeep. Those vehicles actually were made to be weapons, or at least, be equipped with them (if you ever get a chance to ride in or even better, drive one…I highly recommend it.). The one time I drove a fully restored example, on the road, it was amazing to me how flimsy and un-roadworthy the design seemed to be. Off-road? Maybe ok, don’t know.
Agreed. A pillow can be a ‘weapon’ when held firmly over someone’s face, or a shoelace placed around someone’s neck.
JM, as a long-time reader I can see your frustration is really taking hold. I saw it in the all-caps reply to a comment on Monhait’s story. I can empathize. Two days ago my wife cried out “That’s gonna be Pete!” upon seeing the story of a man shot to death after yelling at speeders to slow down. Sadly I searched to reference the story but the number of hits is inordinate – violence between motorists now seems commonplace here in the bay area, when it used to be only L.A. known for these things (watch “L.A. Story”). Pedestrian and cyclist ‘murders’ are up significantly, and we can add cities like San Jose and San Francisco to the list of those touting Vision Zero and barely putting their money where their mouths are. (My own city councilor proposed we adopt a Vision Zero statement at a BPAC meeting not long ago and I vocally disagreed because they don’t have a track record indicating it would be anything more than lip service).
I do agree with Matt and others that this is a stretch of a comparison – but hey, it’s your blog, your passion, and your frustration with our culture, so vent away! It’s not like your point is way off with the status quo, even if the analogies come from a place of emotion.
This post is not helpful at all. Pulling an extreme example into a discussion of everyday issues is a desperate attempt to attract attention to this blog.
i disagree Ted. And I think it’s worth noting that since my post went up I’ve seen many other articles from all over the country – including several from NYC advocates — essentially taking the same approach to this.
Again, I’m not focusing on the terrorism aspect so much… To me it’s more about the juxtaposition between immense power of cars and their drivers versus the vulnerability of other road users.
Your words indicate otherwise Jonathan:
“With anger in America — and anger towards America — at a breaking point, our transportation bureaus must act more like our police bureaus. Their job is no longer to just build roads, but to do whatever it takes to protect all the people who use them. There’s no homeland security until our bikeways and walkways are protected”
You are using fear of terrorism, and the deaths of others, to advance your agenda. I think that is wrong and not helpful.
I’m using the fear of anyone – terrorist or angry person or distracted person or whatever – who has access to a destructive vehicle in order to advance my agenda. I wish I didn’t have to write this editorial at all. Unfortunately we are so steeped in car bias in America and so conditioned to disrespect bicycle users, that I don’t think I have any other choice than to try and raise awareness of my beliefs about this topic whenever I can.
So in other words. Yes. You are right. I am guilty of that.. but I don’t feel it’s the wrong thing to do in this context.
I realize that my post rubbed you and some other people the wrong way. I am sorry.
What “agenda” is being advanced, and how is it different from the “agenda” of what you would consider a legitimate response to this incident?
Despite the design for power and speed of many motor vehicles used for day to day travel on the street, this power they have compared to that of bicycles, is negligible. Up to about 25 mph, everyone is traveling basically the same mph speed, whether they’re riding a road bike, driving a low horsepower micro car, a high horsepower performance car, or some type of truck.
A bike, a Volkswagen Beetle, a Porsche 911, a city bus , a garbage truck…in traffic with some exceptions (low traffic levels.), they all effectively move at very close to the same rate of speed within the city grid. This is readily apparent on seeing wide shots of roads during commute hours by way of any traffic cams shown on tv news.
So, with extreme exceptions…the infrequent occasion when people take their high performance vehicle for a high speed run, all the so called ‘power’ people with motor vehicles supposedly have over people with just bikes, or that only walk, is largely an illusion.
If by a world governing power, a dictum was issued, mandating that all motor vehicles be equipped with motors built to provide just 40 hp (rather than 200hp and more.), weighing 2000 lbs, no more, no less, limited to a top speed of 30mph…there most likely still would be collisions and people injured and killed in collisions. There’d still be people using their standard 40hp motor vehicle to crowd and intimidate people riding bikes…still would be people riding bikes and threatening with their fists, a u-lock or some other object re-purposed for violence, other people using the road, walking, biking, riding in motor vehicles. And, some people on foot wreaking similar violence.
In the days of foot, horse and chariot travel during the time of ancient Rome, use of the road by these modes of travel together, likely posed a very similar disparate juxtaposition of road users vulnerability to harm, that road use today with motor vehicles today does. More people today with more vehicles, both bikes and motor vehicles, likely is the bigger contributing factor to collisions today.
The entrances to the West Side Greenway are open to cars, and can be quite harrowing at, for example, the NY Sanitation Dept near Gansevoort and particularly the Chelsea Piers. While it is considered “fully separated,” an handful of concrete/metal bollards could indeed have easily prevented a car from entering the Greenway.
Retractable or removable bollards can be used for places where limited car access or crossing is required by e.g. city/maintenance.
Or even perhaps concrete bump-outs at road interfaces, just wide enough openings for specialized snow/leaf removal equipment but not passenger and commercial vehicles. That would remove the collision risk with bollards and also slow bicycle speeds to increase pedestrian safety as well for an additional benefit.
Your comment is ignorant and reactionary. It is equivalent to “not the right time to talk about gun control” or “keep politics out of football”. The fragility of the dominant.
“Whipping everyone up about this stuff”? The article does not induce fear of terrorist attacks. I am sad for this horrible attack, but I am not scared of terrorists in vehicles. I am scared of our violent and deadly car culture. The 1 million road deaths in this country in my lifetime. This article relates to the experience of being threatened on a daily basis. Yelled at, swerved at, or just dangerously ignored. This has nothing to do with foreign bogeymen.
“This attack occurred on fully separated infrastructure” – no it didn’t. If it was fully separated, a person wouldn’t have been able to drive a truck onto it.
It was fully separated — you should read the articles and look at some pictures before commenting. This may come as a shock to you, but fully separated infrastructure almost always has some point at which a vehicle could enter and there is no realistic scenario in which truly full protection is possible except in very limited areas.
As an example of a fully separated area where I encountered a pickup truck just this week (to be clear, this is an unusual occurrence and a coincidence). https://email@example.com,-122.6783813,3a,75y,225.17h,86.88t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sFN0loafC_FWIJqzYEBD3qQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656 I was headed up Greeley, the pickup truck was headed towards Interstate. As the truck took the entire path, I had to leave it.
This is a terrorism issue and not a cycling one — the issues need to be kept separate. Getting people excited about terrorist activity is the entire point of terrorism.
It is not even desirable to attempt full protection from a terrorist attack as that would end free society as we know it.
Houston is where the person in custody reportedly entered the Greenway. Notice the plastic bollard that is intended to prevent anyone from driving on to the path. While this is the first terrorist who has done so, it is by no means the first person to drive a car on the Greenway.
