We Don’t Have to Accept the World We Inherited

We Don’t Have to Accept the World We Inherited

Someone commented yesterday on a post I wrote back in January with the riveting title  “New Study Shows 20 mph Speed Limit Drastically Reduce Injury and Death“. Said commenter seemed to think that the idea of embracing slower speed limits, even if it has been shown to dramatically reduce death, was crazy.

The post cited a study published in the British Medical Journal revealing that the introduction of 20 mph zones was associated with a 41.9% reduction in road casualties, and that the greatest reduction in fatalities was in younger children.

Just because we’re used to driving 25mph or 30 or 40mph in cities or towns where people live, just because that’s what we see around us, just because our parents did it — doesn’t mean that we’re stuck with it forever.

We can learn and grow. When we find out new information that can help save people’s lives, we can progress, we can evolve, and we can adapt to incorporate those life-saving behaviors into our lives and routines.

This world belongs to all of us, and we need start living consciously as though we share it with 6 billion other people.

We can, and should change it.

If you’re interested, here is a rather gruesome video montage that someone sent me yesterday. It’s disturbing and illustrates some of the dangers of speeding and distracted driving. (Warning: real footage mixed in with PSAs and some bits with actors)

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Drivers, Please Don’t Hit Me

Drivers, Please Don’t Hit Me

I’m just trying to go home too.

A couple of hours ago I was riding my bike on Liberty Avenue in Pittsburgh when a woman driving behind me suddenly accelerated and swerved to the right to pass the car in front of her.

But the lane wasn’t empty.

I was there. I was riding my bicycle and she didn’t look before she nearly plowed into me.

Luckily at least I was paying attention (and not texting) and was able to react quickly. I slammed on my brakes and swerved out of the way.

It was the middle of the day and I was dressed in the brightest clothes I own (which says a lot to those of you who know me) so I was definitely visible.

Below is something of a reenactment photographed by my charming roommate. Mostly it’s just to show how bright my clothing was. Short of covering myself in hundreds of lights, I can’t get that much more visible in the middle of the day.

I embrace the hell out of safety because I love my life.

And I always ride with a helmet covered with flames of safety!

Re-enactment on my tiny street that rarely has car traffic

To everyone: please pay attention. Let’s just look out for each other and slow down a bit.

Kid on Bike Violence Demands Community Solutions

Kid on Bike Violence Demands Community Solutions

There always seems to be a story about this, some bored kids with nowhere to go and nothing to do decide to entertain themselves by tormenting an anonymous person on a bike, or on foot, or in cars.

There was a rash of brick throwers in DC a couple of years back, and this past weekend some more kids throwing bricks on the South Side of Pittsburgh. The biker was hit and suffered a massive gash to his head, but luckily was not killed. (Interestingly, the Post-Gazette said that the bicycle rider “drove under a trestle”)

Last year while riding my bike on the highway-esque Rhode Island Avenue in Northeast DC, a gaggle of kids pelted me with hot water balloons, knocking me off my bike into the lane of fast-moving traffic. Luckily (again), the driver in the lane wasn’t texting and reacted quickly enough to swerve and avoided hitting me.

I called the police, somewhat reluctantly and they answered the call even more reluctantly. The car-bound officers shrugged, saying that there was nothing they could do. The kids had all scattered and I wasn’t really hurt, after all, was I?

Warm weather seems to infuse bored children with the passion to fling heavy objects at cyclists or pedestrians or cars.

I wish I had some better ideas to share, but all I have are questions and frustration.

Are there any solutions?

  1. Better engagement for kids? Video games, television, and the news perpetuate the concept of violence as a culturally appropriate response to conflict resolution as well as presenting it as entertaining.
  2. Better police response? I don’t think this is the right one. The U.S. has the world’s highest incarceration rate, according to a study by the King’s College of London at 756 per 100,000 and has 23.4% of the world prison population. “Correctional facilities” seem to “correct” little except the number of people that are part of their communities and raising their families.
  3. More community and parental involvement? Nice sounding but how to actually implement this? Even families with two parent incomes are being continuously squeezed in this economy leaving many kids alone to entertain and raise themselves.
  4. Education? (“Rocks hurt!”? Nope.)
  5. More places for kids to play? I grew up playing kickball on my street nearly every day but many streets are too dangerous for kids and many drivers are too reckless, eliminating huge swaths of cities as potential grounds for play.

