Welcome to the week. Here are the most notable stories our writers and readers have come across in the past seven days…
Seattle uncensored: After I read the first line of this bracing op-ed on Seattle’s abusive drivers I instantly sought out the author on social to follow them. (The Stranger)
Queen Anne: In a time of terrible climate change news and declining bike use here in the states, the unabashedly anti-car, pro-cycling actions of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is one of the most inspiring and important stories in the world. (Financial Times)
Biden ❤️ Big Oil: Not surprised at all that self-described “car guy” and Hummer EV pitchman President Joe Biden signed off on a massive oil drilling project. (Heatmap)
We have the technology: There’s a growing national movement to use tech to help reverse the distracted driving epidemic and it can’t come soon enough. (LA Times)
The trouble with nice weather: This assessment of why and where people are killed while walking reveals that places with warmer temps tend to be more deadly. (Grid)
Mo’ cameras, mo’ bettah: Chicago is so keen on automated enforcement cameras they are doubling down and will expand them to buses and city vehicles in an effort to catch people who park in bus and bike-only lanes. (ABC 7)
Car debate: When you see a longform piece where the “freedom and frustration” of cars is debated you know we are in the midst of a healthy re-examination of our relationship with these troubled vehicles. (The Atlantic)
Thanks to everyone who shared links this week.
The Chicago program is pretty geographically constrained – North/Roosevelt/Ashland are all within about a mile of the Loop. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a good program. But I am certain it’s constrained because of political considerations, rather than safety ones. The existing automated ticketing has been talked about as inequitable, since the poorer, Blacker/Hispanic South and West sides have had a disproportionate share of tickets. This is a running theme in Chicago, where every map shows the same thing.
In terms of traffic offenses, this is more to do with car-oriented infrastructure design on the South and West sides than anything else. On the south side, the busiest rail line (the CTA Red Line) runs in a freeway median. On the north side, it runs on the historic elevated north side mainline (and in the State Street subway). On the west side, the busiest rail line (the CTA Blue Line) the Westside Elevated was replaced with the I-290 median running line. History like this is one small part of why traffic tickets from automated cameras are higher in the less affluent south and west sides.
So just like in East Portland, the history and infrastructure in Chicago means parts of the city are more prone to traffic violence. And while this program will not really do anything to address that (which is okay, not every policy needs to tackle the biggest problem in the world), hopefully it will be a success and the CTA will be able to expand it further into the less-affluent fringes of the city – where the safety needs clearly exists as well.
Why adopt the violator’s perspective of the situation? Why not celebrate that these neighborhoods will enjoy greater protection that the cameras offer?
Because the share of cameras is roughly equal between the three major “sides” of Chicago (and thus the relative safety is roughly equal as well at least in the macro sense). The share of tickets is higher on the south and west sides (owing to infrastructure choices/divestment, etc.), I guess I didn’t make that as clear as I meant to in the original comment
Not driving behavior?
“The infrastructure made me do it” is not a convincing argument.
I touched on a few other factors as well (namely, divestment from historical rapid transit lines). But if you want to look at the physical difference between the north side and south side of Chicago, here are two intersections that I think are illustrative.
On the north side, the intersection of Halsted and Belmont is about 400 meters from a major L station. It is a fairly dense and charming part of the city – roughly 4.5 miles as the crow flies from downtown.
Meanwhile, on the south side, the intersection of State and 43rd is also about 400 meters from an L station (43rd on the Green Line). It’s also about 4.5 miles from downtown as the crow flies. I wouldn’t really rate it as a charming intersection, although I did once get some excellent jerk chicken nearby.
When you look at these two intersections, is it any surprise that drivers (likely) go faster through the south side one? Not really. It’s not just about the physical infrastructure – behavior matters too. But it’s worth considering the history of the area too, and how that has shaped driver behavior. If Portland were to put speed cameras up at every signalized intersection in the city, I would expect a disproportionate share of tickets to come from East Portland. The roads are wider and cars are a de facto requirement for daily life.
Infrastructure is a useful proxy for the amount of public investment an area has gotten throughout the years. The south side of Chicago lags far, far behind the north side for many reasons – some more malignant than others. Did redlining close the Stock Yards? No. But it certainly played a role in the location of the Dan Ryan Expressway – which has cut the south side in two (while adding countless cars to the street) for 50+ years now.