> “It is not even desirable to attempt full protection from a terrorist attack”
If you think that’s what this article is advocating, you have missed the point.
“fully separated infrastructure almost always has some point at which a vehicle could enter” – when done properly, this entails a removable bollard, such as at many points along Springwater. What your photo shows is poor infrastructure that is not properly separated. As is shown by the photos and accounts of what happened.
“This is a terrorism issue and not a cycling one — the issues need to be kept separate. Getting people excited about terrorist activity is the entire point of terrorism.”
I am not excited by this act of terrorism. I am not changing my life because of it. We should not change our society because of it. But we should change our society due to road violence and death, which are a much broader and more serious issue than terrorism. And before anyone jumps on me, which truly causes more violence and death? Which one is used by news media to scare people, and which one is entirely normalized? Acts like this are thankfully rare. But what it brings to the forefront is a cycling issue, a transportation issue, a societal issue. So yes, let’s focus on that. Let’s not shut down conversation about needed changes to our society.
Every once in awhile we hear about a road rager using their car as a weapon against another road user that is the focus of their rage. Everyday, people on bikes have to deal with actual and threats of harm from careless or reckless motor drivers. Neither of these is remotely equivalent to an individual who uses a motor vehicle to randomly murder complete strangers in pursuance of a twisted ideology. Road rage and careless/reckless driving are bad enough on their own. We don’t have to draw parallels to terrorism to make our case that they need to stop.
The important parallel here is that physically protected infrastructure can mediate both problems.
I’m confident that a motivated terrorist will find a way.
No it is absolutely NOT a rotten idea, every single punishment pass, exaggerated swerve over onto the shoulder after a pass, honk, yell and every other motor vehicle driver intimidation is ABSOLUTELY terrorism on a micro scale. It may not rise to the sickening tragedy of the mass loss of life that happened in NYC, but the rationale is the same, to terrorize me from daring to use the roadways for an agenda counter to my freedom and as Jonathan pointed out, it’s not just the constant aggressive life-risking behaviors we all encounter weekly, but the actual cases where cyclists and pedestrians are specifically targeted for murder. The incident on NorCal on Levi’s rondo just weeks ago could easily have ended up with several dead cyclists only by luck and absolutely rises to the same test for violent, murderous terrorist behavior.
NOT a tone-deaf editorial–human powered travelers in the US live under a reign of terror. Keeps people from walking or cycling–or convinces some of us that every driver is subhuman. I’m a proud anti motorist bigot and not in the least ashamed of it. There’s drivers and there’s people and those are two different species.
Yep. This is an incredibly tone-deaf editorial.
Remember when W invoked terrorism to advance his agenda? Those were the days.
Huh? Are you likening war (W’s agenda) to safety? And IS Jonathan’s agenda safety? Gud forbid?!
Seems he claimed he was doing it in the name of protecting us. The current prez also claims his agenda is based on protecting us.
That is a ridiculously dishonest stretch and you know it. You’re equating the statements of a serial liar with the statements of someone who has been a tireless and successful advocate for the safety of vulnerable road users.
Many of his supporters believe it though. In any case, Dubya probably really did think he was doing the right thing.
Even if Maus believing he is doing the right thing is parallel to Bush having believed he was doing the right thing, the glaring difference between what Bush advocated and what Maus advocates is why your comparison is a dramatic stretch.
There has to be some way of drawing out general lessons to be learned from specific incidents or situations without being accused of either diminishing the reality of the specific situation or aggrandizing one’s own struggle by attempting to raise it to the same level. Granted, “Everyday Terror” might be a little bit loaded/over-the-top, but the lesson that motor vehicles can be used—intentionally or not, but seemingly more and more frequently intentionally—as weapons that kill people, cannot be lost because we’re too afraid or PC to point out horrific events like the one in NY as examples, however extreme, of a larger problem. This incident points out multiple “larger problems”, such as perception of America and Americans in other countries, the reach and influence terrorist organizations have in the U.S., etc., but also the problematic nature of runaway auto overuse, the cultural acceptance of cars as the only “normal” thing that should operate on roads, the disgusting ways car advertisers (Dodge) appeal to the most aggressive and hostile instincts of gullible people, the ease with which cars can kill and destroy, the view that safety is the sole responsibility of those not in cars—even the demonstrated fact that “protected” bikeways aren’t, necessarily. All those “larger problems” bear discussion, and people are usually open to such discussions when something like this brings the issues to the forefront of our collective consciousness.
Now, of course I’m not going to say that the guy who moved into the left turn lane so he could pass me while we were both making a right turn, or the guy in a van who almost sideswiped me while changing lanes this morning are “terrorists”. I’ll say one is overly-aggressive (he stayed less than 50 feet in front of me for about 12 seconds until he got stuck in car traffic and I passed him again), and the other is just less attentive than necessary for motor vehicle operation—but they’re not “terrorists”. I don’t think anyone is making that claim. I wouldn’t even say I experienced “terror”, as a quick initial read of each situation indicated there was no real threat to my actual safety. But the fact remains that it is way, way too easy for incompetent, careless, negligent, or intentionally criminal drivers to find themselves behind the wheel where they can do untold damage with a twitch of the foot and a flick of the wrist—a fact highlighted by what happened yesterday in NYC.
> “Comparing victims of a real terrorist act with ordinary cyclists navigating issues inherent to cycling…”
There is nothing about the intimidation, harassment, and other violent behaviors exhibited by automobile drivers that is “inherent to cycling.” These actions by drivers are intended to terrorize, regardless of motivation or body count.
What’s your point?
Those behaviors are rare and aren’t inherent to cycling. Actual attacks involving vehicles are virtually universally regarded (trolls don’t count) by the motoring public as a serious crime which is why this is being treated as the terrorist attack that it is.
Harassment and intimidation are not taken as seriously as they should be, but these are still widely accepted to be wrong. In any case, comparing them with real violence and terrorism is ludicrous.
Comparison for illustration is not the same as conflation.
Of course terrorism is much worse because it threatens the “Man” but random automobile violence only threatens the legions of good and noble, but powerless cyclists trying to make the world a better place.
I disagree. Pointing out that everyone in a car/truck/Van is just 1 thought away from becoming a terrorist. I have seen int. The only reason so many are against this article is because they are secretly, and without really knowing it, they are defending the car at every opportunity.
You are mistaken. Hitting somebody, or a group of somebodys, does not make you a terrorist. Terrorism is about motivation.
Hm. I wonder.
All those folks we’ve learned about here who were run over and maimed or killed by thoughtless, negligent, rude autoists over the years sum to a kind of terror, if you are so predisposed. I don’t happen to be cowed by this pattern, but I do know that many are.
You can inspire terror without being a terrorist. Jack the Ripper, for example… not a terrorist.