Any ideas?

Don’t Text and Ride

Don’t Text and Ride

NPR reports that California is considering extending the ban on texting while driving to including texting while biking. California is one of 23 states to ban texting while driving, a law that should be federal since it is dangerous everywhere.

Clearly the distracted driver of a multi-ton vehicle can do more damage to another person than a cyclist, as shown by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The FMCSA points out that “Drivers who text while driving are more than 20 times more likely to get in an accident than non-distracted drivers.”

Stop, Read, and Respond

I’m not sure if that same rate applies to cyclists, but frankly I just can’t understand why anyone would feel the need to send a text while riding a bicycle in a city. Bikers are already vulnerable enough and if you need to brake suddenly to avoid an absent-minded pedestrian, driver, or another cyclist, you’ve lost that ability.

If an urgent text is received and must immediately be replied to, it is so easy, friends, it is so so so easy to pull off the road, out of the lane, and Stop, Read, and Respond. Think of the adage that explains what to do if you are on FIRE: Stop, Drop, and Roll. If you are facing a life and death situation, you should stop and deal with it. Otherwise, don’t make an already precarious situation worse by becoming a distracted biker.

If your life is so important that you have to keep up with every minute detail and constantly be in touch, isn’t it important enough to make sure you don’t lose it?

Watch out for yourself, watch out for your neighbors and everyone else and put down that ridiculous phone until you get off your bicycle or out of your car.

Hot but stupid boy: texting while riding without helmet or brakes.
Federal Government Continues Charge Against Distracted Driving

Federal Government Continues Charge Against Distracted Driving

In September, the Department of Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood convened the first ever Distracted Driving Summit, intent on confronting the widespread epidemic of texting and talking while driving.

Soon after, the federal government made an important move to protect public safety by banning federal employees from texting while driving, and yesterday, the Department of Transportation indicated that distracted driving was a major target for enforcement by prohibiting the drivers of commercial vehicles such as large trucks and buses from texting while operating their vehicles.

Research by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration shows irrefutable evidence of the danger of driving while texting: “Drivers who text while driving are more than 20 times more likely to get in an accident than non-distracted drivers.”

20 times more likely? Sending one text can’t be that bad, can it?

The FMCSA illustrates that “drivers who send and receive text messages take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds while texting.”

Think of all the times you are walking around, or riding around, or driving your own car and you see someone, or two people, or dozens of people texting while driving. For every six seconds they are piloting a vehicle weighing several tons around you, or your community, or your children, they are paying attention for less than 1.5 seconds of every six.

Let’s pretend you’re sending a longer text, a 12 second text. Close your eyes, count to 9, and then open your eyes and continue counting to 12. That’s how alert texting renders drivers. Do we want to risk the lives of our families and friends?

Texting while driving needs to be illegal now.

And think of the highway, where people drive at least 55 mph, and most drive much faster; at this rate, the driver is “traveling the length of a football field, including the end zones, without looking at the road.”

Despite those who pout about any additional regulations imposed by the federal government, this is a major victory for all users of our roads: drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians, and I hope to see more such actions from Ray LaHood’s Department of Transportation.

I only hope they will move more quickly than the distracted drivers.

Additional information can be found on NPR which ran a story this morning on the ban and distracted driving, as well as a new advocacy group, Focus Driven, working towards a full cell phone ban while driving.

Texting While Driving Now Illegal for Federal Employees

Texting While Driving Now Illegal for Federal Employees

From Democracy Now:

Obama Prohibits Federal Employees from Texting While Driving

President Obama has signed an executive order to prohibit federal employees from sending text messages while driving. Driving while texting is considered one of the most dangerous forms of distracted driving. A recent study of truck drivers found the risk of a crash is twenty-three times greater while texting compared with non-distracted driving.

Bicycle Accidents and Lack of Police Response

Bicycle Accidents and Lack of Police Response

It’s no surprise to anyone who rides bikes to find that police are unresponsive and frequently blame the cyclist, regardless of who is at fault. Drivers are routinely (perhaps even more often than not) excused from accidents and rarely charged, even when they are responsible for the death of a pedestrian or cyclist.

