Category Archives: Health

Truth, thoroughness needed in reporting on tragic traffic crashes

Dec. 5 was a dangerous and deadly day on local streets. A construction worker was killed and others injured as they worked on a Skidaway Island roadway. On Waters Avenue, a business got an unwanted window display in the form of a Toyota SUV.

If you read nothing more about these incidents than what appeared in the Twitter feeds of local media organizations, you’d have to conclude that Savannah was being menaced by an autonomous automobile:

WTOC: 1 dead, 3 injured after car plows into workers
WJCL/WTGS: 1 dead, 3 injured after car strikes workers
WSAV: Car Strikes Construction Workers, Killing 1 and Injuring 3

Only the Savannah Morning News described this crash accurately (emphasis mine):

Driver hits construction workers in Landings subdivision, killing one

Unfortunately, that good work was undone in the lede (again, emphasis mine):

“A 27-year-old man was killed Monday when a car struck him and three co-workers at a road construction site in the Landings subdivision.”

Even the make of the car (Acura) merits a mention before the identity of the human inside it. To make matters worse, the story labels the man’s death as “a mishap.” These incidents are truly tragic. Those who survive, including drivers, will deal with physical and psychological consequences for the rest of their lives. When we assign blame to inanimate objects, we allow ourselves to avoid considering the truth about what happened.

Journalists are hardworking people who are under the constant pressure of looming deadlines. Why not cut them some slack? And really, it’s all just semantics, right?

The problem is that constant reinforcement of the idea that cars are killing people has a numbing effect on our attitudes about traffic deaths. Or as more eloquently explained here:

“This personification of vehicles that maim or kill people (e.g., ‘car hits man on bicycle’) is so common, we think nothing of it, any more than we think twice about describing completely preventable crashes as ‘accidents.'”

The aggregate effect is that we have become sadly tolerant of traffic deaths, according to Tom Vanderbilt:

“As the leading cause of death for people aged 1 to 34 years old in the U.S., traffic deaths represent nothing short of a public health crisis, not a collection of ‘accidents,’ and should be treated as such.”

Please understand I’m not suggesting the drivers involved in these crashes intended to kill or injure people or damage property. Perhaps they were suffering from acute medical problems or another issues completely beyond their control. We may never know as the public usually doesn’t learn the results of traffic investigations, unless major charges are filed. After the initial story, there’s usually not follow up coverage revealing factors that contributed to the crash. We are left a but shallow and often incorrect understanding of a tragic event. All we know is that a person was “killed by a car” in an “accident.”

 

Lawmakers propose disastrous, job-killing, backwards-looking transportation plan

In a July 5 article called “How the Great Reset has Already Changed America,” for the Atlantic, Richard Florida describes how our elected leaders are lagging behind and even moving in directions that suggest a disconnection from our current reality. He writes, “… our political and business leaders continue to look backwards, wasting precious time and resources on futile attempts to resuscitate the same dysfunctional system of banks, sprawl, and inefficient and energy-wasting ways of life that brought about the crisis in the first place.”

It’s hard to imagine a better example of backwards-looking ideas than House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica’s proposed transportation reauthorization bill, which he announced yesterday. It will eliminate dedicated federal funding for bicycling and walking. Mica apparently deems spending in these areas to be “not in the federal interest.” Meanwhile Sen. James Inhofe, the lead Republican negotiator on the transportation bill in the Senate, has stated one of his top three priorities is to eliminate “frivolous spending” on bicycle facilities, according to the League of American Bicyclists.

These merciless cuts are not aimed at reducing the deficit, reviving the economy, creating jobs, improving transportation choices or serving the American people.

It’s clear they did not.

 

Deadly epidemic rages on, right before our eyes and windshields

dailycarnage

The image above reflects the Savannah Morning News website as it appeared yesterday morning. Look at the headlines on the right side. Is there a common thread?

The individual descriptions of death and injury just wash over us as we read journalists’ accounts of automobile “accidents.” But consider how we would react to these stories if they reported the spread of a deadly infectious disease, which could be prevented in many cases. I imagine there would be public outcry and demand for swift and comprehensive action to reduce and death and suffering.