For too long, driving a 5000 lb hunk of steel at high speeds has been considered a right here in the USA with only a trivial set of tests preventing nearly anyone from operating a motor vehicle on the public right of way. The only way to solve this is to make operating these dangerous implements a strict privilege acquired by rigorous testing similar to flying a plane, including mental and personality tests. But we have to unlearn 65 years of automobile propaganda that equates driving with freedom. As we are learning, the automobile is more like the famous monkey trap than it is like freedom.
That simply will not happen. What might happen is technological change that will solve the problem in a totally different way.
We could retool our licensing exams, using Germany’s as a guide. I hear they’re extremely stringent over there.
A driver’s license in Germany is also prohibitively expensive for many (close to $2000).
I find it interesting that many people would consider spending $2000 for training and a license to drive to be prohibitively expensive when the average cost of operating a relatively new car, including depreciation, is $8000 per year with about $2000 of that being fuel costs according to AAA. Even if the license was only good for a decade before one had to undergo mandatory retraining, it would still be the same as adding a 10% fuel tax (which would be lost in the noise of the volatility of fuel prices).
Our status quo is killing 40k Americans annually in crashes, killing another 50k annually from air pollution, killing several hundred thousand annually from sedentary lifestyle issues and maiming millions more. Is $2k for training really prohibitive in light of those other losses? I think not. Sadly, I’m sure I’m in a small minority of people who share this opinion.
Plus, making it more expensive to get may make more people not take it so much for granted. In high school, there was a marked difference overall in the driving habits (as well as the corresponding insurance premiums and deductibles) between the kids who had to pay for at least part of their auto costs (car, gas, insurance, etc…) and those who didn’t. One buddy of mine, parents bought him a nice – though slightly used – car, covered his insurance premiums, and even made sure he was fully stocked with gas cards. Within 6 months, the car was totaled (his fault). What did his parents do? Bought him a brand new car with upgraded trim, and still covered his much higher insurance payments. He continued to rack up traffic tickets throughout high school.
If we made it harder to get licenses, easier to lose, and even harder to get back, people may be a bit more careful with how they use it.
“That simply will not happen. ”
The difficult things we do right away; the impossible will take a little time.
Let me know when you see the first signs of the public warming to this idea. Take your time… I’ll wait.
I’m curious why you’re here, beyond policing everyone’s word use and arguing that nothing can be done to improve the driving of humans.
That would indeed be a curious thing to say, which is why I didn’t.
Such changes happen one person at a time. I’m basically entirely in line with bikeninja’s comment, but less than a decade ago would have thought it extreme. And after last year’s US presidential election making very clear the ubiquity of propaganda in our lives, my views related to that comment have become rather crystallized. Who knows how many people’s paradigms on some things have rapidly shifted within the last year, and what other big events may occur to affect wide social change? Not to say I feel any optimism these days; I just prefer a mind open to unforeseen possibilities.
In terms of protecting pedestrians and cyclists from vehicles, bollards was my first thought as well. But then I had to wonder: Is it possible that more people would be injured or killed by an accidental collusion with a bollard than would be saved from a potential terrorist attack? This is impossible to answer, of course, since terrorist attacks are unpredictable, rare, and often cause significant loss of life. At any rate, I think that “hardening” our public spaces against terrorist attack is futile. There will always be a soft opening, as long as we live in a relatively free and open society.
Bollards can be painted with high-viz and even wear a foam hat. This page has many details http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2013/08/the-fifty-bollard-game-how-bollards-on.html
How many people die of obesity due to fear of cars / lack of better protected bike infrastructure?
My mother visited the nearby 9/11 memorial and strolled along that section of the path during a visit to NYC last week. The path is part of the Hudson River Greenway ped/bike path that runs from Battery Park in southernmost Manhattan along the island’s west shore to the George Washington Bridge and then onward up the valley to Albany. The section where this happened runs on the west side of the West Side Highway for several blocks, separated by islands with trees and bushes. At a stoplight, the guy swerved off the road and onto the adjacent path. There’s a lot of foot and bike traffic on that path because it serves as a very popular connection between Manhattan and the cross-Hudson ferries for Staten Island and the NJ shore. The path is also part of the East Coast Greenway between Maine and Miami. The best way to avoid situations like this is to keep ped/bike paths separate from the street with connecting paths to adjacent streets, like the I-205 trail does in several places. And enforce the no motor vehicles rule on things like the Springwater Trail. Homeless RV’s parking on such facilities, as some did last year, should not be allowed, period. We should be able to find ways to keep things like this from happening again. As we design and build future connections across PDX and beyond, we should make sure that they’re designed to prevent things like this from occurring again.
I am an equally opportunistic when it comes to informing both vehicles and cyclists. They both do messed up things daily. I often think that cyclists are in some sort of utopia while riding thus disregarding stop signs amd lights. Like Drew, while I was on SE 78th last week, I had two cyclists blow a stop sign as I was driving the speed limit. They wanted nothing to do with my pissed off reaction. I can’t blame them but better that then for them to be ran over. I also do my fair share of fingers while riding my bike on my daily commute for those drivers who stare at their phones.
But back to the topic, people kill people and they use various devices to do so. Could a cyclist strap a bomb to themselves and ride into a crowd of people? How would we be prepared for that at the Saturday Market? Nice use of terror and gloom as it pertains to Portland.
You believe in equal treatment over fair treatment.
The problem is everyone has a different opinion of what “fair” is. So we settle for equal, instead.
Okay, let me rephrase:
Doug believes in equal treatment over proportional treatment.
“Suicide bomber by bike” has apparently already been used in Iraq & Syria.
Even if they can’t figure out that guns, heavy machinery, and highly combustible substances can be used way more effectively than vehicles, ordinary life is full of things that can be weaponized.
The last phrase is certainly true. The beginning of the comment was internally contradictory (motor vehicles are heavy powerful machines) and also, based on recent events, just not true.
There is no comparison between the destructive capacity of truly heavy machinery such as excavators, bulldozers, loaders, haul trucks, etc. and ordinary vehicles.
The former group of vehicles tend to also be rare and expensive and hence more likely to be secured and locked up out of harm’s way by their owners. The latter, alas, is all too common. Not only can you steal them, but they can (and are) easily rented out from various dealers. But the real issue is that they are just inanimate (so far) motor vehicles. As with guns (Cambodia), machetes (Rwanda), or gas chambers (Germany), death and severe injury usually comes at the hands of humans, not of machines.
They are very expensive, but they’re often not secure — people stealing stuff like this is not normally a problem because hiding and fencing it is difficult. Not sure why you’re under the impression it can’t be rented because it can.
Ignoring that you’re more likely to get struck by lightning multiple times than get killed in a terrorist attack, trying to figure out how to protect oneself from random maniacs on the roads is truly futile and a waste of time.
Yeah, David, but particular machines are especially good at activating the user’s will to harm.
A guy intentionally ran into someone at a pedalpalooza ride this summer. No serious injuries, and Police showed up shortly.
What was the guy charged with?