For what it’s worth, I think Chicago (and Portland and every other city) should drastically increase red light/speeding/bus lane citations. I just also think the historical context is interesting and worth considering. Maybe they should earmark some % of funds from the ticketing to pay for traffic calming in the historically less-invested parts of the city.
I would too. And I would interpret that as demonstrating the need for more cameras in those areas in order to save lives. (In places where everyone follows the rules, cameras serve no function and save no lives; in fact, because cameras are a limited resource, placing them in safe areas actually costs lives in more dangerous areas that could otherwise be saved. That is tantamount to performative equity that increases real inequity.)
That is not an argument not to improve the infrastructure (we absolutely should); it is an argument that until we do, we need to find some way to get people to follow the law (which generally equates to driving safely, which is more important in areas with poor infrastructure).
I’m not sure I agree — East Portland’s more dangerous streets reflect less a lack of investment than they do the transportation paradigms dominant in the era in which they were built.
I agree for the most part. Red light/speeding cameras are a stop gap, and given limited funding, they should be prioritized for the most dangerous intersections for pedestrians. But I also think the political considerations are very important, given that automated traffic enforcement isn’t particularily popular with the motoring public.
Regarding the transportation paradigms of the era, I would agree with that as well. Infrastructure is a proxy for public investment, not the end all be all. And it’s probably most useful for comparing areas that “grew up” in roughly the same era. For Chicago, a city which had explosive growth between 1860 and 1920, every neighborhood within 5 miles of downtown has a fairly similar development pattern (in terms of transportation paradigms).
But I would say the East Portland’s dangerous streets still do reflect a lack of investment. Prioritizing cars over people walking means prioritizing further flung neighborhoods over the urban fabric of a place. Car-focused roads hurt the neighborhoods they go through above all else – and is something that should be viewed as a lack of investment in the community (even if they are a public investment in the strictest sense).
Thank you for saying that! That’s one of the bases of my belief that locals should the loudest voice in planning decisions made about the streets in their communities.
I don’t follow your nexus with L trains, or their placement. None of Chicago’s existing red-light/speed cameras is on those highways, nor would the new ones be placed there. Also, the other leg of the blue line runs on the north side along I90, so interstate median alignment is not unique to the south and west sides. If anything, I’d think equipping these median L trains with speed violation cameras might net more affluent commuters ripping it between the city and the burbs.
The location of extant L trains in Chicago is demonstrative of a history of divestment from the west and south sides of the city. The preservation of the North Side Mainline in more or less its original form is an example of how mid-century planners did not run expressways through white neighborhoods – but they certainly did through black and/or poor ones.
The Kennedy and O’Hare extensions of the Milwaukee Elevated line (current blue line) didn’t occur until the 70s and 80s, so there is a tangible difference between the expressway sections on the Kennedy Expressway (I-90/94), the Eisenhower (I-290) and the Dan Ryan (I-94/90). The I-290 section replaced the entire Metropolitan Westside Mainline. And while the I-94 section was entirely new, it largely superceded the historic South Side Mainline (current green line) by 1993 (when the CTA routed the Northside Branch to the Dan Ryan instead of the South Side elevated). The Kennedy and O’Hare extensions of the Milwaukee Elevated (future Blue line) occurred in an existing expressway, and gave more service to the area.
This isn’t really about red light cameras, it’s about how Chicago has invested in some parts of the city at the expense of others, and how those under-invested communities feel a disproportionate “burden” from the current red light camera program. I don’t think anyone (regardless of how the infrastructure “feels”) has a right to speed or run red lights, but was just looking to give an explanation of the fairly minimal geographic boundary of the bus red light program (in political terms). The program is less popular in the places that need it more – in the places with worse pedestrian infrastructure.
Technology could be used to stop most of these preventable deaths but there’s no societal or political will to do it. We could have breathalyzer ignitions, speed governors, in cabin cameras that detect distracted driving, and cameras outside cars to detect erratic driving and potential collisions with other vehicles and pedestrians (this one is at least being implemented although selectively).
Instead we seem hellbent on making it worse from almost every angle. Zoning laws that put destinations out of walkable distances so people drive to bars and restaurants. Cars designed to accelerate unnecessarily fast and that can exceed every speed limit by significant amounts. Unnecessary aesthetic choices that reduce visibility and safety. I know I’m preaching to the choir here but I feel like it needs to be repeated and often. It’s crazy to think that almost everyone has either been in a serious collision or knows someone that has and yet that isn’t enough to convince people that these things need to change. For me it’s both.