Yet, we accept the stream of awful news from our streets and roadways as the price of doing business, the cost of maintaining our freedom to drive everywhere we go and get there as fast as we can. This freedom is of course illusory. We are trapped behind the wheel, numbed to the tremendous sacrifices our automobile-centric lifestyles demand. We seem resigned to the kind of human suffering that makes headlines. And we are often completely unaware of the kind that takes its toll over time. Some of us are suspicious of the very things that would help us escape from our rolling cages and into communities that are healthier, safer, more livable, more sustainable and more economically vibrant.

Yesterday’s news wasn’t all bad, though. Here’s the story behind the headline, “No texting while driving law making impact.”

When trends converge: Boycotts, bicycles and a car culture in decline?

slowdown
In recent days, I’ve heard a lot about boycotting BP to punish it for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Boycotts against companies have in many ways become the default American reaction against behavior we don’t like. Perhaps we have become resigned to idea that our main role in our economy and society is to consume. American consumers (formerly known as American citizens) vote with our wallets. And, we are told, we should vote against BP by withholding our business. Seems straight forward enough.

The problem is our dependence on oil is bigger than the Gulf of Mexico and bigger than BP. Deepwater Horizon is arguably the largest and most publicized example of our tragic addiction to oil, but it is no way the first. Our national failure to consider more sustainable ways to live, work and get from place to place will continue to cause us increasingly severe and eventually debilitating environmental, military, political, financial and human rights headaches. And as we move on down the right hand side of the Peak Oil curve, these problems will become more numerous and difficult to solve.

Boycotting BP, then, is kind of like switching from Marlboros to Camels to spite Phillip Morris, while continuing to smoke two packs a day. We might feel vindicated in the short term and RJ Reynolds will be happy to take our money, but we’ll suffer the same terrible consequences in the end.

While our addiction to oil has shown up only at the margins of the national debate of how to best punish BP, some interesting things are happening in the background. As summarized by Richard Florida in The Great Car Reset: “Younger people today – in fact, people of all ages – no longer see the car as a necessary expense or a source of personal freedom.” If fewer young people falling in love with automobile culture, for whom are we continuing to build automobile infrastructure? In a cruel twist of fate, we may be creating it for people now (including our families and ourselves), who will become imprisoned by it later. The question is how much more money and effort we will devote to building an automobile-centric transportation system that future generations will not need and that will work against the interests of the people who are currently demanding it? How many more disasters will we tolerate to feed our demand for oil?

A local trend of note was reported yesterday by the Savannah Bicycle Campaign. A recently completed bicycle census finds that bicycle use in Savannah has increased dramatically, or at least was seriously underestimated in the past. Either way, there is more excellent news about who is riding in Savannah. As described here, “Women are considered an ‘indicator species’ for bike-friendly cities”:

“If you want to know if an urban environment supports cycling, you can forget about all the detailed ‘bikeability indexes’—just measure the proportion of cyclists who are female,” says Jan Garrard, a senior lecturer at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, and author of several studies on biking and gender differences.

Savannah saw a 33 percent increase in the proportion of women cyclists over the 2009 census number. That’s even more reason to provide additional bicycle infrastructure. It also offers cause to pause before spending mountains of money on road projects that will keep us hooked on driving in the short term.

If you ride your bike to work only one day this year, make it this Friday

Over the last several years, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with elected officials, community groups and individuals aboutthe tremendous benefits the city could accrue from encouraging more citizens and visitors to take to our streets on bicycles. While I think most people can get their heads around the general idea, there’s a disconnect for some who can’t imagine riding a bike to work, to the store or to school. It doesn’t compute for them. They nod and smile, but in the back of there minds, I can tell they are thinking, “Wouldn’t it be easier to drive?”

It’s important to remember that some people don’t have that option. Because of financial, health or other reasons, bicycles are not alternative transportation, but transportation plain and simple. The rest of us, who do have the option to drive, may be curious about the beneficial aspects of riding a bike to work. If there’s one day to give it a try, it’s this Friday. National Bike-to-Work Day will be observed in Savannah with a 2Wheels 2Work bicycle convoy, sponsored by the Savannah Bicycle Campaign, The City of Savannah and the Chatham Environmental Forum. Bicycle commuters will enjoy free coffee from Jittery Joe’s and the company of other cyclists. Full details are available on the Savannah Bicycle Campaign Web site.