I take issue with the statement that “cars are driven by nearly everyone, everywhere.” This is not true – cars are driven by most voting age adults, most places. Kids can’t drive and can’t vote, and the poor, young adults, the differently abled are both less likely to drive and less likely to vote in a happy ‘coincidence’ for the motor-industrial complex. (Not intending to imply a conspiracy to keep non-drivers from voting – but the lack of mobility associated with not driving in most of the US is likely a contributory factor to lower voting rates among most of these groups).
Where does one find stats on voter participation rates by travel mode?
I don’t think that’s available. But voting by demographic is available, and demographic by travel mode, and that’s what I noted. The groups that drive less, vote less. (Except for the elderly… though I suspect that were the data available at this detailed level, we’d find that elderly folks who can’t drive anymore, vote less than other elderly folks).
Perhaps it is about time we follow the lead of cities like Florence and ban automobiles from the central parts of major cities. Only specially licensed delivery vehicles and cabs would be allowed within the portion of the city where large numbers of people congregate. The motorists can be relegated to the endless vistas of suburbia and exurbia. These automotive wastelands will be too dangerous to transgress by foot or bicycle so there will be no need for sidewalks or streetlights, Since many motorists no longer obey stop signs or red lights such traffic control devices will no longer be needed either. Thus both groups get what they want. A safe human scaled environment for those not addicted to automobiles and a no-holds barred zone of freedom and convenience for everyone else. We can keep rents down in the safe zone by making it law that you can only live there if you do not own a car. As the safe zone becomes overcrowded it can be expanded as needed.
The City of York (UK) not only bans cars and truck, but bicycles too, in their very large historic center.
Well, but people still have to live in the suburbs and exurbs – notably people without money. I’m all for eliminating cars from city centers, but they also need to be managed and curtailed outside of it. The only place for unfettered car use is a place with few cars (farmland, ranchland, mining operations, etc.).
Can’t live in fear. Continue cycling and be happy. Elected officials won’t do a thing in the near term.
If we don’t ask them to, they never will.
They certainly won’t do anything in the long term, as the 2030 bicycle plan is proving. It’s easy to kick something down the road to when you’ll no longer be in office…
When terrorists used airplanes to wage an attack on NYC, we immediately made airports high security areas and hired an army of security agents to enforce a stricter way of conducting business. Nothing less should be done regarding motor vehicles – from now on anyone driving a car should have to prove why they are doing so, log a turn by turn manifest and register the time at which they will be using streets. Ignition locks to prove the car trip and operator are valid. Zero tolerance for breaking any law in a car. You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists.
FYI, we didn’t make planes harder to fly, as you have in your car analogy. Rather, we increased searches of our persons (ban keys?), restricted what we could bring into the airports (ban cell phones?) and increased terminal security (TSA takeover of your garage?) However, the guy in NY rented a truck, which is a bit like charter flight – technically there was an opportunity to do a background check at Home Depot before renting out the truck, but what would that have revealed? The pilot seemed sober and reasonably sane and the Home Depot charter flight was ready for take off.
Imagine a world where background checks and checks against the terror watch list were required when purchasing or renting a vehicle, even for private part sales. Driving is not a right.
Imagine a world where every flunky working the Budget rental desk can see your life history. If that’s my choice (it isn’t), I’d take the terrorism.
That isn’t how background checks work. It’s a thumbs up or thumbs down to the retailer. They don’t get to see your personal information.
Be nice to the service people, HK. Not all of them are flunkies.
Many of us are.
What?! This was a premeditated act of terror where a rental truck was used as a weapon. ISIS has been encouraging these sorts of attacks because it is an obvious means of hitting quick, without warning, and without arousing advance police suspicion. To conflate this with regular folks using a motor vehicle as transportation and local instances of bad driving/road rage is just inflammatory and reeks of cheap click bait.
Following this logic, due to 9/11, air travel is abused because people with anger issues are permitted to fly. They might go to extremes. Restrict flying!
Transporting goods by truck is an abuse because a semi was used to kill people in Lyon. Some owner/operator in the midst of a nasty divorce might go to extremes. Ban the trucking industry!
You know, renting a truck should just be outlawed because Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal building with one. Some guy in a bad mood moving to a new apartment might go to extremes. Mandatory hiring of licensed and bonded professional movers!
Jonathan, I agree with you that our roadways should be made safer for bikes and peds but, you are now slipping into irrational, emotional NRA like invective here. “Did I hear truck and bike in the same sentence? Quick! Deploy “Drivers Bad!!! / Bikes Good!!! / This would not have happened if…” talking points!”
This happened because an angry man with a cause was intent on killing people and found an easy way to do a lot of killing. This did not happen because of poor bike infrastructure design by NYC or liberal driving privileges anymore than it was caused by immigration policy. These poor visitors on Citi Bikes were a target of convenience at the time he decided to strike. He could have just as easily decided to speed down a crowded block of trick-or-treaters or through the NYC Halloween Parade a few hours later. He could’ve waited until Saturday when the path had more people on it. He could have hit the NYC Marathon this coming Sunday. Because it was bike riders, you see a chance to make this about bikes, your site readership, and, ultimately, you.
That’s fair criticism Lazy Spinner. Thanks.
But FWIW I felt like my thoughts on this topic were worth sharing, especially in light of what happened in NYC. Not trying to make this all about me, but I see how it can be interpreted like that.
I don’t agree with a lot of stuff in your comment, especially your logical comparisons.
I think your analogy is entirely appropriate in that it highlights the fact that intentional violence is intentional violence regardless of whether it is motivated by political or religious reasons, or just because they’re a jerk who is mad that cyclists get a lane of traffic.
Looks like it’s terrorism’s turn to be contextualized and co-opted for an agenda less concerned with results than a prescriptive approach to cycling that works for some (if not all) countries, and maybe other ways of getting around if it helps make a case.
The prescription for bollards, barriers, and more comes from an industry that profits from these things. Market research says consumers want protected lanes, and ebikes are a growing profit center. Any business, whether it’s bikes, guns, cars, or anything else, cares more about what sells than what works and they’ll find the data to support it. Surprise of surprises, this informs their benefactors as well.
Human transportation and quality of life are a few of the things I personally put before an industry’s solvency. To that end, I see the goal as safe neighborhood streets for everyone. Replacing millions of car trips with people using active transportation to and from local stores, schools, restaurants, and parks would be far more transformational than a protected, covered and climate-controlled right-of-way parallel to MAX.
These are not radical ends. I simply question the conventional wisdom seen as the means because they represent a commercially driven freeway mentality.
I’m very concerned with results.
What do you think works well to keep vulnerable road users safe from drivers?
I don’t care if an industry gets rich off solution — if it’s a good solution.
As soon as I saw the news, I saw this as a man using a motor vehicle to murder cyclists. Whatever someone’s motivations might be, that’s what happened, so I agree with you Jonathan. I think people who say your post is disrespectful are somehow elevating these eight victims over all the others that have been intentionally killed by drivers with their motor vehicles. In all due respect, I do not see a person killing cyclists because they hate cyclists as any less terrible than someone doing so because they hate America. These killings are equivalent in my opinion.