Most people don’t want to live next to a bar or restaurant, especially when cities like Portland seem utterly unable (or unwilling) to effectively regulate nighttime noise.
The neighborhoods in Portland with the highest walkability scores are also some of the hottest, most in demand housing markets in the city. People may not want to live right next door to bars and restaurants, but it’s demonstrably true that they want to live in close proximity to them.
I didn’t say right next door. I can walk to various restaurants and bars in my neighborhood that are 5-15 minutes away. It’s so much better than when I lived out in East Portland. You can have destinations walkable distances away but far enough away from homes that 95% of the neighborhood won’t hear any noise from them.
I’ve lived in Hollywood, Montavilla, Humboldt, Sunnyside, and Kerns and all had destinations that I could walk to without excessive noise or other issues. That was not the case when I lived in Russel, Glenfair or Rockwood. The speeding traffic was plenty noisy though.
Someone has to live next to them, above them, behind them, etc.
I think there are things we can do to make density more attractive. Better building design is one, also restricting night time trash pickup and regulating noise in commercial areas with close proximity to residences.
“Someone has to live next to them, above them, behind them, etc. …”
This is a regulation I wasn’t aware of. In fact I’ve been to lots of bars that are next to nothing except their own parking lot. Case in point:
Surely that doesn’t represent the sort of built up density we’re longing for. But in either case, there’s a residence directly behind that bar, so it complies with the regulations.
Along major commercial streets, smaller-scale construction (retail, office, limited residential) is good, actually. We should not be cramming every new apartment building onto noisy, polluted, and dangerous arterials. Instead, upzone the side streets so that people can still live within walking distance of bars, shops, cafes, etc. without having to live directly on top of them.
I’m gonna stick my neck out on this one…I lived above the Bitter End at NW 20th/Burnside (across from Freds) in the late 90s. It was fun and energetic and yes LOUD. I got a clean, bright, safe, well-maintained apartment conveniently located by EVERYTHING for $300/mo(!!) bc it was noisy. There is a market niche for that and I was in that market.
I know we’re all supposed to live in 15-minute cities full of joie de vivre, except for when we fly intercontinentally to visit other 15-minute cities on their way to being 12-minute cities and write home to lecture everyone on how despicable our 25-minute city is, but I thought we all kind of understood after last summer that having some modicum of energy independence is kind of a good idea in this geopolitical environment.
Even as someone who dislikes any octogenarian running for office immensely, I don’t think it would be good going into an election year for Biden’s petroleum policy to be the vaporization of the strategic petroleum reserve to record level lows as a way to combat price volatility long term. It also seems mentally lethargic to believe that nothing has changed globally since his first campaign, so he should be held to a completely unreasonable purity test.
I’ve always thought of our current POTUS as a classic example of a 1980s moderate Republican-Democrat, very centrist, with no strong views except to accumulate as much pork for his state of Delaware as quickly as possible, fatally boring and bland of course, the total opposite of his predecessor.
I was never thrilled with him either, but now we have an actual record, and he has been doing an incredible job. The Inflation Reduction Act is the largest climate change investment the US has ever passed–not to mention it allows Medicaid to negotiate drug prices, that alone is huge.
The American Rescue Plan protected millions of Americans from financial devastation during the pandemic.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
He’s done so much it’s hard to keep track (it helps that he has so many of Elizabeth Warren’s staff and mentees working for him).
Yup, and now we have record deficits, high inflation, rising interest rates, trade protectionism, World War 3, and third-world kangaroo court show trials in Congress. But at least the egg crises seems to be ending.
Wow, Biden has accomplished a lot more than I thought..World war 3? That’s a big list in 2 years for a bland boring 80 year old.
I suggest a little less Fox News in your diet…
Let’s see, we are openly arming the Ukrainian army with state-of-the-art tanks and other weapons to fight the might of the Russian army, who keep threatening to “go nuclear” should we give or sell them F-16s, in our 42-nation NATO-lead coalition. Meanwhile China and Iran are openly arming the Russians who are also committing various atrocities against civilians. Did I mention the Swedes and Fins are joining the fight? How exactly is this not just like WW3, one year in? Of course we could mention what Iran is doing to its women or the Chinese concentration camps in their north, issues best swept under the carpet. Shall I go on?
