This morning's column by the Seattle Times' Nicole Brodeur, "Seattle pedestrians bad at walking, motorists bad at driving," continues the century-old and very deadly tradition of insisting that the natural features of a big city (density, crowds, small roads) must conform to the extravagant and costly needs of car transportation. The car must not conform to the city (become smaller, move slower, be used less frequently); the city must conform to the car (criminalize jaywalkers, widen roads, increase traffic speeds). This is the ideology shamelessly pushed in Brodeur's post.
On the surface, it sounds perfectly reasonable, even democratic, but that's why it is all the more regressive and dangerous. She places bad pedestrians and bad drivers on the same level. There is no real difference between them. In her world—a world the automobile industry certainly finds agreeable—all modes of urban transportation must be seen as one family. Each member has the same impact on other members, and the same demands on the road or infrastructure. Drivers and pedestrians should be mindful alike because they are doing a like thing: moving.
At the end of the day, we are just trying to get somewhere. One does this with legs; another does it encased by four tons of industrial-grade materials. So drivers should pay attention to pedestrians; pedestrians to cars. How obvious all of this is. All of us should stop texting whenever we are moving. Problem solved.
To make matters worse, a traffic-safety coordinator for SDOT confirms this lunacy. His name is Jim Curtin. He thinks it's normal that we have a major road in a dense city that has cars moving at 40 miles per hour, and that cyclists and pedestrians should not be distracted on this road (again, placing the blame on the victim) but keep all of their senses on alert. (In a collision, a car moving at 40 miles per hour is 17 times more likely to kill a pedestrian than one moving at 20 miles per hour.) And Curtin says all of this knowing full well that 75 percent of pedestrian collisions in 2013 happened at crosswalks—meaning, the main part of the problem is just drivers.
And what is SDOT's solution? Let's have a campaign to make drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians more mindful of each other. This is car ideology in a state of perfection. The fathers of Motordom would be proud of Brodeur and her allies at SDOT.
In reality, there is no equality among the major modes of urban transportation (environmentally, physically, or health-wise). If the absurdity of moving around a crowded city in a 4,000-pound machine is your thing, your God-given right, then you are the one whose full attention must constantly be on alert. You are the real danger. And as a whole, we, as a society, must make you and your driving experience as miserable as possible because we need more cars off the road and more people walking, cycling, and using public transportation. Even if you are stuck in traffic, you must just sit there waiting, doing nothing, thinking nothing, and stew in the stupidity of it all.
As for pedestrians, we must enjoy the luxury of all manner of distractions: daydreaming, listening to music, having conversations, kissing, checking Facebook updates. We belong to the city.