In May a person used a car to kill people near Times Square. He managed to kill one person, and injured 22. Metal bollards prevented him from entering Times Square. Many more people would have been killed without physical protection.
Terrorism is designed to instill terror and fear to achieve an ideological aim. I can tell you some drivers I’ve encountered over the years have used that proximity and lack of protection in a concerted effort to achieve their ideological aims of scaring me and other cyclists off the roads. When a person uses their vehicle to harass and intimidate a cyclist that’s not violent car culture, that’s terrorism.
Sounds like Critical Mass might be considered terroristic, since many of the riders use the opportunity to intimidate drivers.
i condemn all attempts to intimidate people driving but i this is not a systemic phenomenon (please see the definition i linked to above).
“many of the riders use the opportunity to intimidate drivers”
how does that even work? What threat could I—were I on a Critical Mass ride—on a bike possibly pose to a guy in a car in downtown traffic?!
…another attempt by you to invert things to make a point that doesn’t compute.
If you’ve ever been on a good CM ride, you’d know!
My CM experience was in San Francisco in the nineties. I’m not sure whether you’d consider that ‘good.’
Good and intimidating 😉
Sounds like you’re talking about isolated individuals autonomously deciding to be a pest. Taken to extremes, they could be terrorizing their use of the road to other road users.
What they’re doing, I think is different though from the kind of top down ideological directives used to persuade gullible or sociopath inclined people to do terrible things to other people as part of a campaign of violence.
“There’s no homeland security until our bikeways and walkways are protected.
We don’t lack solutions, we lack the will to implement them. One solution stands out as both obvious and reasonable: More use of concrete barriers and steel bollards to keep drivers of cars and trucks away from vulnerable road users.”
The hyperbole overwhelms. But ok, let’s talk about the examples cited and entertain solutions.
How would the city of Portland have stopped Henry Nikila from driving into people standing on SE 97th Avenue? How would the city of Gresham have stopped Russell Courtier from driving over and killing Larnell Bruce?
It appears the only suggested solutions would be to:
1) Have jersey barriers or bollards between the sidewalk and street on every single block of the entire Metro area
2) Ban cars from the entire Metro area and have some sort of total police state to ensure 100% enforcement of said car ban.
Neither of these are going to happen (nor should they), and neither of these would necessarily do anything to prevent any future incidents, whether premeditated, crime of passion, or unintentional.
Because we can’t use barriers to protect everyone, we shouldn’t use them at all?
That’s not at all what I said.
In Japan, most sidewalks have barriers separating the ped/bike traffic from the street, which prevents jaywalking. Many European cities have them, too, and those that don’t have them are adding them in light of the attacks in London and France earlier this year. Maybe it’s time American cities did that, too. And in Japan, many crosswalks are not right on the corner, but set back from it, with barriers on the corner itself. Go look at YouTube videos from Nippon Wandering TV, and notice how many major streets in Tokyo (and elsewhere in Japan) have these barriers along the sidewalk. I’d feel safer with barriers like these. Makes driving onto the sidewalk, deliberately or otherwise, harder. And that should be the point.
Was just there. Can confirm.
Those barriers are there to control pedestrians rather than protect them I doubt one of those pedestrian fences would stop a car.
The idea of separating automobiles from any space used by pedestrians or cyclists has no sense of cost vs. risk. Make street-side food carts pay to put up bollards? Put up concrete reinforced fences around every park and schoolyard (and increase taxes accordingly)? Have motorized, recessed pop-up barriers at every crosswalk? Outlaw gatherings of more than a certain number of people (including parades and group bike rides) unless they’re physically protected from any and all motor vehicles?
Risk mitigation is a great thing, but it’s done responsibly only when costs are computed accordingly. Those costs may be financial, limits on personal freedom, limits on private enterprise, or more demands on your time — but there are always costs. The question must always be ask whether the costs incurred outweigh the risk mitigated.
Thanks Jonathan, for the well-written article. It is clear that there was thought put into making a carefully qualified comparison. I am confident that intelligent people can read this article and understand your concerns and intent.
And perhaps the even more intelligent people might see problems with the line of reasoning.
It’s those darn immigrant bicycles! Illegally smuggled from China, Vietnam, and Indonesia, it’s a vast communist conspiracy to infiltrate our bikeways with cheap Surly knock-offs. Look at those bikes mangled on the street, senselessly cut down by a mean Home Depot pickup truck! What fate awaits them? Will they be kindly rehabilitated by a local nonprofit? No, more likely they will be cruelly parted out into several cheap chop-shop frankenbikes, or even worse, deported back to their home countries as scrap metal, via the NYC homeland security garbage-collecting detail, after very careful interrogation and torture using heavily worn Park tools. Why don’t we protect bikes? Why do we continue to discard them? It’s the fault of the lycra mob. Sad!
Yes. Intelligence allows one to consider the strengths and weaknesses of an argument that are both explicit and implied, but intelligence isn’t of much use if you don’t read the article.
what article 🙂 ?
I think Jonathan’s premise here is very sound. Since the last presidential election, we’ve seen that many vitally important things in America have been protected (often terrifyingly flimsily) by nothing more than custom and honor. Motorists too are on the honor system, and abuse it daily – – even nice people. The Manhattan terrorist attack highlights flaws in our system that have daily repercussions for vulnerable road users. That system has needed overhauling for a long time, and it seems reasonable to me to talk about that in the wake of this attack.
Thank you, Ktaylor!
I think this is well written and will age well. The comparisons are relevant and timely.
With all that happens now gathering in crowds in the U.S. makes me uncomfortable — never know when someone will open fire, detonate a bomb, or drive a vehicle into an event.
I did notice last year at the Christmas tree lighting in downtown Portland that the police had set up heavy trucks, TriMet Buses, and dump trucks as barricades to the street leading to Pioneer Courthouse Square. This was done, I can only surmise, to prevent a truck or a truck bomb from impacting the crowd.
We live with the dangers autos present every day, in almost every way, and everywhere we choose to live our lives. Whether we are cycling, walking, or just being outside in our cities and suburbs.
Some say too soon? Or the everyday threat we live with is somehow an inappropriate linkage to terrorism? To that I say, what’s the difference if the end result is trauma, injury and death to innocent people at the hands of drivers?
I say this discussion must happen and hasn’t happened soon enough.
“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” I believe Reagan said that when he was accused (rightfully so) of backing the violent, right-wing Contras terror group in his holy war against Nicaraguan Sandinistas.
America loves its wars against defenseless nations. Trouble is, it can’t stand the sight of its own blood. And that’s it’s weakness.
your writing and impassioned but rational discourse (yours, not necessarily within the comments section) drew me to this blog and educated me, a transplant from NYC, on issues facing a community I initially encountered as wreckless and over-entitled. My time on here has changed much of my attitude in a positive and progressive way, and I presume I’m not alone.
