On November 29, 2019, a 23-year-old driver hit and killed two pedestrians on Aurora Avenue and North 39th Street. The almost universal response to this deadly crash was to blame the driver—she was high, she did it on purpose, she was just dancing and driving, she was speeding, and so on. The assertion of the primacy of the individual was predictable. A society that's so rawly inequitable as the US will emphasize the one and not the one's social environment. In this way, you are rich because you are one; and you are poor because you are another one. The logic of the individual, which has little-to-no explanatory power in real terms (unless, of course, you are rich), is forced downward by the few at the top to the many at the bottom. This is why a belief in the primacy of the individual is a confusion of the commonsensical (the real world) with what is common due to relentless repetition and reinforcement in every corner of our cultural world.
In the case of the Aurora crash, it was determined without effort that someone (the suspect Radalyn King) made very bad choices on her own. And news reporters and radio personalities were ready to just leave it at that and move on. As for the fact that a little over month before the crash on Aurora Avenue and North 39th Street, an 81-year-old woman was killed on Aurora Avenue and North 98th Street by a 28-year-old driver who "showed no signs of impairment," this can be dismissed as just another accident. And accidents do happen. Indeed, the elderly pedestrian killed on October 22 was the fourth pedestrian killed on Aurora this year. In our culture, pedestrians killed by cars are either unlucky or the victims of bad choices made by an individual. The car-dominated culture itself is barely even questioned.
But this year, the number of fatalities on our roads spiked, and so it was hard to resort to same old same old: bad luck or bad individuals. Something drastic had to be done.
That something needed to be about the culture itself, which is exactly what a reduction in the speed limit is, a shift in cultural perspective. And so the Seattle Times reports that Mayor Durkan has ordered "her administration" to "lower speed limits on all arterials—busy streets with a dividing line—to 25 mph." Let's think about what this means.
For one, reducing speed limits actually defeats the purpose of automobiles, which are supposed to be faster than other modes of transportation. This is why reducing the speed limit to levels that are safe for pedestrians and cyclists diminishes or negates the core idea of the car: the way it is repeatedly advertised, the futurism of its design (aerodynamic), and the reason why a person spends a small fortune on one. People want to Tracy Chapman a car. What is the good of going all slow, crawling down a long avenue, moving as fast as a biker? But what's to be done about this situation? How does an urban transportation department get around the fact that you can't have it both ways—lots of pedestrians and lots of fast cars?
Angie Schmitt of Streets Blog writes:
Speed kills, especially on city streets teeming with pedestrians and cyclists... The average pedestrian struck by a driver traveling at 20 mph has a 93 percent chance of surviving. For a 70-year-old, the chances are somewhat lower but still a robust 87 percent.At 40 mph, your chances of not surviving rise to 45 percent. At 60 mph, it's 90 percent.
But to impose such a low and safe speed limit on cars (and 20 mph is still significantly better than 25 mph), is to basically punish drivers. Moving that slow amounts to torture behind the wheel. Indeed, 25 mph even seems to be an unreasonable demand, considering the alternatives to car mobility are not at all appealing in Seattle. Our bike infrastructure is primitive, our bus stops have never known the meaning of love, our link train stations are public deserts, our bus lane laws are hardly enforced, and the bus and link trains have a frequency that's hardly up to snuff. And then the city wants you to drive slow as well? This situation (punishing drivers, not rewarding public transportation or bikers or pedestrians) only contributes to a popular structure of feeling called "the war on cars."