The following is an email I sent to the Chief of Police Cathy Lanier and Councilmembers Jim Graham and Phil Mendelson after my accident on February 11. The driver and I waited for 1.5 hours for the police to come to the scene and when they finally appeared, refused to take a report, and claimed to have verified the insurance policy of the driver. I later found out that the driver was using a fake insurance card and that it expired in 2006, not 2009 as the card stated.  Police seemed unimpressed by a driver using fake insurance.

Email to the Chief

“I was riding my bike on 18th St. NW right by the Jolt and Bolt, just south of Florida and north of T. It was 1:30 pm on a sunny day and I was riding my bike very visibly south on 18th when a car pulled out of a driveway, slamming into the road and right into my path forcing my bike to crash into her car. I flew off my bike and then landed on the metal frame of my bike. Luckily I didn’t seem too injured, nothing was broken at least, so I called the police to file a report.

I gave them our location as 18th & T NW. We were not standing directly on the corner but it seemed to me to be a close enough point for the police to be able to find us. After 30 minutes they hadn’t shown up and so I called again. They said that they had 19th and T as the location in their log and so would have to send someone else out to our location. Another 30 minutes later, they still hadn’t arrived and so the woman who was driving the car called and they said that they STILL had 19th and T listed and the dispatcher said that it was noted that the police had already responded to the situation and solved it! This without a police officer going by in an hour. It was getting pretty infuriating and also a little difficult to keep standing around waiting while we both had to go to work and appointments. They assured us that they had the location correct now, 18th and T NW and would send someone out immediately.

20 minutes later, we were still standing around. I called once again and they had our address down as 19th and T for the THIRD TIME. I couldn’t believe that they were so incompetent. What if we weren’t being civil and had been fighting? This situation could have been dramatically worse and the police couldn’t even get to us because the address was wrong three times?

Four Calls to Unresponsive Police

Nearly 90 minutes after our accident, I called again to make sure that they had the address correct. Nope. Four times we had to correct them! I spelled Eighteenth. I told them it was the North-South street between 17th and 19th. I didn’t know how else to describe it.

90 minutes after the accident, patrol car #266 appeared. The officer was unimpressed by how long we waited and how difficult it was for us to communicate the location. She checked the driver’s license and registration and read out the driver’s name, license number and her relevant insurance information so that I could take note of them. I asked if she would be writing a report and she said no, they only take reports of accidents in five scenarios and because I was riding a bike and not in a car, and not a diplomat and not taken away in an ambulance there was no need for her to take a report.

The driver was not given a ticket and was simply told to be more careful when “backing”. Unfortunately I did not get the officer’s name or badge number, but it should be easy to find out since her car was #266. I spoke with Police Supervisor Millard Karl when attempting to complain that the police were unable to find our address and he too seemed to think that it was not a big deal that they had our address down incorrectly four times and took 90 minutes to respond to the scene of an accident. The only thing useful that the officer did was to verify the insurance policy was valid.

Driving With Fake Insurance

And this morning when I called the insurance company to file a claim so I could have my bike repaired, I was told that there was no policy under the driver’s name. The car was not registered to her, but to another man named Timothy Patterson, and the insurance card that the driver, Johnette Taylor, provided was also not under her name and expired in 2006 — despite the fact that the card she presented said that it was valid until March 2009. So the officer claimed to have verified this woman’s insurance and if she had done so would have found out that the insurance company has no record of her at all.

I think that the driver should have been ticketed and that a report should have been filed — and if it’s not common policy to take reports of bicycle-car accidents, it should be. I think that the police need to be able to record locations correctly and respond in a reasonable amount of time. And I think that police ought to verify insurance and be helpful to both parties. So now after all of this I have to scramble around and track down this driver who uses false insurance cards to try to get her to pay for repairs to my bike. I’m disappointed with the response of the police to this situation, even if it wasn’t deemed important enough to warrant a report.”

This is outrageous.

Police should take a report during every accident.

Police should respond to calls in a timely fashion.

Police should be able to locate all addresses in the city.

Police should verify insurance.

Drivers should stop hitting bikes.

Drivers should have valid insurance.

Bicyclists should be treated by police and drivers as valid users of the road.

I am constantly hearing similar stories of preferential treatment by police for drivers, if you have a story you’d like to share, let me know.

This has to stop.