But I find this line of argument, as others have mentioned, detestable. You have poetically/eloquently morphed cars/autos into gunfire (“Yesterday…a man opened fire with a rental truck on that bike path.”) and with this nifty trick of prose, why stop with just yesterday’s senseless hate filled murder….why not co-opt other hate filled events to advance your thesis that none of us will be safe until pedestrian/bikeways are safe? some suggestions:
“50 people murdered by rain of gunfire in Las Vegas, but we on Bikes in Portland know this pain
all to well on a daily basis”
“Orlando nightclub goers mowed down by hail of bullets, much like the threat portland bikers
I was on the phone with people scrambling (futile, really) for their lives on 9/11. I was hypnotized by bodies jumping from 90+ stories up wondering if that was one of my guys. I smelled the acrid smell of burning building and bodies from the UWS…and I know i’m not the only person in PDX to have experienced that. And if that experience taught me anything it was that even though I waded thru an immense pile of grief, I HAD NO IDEA or RIGHT TO CO-OPT someone else’s experience of that event, as though I understood their pain just because I had my own pain.
Nor do I have the right to pretend to understand the depths of despair someone feels for the loss of a friend killed while biking home from work. Regardless of where it comes from grief is destructive and deeply personal journey that you have to respect.
Writing about weaponization of vehicles is likely a worthy topic, but comparing what happened yesterday to a daily/recurring happening in the life of a pdx biker is belittling and repugnant.
So I think you’re saying we can’t talk about cars as weapons for at least several weeks after a tragedy where a car was used as a weapon? I think Jonathan’s point is spot-on and I can’t imagine anyone having ridden long without experiencing a situation in traffic where you felt like a loaded gun was being carelessly or furiously waved around. Between the lack of protection and the amped-up hate, a call for action is certainly warranted. I don’t care if we’re being protected from drunks, someone choking on soda, reckless drivers, or terrorists — cars need to be kept in check or we’ll continue killing 46 people in Portland every year. Somebody being senselessly killed in traffic every 8-10 days is repugnant, as is the status-quo acceptance of it continuing to happen.
no. i specifically said that talking about the weaponization of cars is a valid topic. its right there in the last line i wrote. it’s a great topic. but going into it by implying that the bike riders of portland understand the atrocity in NYC and live it on a daily basis is inflammatory, belittling and unnecessary.
i’ve checked, i’ve got no emails from BP asking me for writing advice. But article could have easily started with:
“the atrocity in NYC and other recent events in Europe should bring to the forefront of conversation the weaponization of autos….”
instead, if u allow me a little snark, he basically starts with
“the atrocity in NYC, we on the streets of pdx live it on a daily basis…”
its an offensive and unnecessary arguing style.
That’s not what I say in the opening at all. I don’t even say Portland. I specifically made it “cities”. And I wrote abt the idea of what happened (aka nightmare)…. not the specific event.
I get your concerns and you have some valid criticisms. But I don’t agree with you on many of them.
Well written article, thanks Jonathan. The small and major violences we see every day on the street are cut from the same cloth. I was threatened in Lake Oswego this week by a man who purposefully pointed his speeding car directly at me for no reason I could understand. He pulled away at the last moment, honking. Was he a terrorist? Less crazy than the nut in New York I suppose but whatever motivated him was just as senseless.
No, he was not a terrorist.
Terrorism is just his side gig…
Was he terrorizing someone?
You mean like a scary clown? Terrorism requires a political motive. Please read a definition before replying.
Using a mode that, to be fueled, depends on one’s government to have certain interactions with other countries, might be said to be inherently political.
I didn’t invent the word. It has a meaning. Being in a car does not make an action political.
I think we’re marketed to see cars as private, personalized spaces, such that being in a car doesn’t seem any more political than being in one’s living room (the likelihood of political talk radio notwithstanding). But actions made in or from a car are all subsequent to that initial choice to use a car in the first place, as a way to move oneself through public space.
The idea that choosing a car as one’s mode is political has a certain momentum. Much has been written about the politics of who a nation does & does not allow to drive. And this February in TheDrive.com (an automotive journalism site), Lawrence Ulrich wrote an interesting piece arguing the political nature of motor vehicles, saying, “If you drive a car, any car, you’re driving politics, from the design and placement of its air bags to the amount of gasoline that can evaporate from its tank while it sits in your garage.”
Perhaps, but that doesn’t make using cars to commit violent acts terrorism.
Right, because the definition of that noun was narrowed in some countries starting in the 1900s, & is now more or less nationalized. Etymologists say the word ‘terror’ was first used circa late 14th century, from the Old French terreur & Latin terrorem: “great fear, dread, fill with fear,” even “fear so great as to overwhelm the mind” c. 1500.
Back then I suppose we’d get no argument if we used forms of that word to describe when people are, as you say, “using cars to commit violent acts.” Drew’s experience appears to be an example of that: a driver using his car—which, I think we’ve agreed, is a politically-charged vehicle—to cause fear, short of bodily injury. If that driver knew we’d later discuss what he did, that gets very close to the definition being considered in the article Dan posted.
It’s a stretch… but still, the proposed definition is not the actual definition. Why the desire to call drivers who menace, assault, or threaten terrorists? Doing so would cause a complete loss of credibility for our community.
I think we just live in an unfortunate time when almost all words are politicized. Consider that one can terrorize (e.g., a bully on the playground) others without being a terrorist. We have politicized the word “terrorist”, regardless of whose definition we go by, so that when one uses that word, certain images and ideas come to mind that go far beyond the literal dictionary definition—just like if one uses the word “cyclist”.
I agree. I think it is important to resist those on the left and the right who want to redefine words in support of some cause or another.
even leaving aside the fact that diver-centrism is a political stance, terrorism in no way requires a “political” motive.
Ah… What? Look it up. It’s what terrorism is.
H, K, once again makes a claim, is asked to provide a citation, fails to do so, and then continues to make the claim.
the ‘murikan view that religious, ethnic, or class terrorism do not exist is, frankly, absurd.
Terrorism is, in the broadest sense, the use of intentionally indiscriminate violence as a means to create terror, or fear, to achieve a political, religious or ideological aim. It is used in this regard primarily to refer to violence against peacetime targets or in war against non-combatants.
The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.
Terrorism is the use of violence, especially murder and bombing, in order to achieve political goals or to force a government to do something.
Violent action for political purposes
For those interested in this debate, this is worth a read:
It’s an interesting article, and it totally supports my view. That the author proposes expanding the definition of terrorism does not mean that the definition has been expanded.
that piece is a great illustration of how, in the USA, facts no longer matter. if a word no longer conforms to the “exceptional” USAnian view of reality, it can be redefined retroactively.
I prefer the author’s view, where terrorism is described as “acts of violence where direct victims are harmed in order to inflict retribution on members of that that demographic” or “…in order to sow fear in other members of that demographic”. I think it makes more sense these days.