They are? That’s news to me. I thought they were just joining NATO, and since NATO doesn’t have any troops in Ukraine and has not fired a single shot at Russia, what fight are they joining exactly?
It’s also news to me that the stuff happening in China and Iran is Biden’s fault. And I didn’t realize Congress had the authority to hold a “third-world kangaroo court show trial” since, you know, they’re not the judicial branch and can’t actually charge anyone with a crime. It’s called a Congressional hearing and they’ve always had the authority to hold those.
I also love how you accuse Biden of being boring while listing a bunch of non-boring things he’s supposedly responsible for.
Maybe you should quit while you’re behind.
Biden is boring. Thank god for that.
You’ve got it all wrong – it’s all Nixon’s fault.
You could change the country names and it would sound like every decade since WW2.
I would slow down on the weed…..
Except it is less likely than ever..
Your viewpoint reeks of “thanks, Obama”. Biden’s been in office for just over three years. Most of this stuff has been decades in the making, if not longer. Surely, we should also blame Biden for the fall of the USSR kicking an ex-KGB into the presidency of Russia, no?
Biden has been in office for 26 months – just over two years. He still has 22 months left on this presidential term, although 2024 will be a typical election year political circus, in which little real governance will happen.
To anyone with notions that technology will make cars safer and better: take notice of what “car of the future” designs actually look like. Whether it’s Apple’s CarPlay demo or consumer electronics shows, the next generation of cars is poised to envelop the driver with screens and lights. Recall, too, that the backup camera safety requirement, so that children wouldn’t be backed over in the driveway, gave birth to Tetris-playing touchscreen “infotainment” consoles. The system feels designed to convert our best intentions into the worst possible outcomes.
Comment of the week
I’ll add that as we improve safety, convenience, and comfort for those inside of vehicles, we’ve done nothing but get more hostile and more dangerous to those outside of vehicles – legislatively, infrastructurally, and economically (via “free-market”). .
My car – that I drive very little and intend to keep running for many more years – is a 2008 with buttons and switches for everything on the dash. I drove a rental car recently that was a 2022 (I think) model year. The thing that really struck me was how everything was controlled on the dashboard iPad, rather than with a button or switch that you can locate and operate by feel. I had to pull over and park just to figure out how to turn off the A/C.
Been there here when I had the head gasket on my 2005 Odyssey replaced and I had a loaner current model Accord. Even trying to get the dash itself to show useful info was a Byzantine exploration on how-to.
The LA Times article specifically mentions infotainment systems as a problem adding to distracted driving. Lumping the problem together with any potential technological fixes under the label of “technology” (bad) is like being against carpentry because hammers can also be used to assault people.
My only caveat to this argument is that the same level of technology is present in cars sold in other developed countries, and none of them have the same level of traffic fatalities that we do.
Legislate against our civilian tanks–and make people not want them by pricing driving appropriately–and you would deal with a lot of the problem. Make driving less necessary by redesigning our cities so that only those who want to drive even if it’s inconvenient–and are therefore likely to pay more attention when doing so–will drive, and you deal with a lot of the rest of the problem.
Technology is no panacea, but likewise, centering it as the villain in the story, when so much of the problem is caused by active choices we’ve made or allowed to be made for us, is also unhelpful.
I didn’t send this along because I was certain BP would have picked up on it, but the Historic Columbia River Highway permit program that everyone agreed was successful in all respects except making money has been officially canceled. Because ODOT is not inclined to spend money on anything that actually improves safety — especially if cars are inconvenienced in any way. https://www.koin.com/local/odot-ends-waterfall-corridor-permit-system/
yes thanks I am definitely aware of that story and have been talking with folks about it. I just typically don’t put that type of thing in the Monday Roundup.
And I agree it’s really unfortunate! They still say the permits were a success but they just don’t have the funding to keep doing it. Seems to me a reflection of the lack of innovation and the political complexity of dealing with all the various jurisdictions in the Gorge (USFS, ODOT, OR Pars, County, etc…)
The permit program was absolutely useless. I had visitors from out of state and I wanted to show them the Gorge on a busy summer weekday. I thought, all I have to do is get a permit and then I can drive this stretch and park, so I reserved a permit months in advance.
But see the attractions? Nope! – at 10am on a weekday, every single parking space was filled for miles. You couldn’t stop your car – you could only drive from one end to the other. That was what my special permit bought me.
