Monthly Archives: May 2009

Jaywalking crackdown: What’s the goal?

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In his May 17 “City Talk” column in the Savannah Morning News, Bill Dawers wrote what I have been thinking:

In the aftermath of a recent tragedy in which two visitors to the city were struck by a vehicle at an intersection devoid of either traffic or pedestrian signals, the police are going to start ticketing pedestrians, mostly local ones, who do not obey the directions at intersections that do have signals? Why not go after the downtown drivers who do not yield to pedestrians when they are legally required to do so?

The incident he references is still under investigation, but details released so far would seem to suggest the pedestrian was not at fault. I think Dawers’ question is completely valid. Why not go after drivers?

Over the last several days I’ve been hearing chatter via Twitter and other channels about pedestrians being fined for jaywalking. This WTOC story indicates some motorists are being cited, too. But the emphasis seems to be on pedestrians.

Is this an effective way to reduce pedestrian injuries and deaths? According to the authors of Kansas City’s Walkability Plan, who examined best practices in enforcement, jaywalking crackdowns are not an effective strategy for promoting pedestrian safety:

Jaywalking is disorderly in appearance and can disrupt traffic, but it is not a big factor in pedestrian death and injury. The Seattle Police Department vigorously enforced the anti-jaywalking laws in that city for 50 years, issuing more than 500,000 citations. Seattle’s pedestrian crash experience was little different from the rest of the USA where little or no attention was paid to this problem.

The folks in Kansas City have a low opinion of jaywalking enforcement as an prudent use of law enforcement resources:

This is not considered an effective safety strategy. Jaywalking enforcement is often episodic and inconsistent, but is usually seen as a waste of police manpower. Many police administrators start jaywalking enforcement programs only to later regret this decision.

It’s worth noting that jaywalking itself is something of an invented infraction, conjured by groups seeking to redesign American cities around  automobiles, according to Peter Norton, author of “Street Rivals: Jaywalking and the Invention of the Motor Age Street.”

Before the American city could be physically reconstructed to accommodate automobiles, its streets had to be socially reconstructed as places where cars belong. Until then, streets were regarded as public spaces, where practices that endangered or obstructed others (including pedestrians) were disreputable. Motorists’ claim to street space was therefore fragile, subject to restrictions that threatened to negate the advantages of car ownership.

So here’s what they did:

Automotive interest groups (motordom) recognized this obstacle and organized in the teens and 1920s to overcome it. One tool in this effort was [the term] jaywalker. Motordom discovered this obscure colloquialism in the teens, reinvented it, and introduced it to the millions. It ridiculed once-respectable street uses and cast doubt on pedestrians’ legitimacy in most of the street.

And what is jaywalking, exactly? The word does not appear in the Georgia Code. And in fact, what’s typically called jaywalking — crossing the street between intersections — is perfectly legal under state law in many areas of Savannah. From the O.C.G.A.:

§ 40-6-92.  Crossing roadway elsewhere than at crosswalk (c) Between adjacent intersections at which traffic-control signals are in operation, pedestrians shall not cross at any place except in a marked crosswalk.

That means, for example, that if I want to cross Broughton Street midblock, between Abercorn Street (where there is a traffic light) and Lincoln Street (where there is not) I can do so as long as I “yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway unless I have already, and under safe conditions, entered the roadway.” § 40-6-92. (a)

It seems to me if the true goal is to reduce pedestrian injuries and deaths, the main focus should be vehicle speed enforcement. Considering that when pedestrians are hit by cars:

at 20 mph, the risk of death is 5 percent, and most injuries are minor

at 30 mph, the risk of death is 45 percent, and most injuries are serious

at 40 mph, 85 percent of pedestrians are killed.

Why not go after those who can easily kill people with their vehicles, instead of going after whose who can easily be killed?

Photo by Poppyseed Bandits via flickr.