If the goal is political, religious, or ideological, it might be compatible with the Wikipedia definition. I’m not sure if being an asshole is enough. The danger of broadening the term too much is that it loses its descriptive value.
i have absolutely no problem with someone arguing for a different definition of terrorism as long as the acknowledge that there are others.
Just make up a new word, and define it how you like.
Or insist a word that’s been around forever means something different than normal people think it does so they think you’re nuts.
For example, the BP meaning of the word “accident” differs from every other environment I’ve ever been in.
The preference for the word “crash” vs “accident” is not attributed to BP, nor is it new.
I think the definition proposed in that article is better. Having terrorism only be able to be performed by people who aim to make social or political change has an inherent pro-status-quo bias.
If I like the status quo in which Group X is marginalized, and I terrorize Group X in order to help preserve the status quo, that’s not terrorism under the mainstream-White-America definition. Only a member of Group X terrorizing someone else in an effort to cause change would count as terrorism. That seems inherently unfair to me given the emotional, political, and practical weight of the term “terrorism.”
“Or insist a word that’s been around forever means something different than normal people think it does so they think you’re nuts.
For example, the BP meaning of the word “accident” differs from every other environment I’ve ever been in.”
Yeah, Black reclaimers of the N-word didn’t have a leg to stand on. And women who insist that the word “girl” shouldn’t be used to refer to female adults are just doing something weird. The only way that words should shift meaning is through natural evolution of meaning; it’s just…wrong to try to intentionally shift meaning and usage in order to assist with positive social change.
(Sorry, I tried to put sarcasm tags around the non-quoted text in the above comment. It is meant sarcastically, not seriously! Black reclaiming and female re-definition – and bike/walk activist re-definition – are great!)
Are you trying to reclaim “accident”?
Ha, nope, but I am trying to insist that it shouldn’t be used to refer to predictable, preventable actions that result in injuries.
(FWIW, OSHA extends this to workplace injuries. As policy. #SayIncidentNotAccident https://www.osha.gov/dcsp/products/topics/incidentinvestigation/ )
>>> I am trying to insist that it shouldn’t be used to refer to predictable, preventable actions that result in injuries <<<
Most accidents are predictable and preventable at some (reasonable) level. The meaning you object to (unavoidable, without fault) isn't part of the definition of the word in the first place, so you won before you even got started.
Not part of the definition, but definitely part of the connotation. Just ask my three-year-old.
Me: “You just knocked down your sister!”
Three-year-old: “It was an accident!”
It’s almost like your 3-year old was saying the sister knocking down was not intentional. I don’t think he(?) was saying “My sister just fell down, without cause, and nothing could have been done to prevent it.”
True, but she was attempting to avoid having any blame or onus to change behavior be placed.
“…she was attempting to avoid having any blame or onus to change behavior be placed.” (emph. mine)
This seems like one key. When most people hear, “it was an accident”, there is a sigh of relief and the thought that, “whew! Good—I don’t have to change, since what happened couldn’t be helped.”
I’m the first to agree that most roadway incidents with adverse outcomes are unintentional, but that doesn’t mean that some form of careless behavior, no matter how small (e.g., “slight” speeding, failure to signal turns, having a headlight out or a dirty windshield), if changed or corrected, could prevent future, similar adverse outcomes.
For me, it comes down to choosing a word that ascribes the proper amount of need for change, to avoid future incidents. The typical use of “accident”, combined with the traditional victim-blaming found in the reporting of most collisions elicits a collective sigh of relief from the motoring public, who take no lesson from what happened, and perceive no need to change behavior. Instead of, “wow, I do that all the time, I’d better cut it out if it causes [some kind of incident]”, the thought becomes “Whew. I do that all the time, thank goodness I won’t be blamed if it causes me to run over someone some day!”
We can err on the side of exculpatory language with “accident”, which suggests no need for change, or we can err(?) on the side of leaving the door open with “crash” or “collision”, and more diligently report on what could have been done differently—beyond “dressed in dark clothing and wasn’t wearing a helmet”, which we hear all the time—to create the feeling that driving behavior needs to change to help avoid such incidents.
From the DA’s report:
>>> Tamar Monhait crashed into the side of the garbage truck and suffered catastrophic injuries
to her head and her arm… <<<
Does that description better communicate what happened, ascribing the need for change to avoid future incidents than if it had included the word “accident”?
And in another context:
>>> A Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) report on ladder safety showed some startling statistics concerning the frequency and severity of ladder-related accidents in the United States. Every year thousands of people are injured and hundreds are killed. By understanding the causes of ladder accidents the vast majority could be prevented. <<<
Does that use of "accident" attempt to avoid the need to change, to understand and prevent future ladder mishaps?
The word "accident" is not the problem. It's the context in which the word, or its alternatives, are used.
It’s an opportunity to raise awareness about that context; and the use of the word accident has a good correlation with contexts in which the opportunity/urgency for change (by anyone other than the victim) is unnecessarily minimized. Just as grown women asking not to be called “girls” is an opportunity for education about a wider context of patronizing and infantilizing of women.
That’s it exactly… it’s not about meaning, but rather it’s a politicization of language. And I object.
I’m cool with politicization of language for a good cause. I guess we disagree. Have fun trying to thread the needle in your head to find some tortured reasoning why avoiding “girls” and “Orientals” is acceptable politicization of language, but avoiding “accident” is not.
It’s reasonable to avoid slurs. This case is about policing language to make a point. That seems qualitatively different.
“It’s the context in which the word, or its alternatives, are used.”
I would agree with that; there’s nothing inherently wrong or offensive about the word “accident”, per se. Your example from the DA statement in the Monhait case is a good one of how the word many are advocating be used (“crash”) can be [mis-]used to imply blame, when what we are really trying to do is avoid both exonerating AND blaming, by remaining neutral until some investigation has been completed. I personally prefer “collision” and “collided”, because to my ear, they sound slightly more scientific, whereas “crashed” sounds more like someone was being reckless.
Regarding your ladder example from the CSPC, even here, “accident” is a little bit ambiguous. Are they really talking about “falls”? Or do we include ladders sliding off the roofs of construction vans on the freeway, or people carrying ladders poking them through windows or swinging them around and clocking someone in the head? What does “accident” mean? Also, is the assumption that ladder “accidents” involve only one person ostensibly harming themselves (themself? him/herself?)? This would be different from a traffic collision where the mistakes of one or more people resulted in injury to someone else.
So I guess the lesson is that language matters, and context helps define language, and personal experience influences the perception of context, and attempting to tell someone else what they really meant almost never works.
Your response was super helpful for distilling my thoughts on the matter. “Crash” has a directionality to it — one thing crashes into another. This suggests fault. A clean reading of the DA’s report would suggest the cyclist was to blame for the incident… she, after all, crashed into the garbage truck. In fact, we don’t know for certain who was at fault, and it seems likely that the primary causant was the truck driver.