I talked with a buddy who lives in Hood River and he said the locals learned they could fill up the parking as long as they arrived before 9am. which they did. And I guess some Portlanders figured it out also. I was the only one who didn’t figure it out.
Anyway, all that program did was keep out cars that wouldn’t be able to park anyway – not a good value proposition! The key is to manage demand for parking, which no one is doing. Cut down on parking and you can reduce VMT, which is the goal. We need more buses and vans to run to parking lots and carry more bikes.
No need to get snarky: according to the article, the issue was funding and staff.
If you want ODOT to fund and staff the program, ask the legislature to give them money to do so. It’s all Democrats, so it should be an easy lift, right?
ODOT has plenty of money. The problem is that they’d rather spend it on bond servicing so they can execute multi-billion dollar freeway expansion projects.
No one wants to spend their money servicing debt.
That’s strange, because they keep doing it.
When technology has made it so easy to move heavy vehicles at high speeds that those vehicles kill more people because their drivers are distracted by technology, forgive me for doubting that more technology is the answer.
Maybe we could get robot cars with all the “joie de vivre” of Marvin the paranoid android of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame, that upon hitting anything or even nearly hitting anything, the motor vehicle will immediately get depressed and commit self-robicide, destroying itself and all its occupants?
And we’re entering what I believe will be the most dangerous phase of automation in vehicles. We have driver assist programs, which are in some cases marketed as “autopilot” or “full self driving” that will lull drivers into distraction and then kick back control whenever they get confused, phantom brake when they see shadows or get wet, fail to recognize pedestrians and cyclists, etc.
This is, without a doubt, true. The technology will continue to improve, and will get safer as it does so.
And I agree with those who say that Tesla’s marketing of Autopilot is highly irresponsible.
Automated vehicle safety will improve as soon as the vehicles are put on rails as part of an automated, grade-separated metro system. Until then, color me unconvinced.
It really seems to me that if automated driving is to materialize, the vehicles themselves need to communicate with each other.
Good idea. That way cars going in the same direction could be grouped together to optimize use of the road space. In fact, maybe they could all be coordinated from a central hub to maximize efficiency. The cars could even be physically attached end-to-end in order to increase passenger room. To conserve scarce battery resources, power could come from an overhead conductor running along the road. And here’s an idea: steel wheels running on steel tracks to minimize wear. And to save space in residential areas, why not have all the attached cars go to a dedicated maintenance facility when not in use? Then dedicated boarding and de-boarding zones could be created in areas where people are likely to go. Yes, sounds like a pretty cool system. We could call it the GigaLoop 3000 or something. I bet there are lots of venture capitalists looking for just this kind of innovative startup…oh wait.
Taking it a little further than I intended, and I don’t necessarily disagree. But are the loading zones in my driveway?
Venturing beyond your driveway on foot or bike can be good, actually. If you’re literally unable to walk further than that, how are you able to operate a car?
There is no US Dept of Transit. There is however a US Dept of Transportation, which in turn has a Federal Transit Administration division. The whole article is a good example of poorly-researched hack journalism, not really worth reading.
ugh. sorry for linking to something like that David. Will double check and consider deleting it.
The piece on Seattle could just as easily apply here – and I imagine many other American cities. Popular discourse around driving is just absolutely toxic. Insane levels of road rage are tolerated and normalized. Infrastructure and enforcement are needed to guarantee safety, but I also think we’ve got mountains to move in changing culture. Every person should be thinking “I am operating a dangerous machine, I need to pay attention and be careful” when they get in the drivers’ seat.
Public outrage over pedestrian deaths (especially those of children) was at its height in the 1920s, until the auto industry began a relentless propaganda campaign to blame non–car users for their own deaths and injuries. Time for a return to tradition?
Hidalgo’s coalition is comprised of social*sts, communists, and radical greens and her support of active transportation is firmly rooted in a belief that capitalism is incapable of creating a just and equitable society. Even the conservative FT is willing to discuss her radical agenda (see below) but every time she is discussed on Bike Portland she is propagansized into some sort of market urbanist — the antithesis of her radical anti-capitalist politics.
RE: Car debate
Thank you to whoever directed us to Conor Friedersdorf’s (now) three-part Atlantic series. I thought his question of the week (“How have cars shaped your life, and/or what do you think about their future?”) and subsequent leading questions helped frame his readers’ responses. I found myself nodding in agreement with many.