Making bikes work by taking them there

bicycle-commuterIt happens every now and then. I’ll be riding my bike to work and I’ll pass another person, dressed business attire, getting into his or her car. Later, as I’m nearing my office, I’ll see the same person exiting the car or cruising in search of a parking spot. It makes me wonder how many of my neighbors work downtown and could easily ride their bikes there.

According to the 2004 City of Savannah Neighborhood Demographic Profiles report, there are 1,236 households in my neighborhood. How many of these contain at least one adult who is physically capable of  a quick and comfortable bicycle commute to a workplace in the Historic District? Dozens? Hundreds?

What would happen if these folks — joined by residents from other neighborhoods — commuted by bike? What would this look like? How would this affect demand for parking? Traffic congestion? Air quality? Public health? Public safety? Wear and tear on streets? A significant increase in bicycle commuting could really go to work on these problems.

H.G. Wells said, “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” When I see adults riding their bikes to work, I feel a lot better about Savannah’s future. I hope to see plenty National Bike to Work Day.

Passenger rail critic ignores massive autombile subsidy

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A letter to the editor in Sunday’s Savannah Morning News points out some classic flaws in the way we think about transportation. The writer takes aim at President Obama’s ideas for high speed rail with this comment:

“High-speed rail” suffers from the same problems that afflict “fight rail” and most any other sort of “rail.” The construction costs just can’t be recovered by the revenues generated. If there was money to be made in “high-speed rail,” private enterprise would be all over it. They aren’t. Government thinks this is a good idea, but government isn’t required to make a profit.

Exactly. The construction costs of the interstate highway system have been recovered and that’s why, wait, what?

The thought of tax dollars supporting passenger rail service offends our capitalist sensibilities, yet we are somehow able to ignore the colossal federal subsidy that makes driving artificially cheap. You see, the most ardent free marketeers among us become instant socialists when it comes to cars. Just add gasoline! At least fuel taxes pay for all those roads, bridges and parking garages, right? Not hardly.

There’s another force at work, too. As if suffering from some sort of collective memory loss, Americans have grown to view our country’s sprawling automobile infrastructure as something that “came with the place.” Maybe all those interstate lanes were originally landing strips used by our ancient alien ancestors. Maybe those interchanges began as paths worn by wandering mastodons. Whatever the case, cars and the gargantuan public works projects deployed to support them can seem like they’ve always been with us. This blinds us to how they came to be, how much they cost and what’s been lost in the process.

For what it’s worth, I tend to side with Kunstler when it comes to this issue. Never mind high speed rail, we really ought to be concerning ourselves with just plain rail, he says. Still, our letter writer contends that rail — high speed or original recipe — is not compatible with Savannah:

“High-speed rail” works where the central business district surrounds the train station. A few U.S. cities are still organized this way, but not Savannah.

It’s true that Savannah is no longer organized in this way. Sadly, the centrally located Union Station, constructed by a private enterprise called the The Union Station Company, was sacrificed in the early 1960s to build a project that’s never made a dime in revenue. But then again, the government wasn’t required to make a profit when the train station was demolished to make way for I-16.

RedeSIGN art project finds new use for old street signs, benefits good cause

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What becomes of old traffic signs when they are targeted by taggers, mangled by wayward motor vehicles or simply lose their reflectivity? Some signs suffering from these conditions — or that otherwise deemed unfit for continued service on Savannah streets — have been repurposed by Savannah artists,

The redeSIGN Art Project, on display beginning today at 312 West Broughton St., was organized by New Moon of Savannah’s Jake and Miriam Hodesh and in partnership with the City of Savannah, the Savannah Development and Renewal Authority, and The Savannah Bicycle Campaign.  The show will also serve as the venue for the monthly Green Drinks Savannah event.

Green Drinks is scheduled for May 12 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Another reception is slated for May 15, from 7-9 p.m. A portion of proceeds from sales of the redeSIGNed signs will benefit the Savannah Bicycle Campaign. More information is available here.