Because linguistically we prefer to say little things crash into bigger ones, when using words like “crash”, we have a cognitive bias towards assuming that the little thing, the thing that tends to be damaged most in a collision, was at fault. This works against cyclists and pedestrians.
So it might be better to use are fault-neutral words, such as collision, and, yes, accident, unless unless we specifically want to assign fault.
“‘Crash’ has a directionality to it — one thing crashes into another. This suggests fault.”
Not so sure about that.
Car + house. Sure; the person driving the car is easily shown to be at fault (or should be).
Garbage truck + bicycle rider. Not so clear to me that if there’s a crash—if what occurred is described as a crash—that this implies directionality. The crash occurred; things crashed into each other, but fault and sequence as we’ve seen here many many times isn’t so straightforward, no matter the term used. Or?
I stick out my foot and trip someone who thereupon crashes into a garbage can and bangs his head. Does his fall ipso facto clarify that he is at fault?
The DA reported that the cyclist crashed into the garbage truck. Because, on a literal level, that’s what happened. It also seems to suggest fault, even though, literally, it doesn’t. Do you disagree?
Crash suggests fault to some people, accident suggests innocence to some people. Okay, fine. Even with that understanding, crash is far more likely to be the correct term.
How about you use the word you want to use, and let others do the same?
Sorry, I gave credit to the wrong source. This is the original ‘crash not accident’ proclamation, from NHTSA 20 years ago. The bold is mine:
Crashes Aren’t Accidents Campaign
By Pamela Anikeeff, Traffic Safety Programs, NHTSA Now, V. 3, No. 11, August 11, 1997 pages 1-2
A Crash Is Not an Accident. Changing the way we think about events, and the words we use to describe them, affects the way we behave. Motor vehicle crashes and injuries are predictable, preventable events. Continued use of the word “accident” promotes the concept that these events are outside of human influence or control. In fact, they are predictable results of specific actions. Since we can identify the causes of crashes, we can take action to alter the effect and avoid collisions. These events are not “acts of God” but predictable results of the laws of physics. The concept of “accident” works against bringing all the appropriate resources to bear on the enormous problem of motor vehicle collisions. Continuous use of “accident” fosters the idea that the resulting injuries are an unavoidable part of life.
“Crash”, “collision”, “incident”, and “injury” are more appropriate terms, and should be encouraged as substitutes for the word “accident”.
Within the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (US DOT/NHTSA), the word “accident” will no longer be used in materials published and distributed by the agency. In addition, NHTSA is no longer using “accidents” in speeches or other public remarks, in communications with the news media, individuals or groups in the public or private sector.
Recently, two other U.S. Department of Transportation agencies, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA) joined NHTSA Administrator, Dr. Ricardo Martinez, endorsing his goal to eliminate “accident” from the agencies’ vocabulary. In this manner, attention will be focused on causes of crashes and what can be done to prevent collisions and the resulting injuries.
Whereas, changing the way we think about events and the words we use will affect the way we behave. Our goal is to eliminate the word “accident” from the realm of unintentional injury, on the highway and across the nation;
Whereas, motor vehicle crashes and injuries are predictable, preventable events. Continued use of the word “accident” promotes the concept that these events are outside of human influence or control. In fact, they are predictable results of specific actions;
Whereas, we can identify their causes and take action to avoid them. These are not “acts of God”, but predictable results of the laws of physics;
Whereas, use of the word “accident” works against bringing the appropriate resources to bear on this enormous problem. It allows the idea that the resulting injuries are an unexpected part of life;
Now, therefore, we the undersigned, in recognition of this life saving and injury preventing opportunity, do hereby proclaim a national campaign: “Crashes Aren’t Accidents” to eliminate the word “accident” from the realm of unintentional injury, on the highway and across the nation, with our partners, with the media, and in all public contexts.
Fascinating. Thanks for digging that up.
While I agree with the general sentiment, the etymology and meaning of these two words is considerably more complicated than all that. I’ve mentioned Judith Green’s book Risk and Misfortune: The Social Construction of Accidentshere before. She delves into this in great detail.
Here’s the beginning of a review of the book:
You know, for all this talk, no one has ever provided a citation that “accident” means without discernible cause, unavoidable, or without blame. The fact that the word is frequently used in contexts where understanding causes and preventing future incidents is a key mission (such as the “ladder accident” example I provided above) contradicts claims that “accident” has a hidden layer of meaning.
Can anyone provide a neutral citation that supports the notion that “accident” is misused when applied to traffic incidents? Or that it means “Act of God” as suggested by Ms. Anikeeff?
“…Can anyone provide a neutral citation”
Well if we’re talking about it at this level, let me ask you this: why would NHTSA go to the trouble of banishing the term? What problem did they see that such a measure could be understood to remedy?
Also OSHA, don’t forget OSHA (not about road accidents, but workplace accidents – but I think the analogy holds really well.) They also decided labeling the way people got injured as “accidents” by default is cultural safety problem.
How would you feel about “fluke”? As in, “a driver was killed this morning in a fluke”?
“Fluke” is a synonym for “accident”.
I would find it intriguing… how would a driver get inside a small parasitic worm? Was he killed by miniaturization technology run amok? What was he planning to do had the mad, mad experiment been a success? Stay tuned for next week’s installment…
Two people I have known, not close friends but acquaintances, have been killed while riding their bikes in Portland. Both were riding legally in marked bike lanes. They are just as dead as any person who died along with many others in a notorious act of international terrorism.
In Long Island City near Court Sq. on Halloween a man became angry with a group of teens throwing eggs. He ran a light, jumped a curb, and attempted to kill them with his car. He repeatedly ran over one of them. He is charged with attempted murder.
A cyclist was killed on the West Side bike path in 2006. People complained then about how many vehicles were ysing the path as a cut through. He was the second cyclist to be killed by a car on this off-street bike path that year. The problem was known and not taken seriously.
acts of aggression behind the windshield seems to be the case these days… stay alert always…
I have had some crazy road rage so far in 2017 and lived thru it all.. * thanks for the story *
I couldn’t agree with you more, Jonathan. Thanks so much for writing this.
I am grateful for this article, Jonathan. I don’t find it offensive/inappropriate/unrelated to productively build dialogue around safety in any context where a person or persons are mowed down by a car. Obviously, motivations for violence vary, but none should be treated like an off-topic exception. This driver’s motives may differ from someone who would mow down people for other reasons, but it doesn’t change the value of lives lost and the need to do something about it that is within our control. We have no control over someone’s motives, but we have some control over predicting and mitigating them. In this case, more substantial bollards (i.e. concrete or steel) would have likely been a viable deterrent. Does this solve all of car violence for all things ever? No. But just because we can’t solve everything, it doesn’t mean we should do nothing. Here’s to doing something, anything to prevent violence like this in the future.
excellent. thanks for linking to that, soren.