In Albany last week, a mother was crossing the street with her four year old son when a garbage truck turned the corner and hit the boy, killing him. According to the Times Union, "The mother and child had the go-ahead to walk from the traffic light when the boy was struck by the truck, which was turning left onto Central from Quail Street, said city police, who are investigating the crash. No charges have been filed against the driver." The driver's dad says "I'm not sure what happened, but he said a little boy or girl stepped in front of the truck".
On Strong Towns, Charles Marohn reminds us of the definition of an accident: "an event that happens by chance without an apparent cause." He notes that this isn't an accident at all.
While there is certainly an element of chance here -- just as with Russian Roulette -- there is obviously an underlying, preventable cause. This intersection is really dangerous for people outside of a vehicle. Serious injury is statistically inevitable. The design of this space induces high vehicle speeds in a complex environment not conducive to high speeds.
This is a problem everywhere that roads are designed for cars instead of people. Marohn points out the curve radius, designed to make it fast and easy for trucks and cars to turn. We have discussed this issue before, how curve radii completely transform an intersection. He claims that it's not about enforcement but about design.
This and the thousands of similar tragedies that happen every year on America's streets are the statistically inevitable outcome of designing for fast-moving traffic within a complex urban environment. This is what will always happen when we mash together simple and powerful with random and vulnerable. Our street designs do not account for the randomness of humanity. To be safe, they must.
It is no longer acceptable to design our urban streets to forgive the mistakes of drivers. Our designs must forgive the mistakes of the most vulnerable: those outside of a vehicle.
A former driver for the Toronto Transit Commission was found not guilty of careless driving after going through a red light and striking and killing Wendy Martella. The prosecutor said that the driver "did not even attempt to see the colour of the traffic light when she accelerated through an intersection after stopping to pick up a jaywalker running to catch the bus...“If that’s not careless driving, I’m not sure what is.”
But the judge did not agree, according to the Toronto Star:
In her judgement, [Justice] Cruz stated that the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the light had turned red when Angelidis resumed driving through the intersection. Cruz also stated that there was no evidence to show that Angelidis was a careless driver. One should not focus on the consequence of the driving, Cruz said, but the driving itself.
The driver's lawyer Susan Chapman says “It was a very tragic, sad accident, but in the end it was an accident, Not every tragedy has a villain.” Chapman also notes that "Pedestrians have some obligations too"- evidently they should be careful about stepping in front of moving buses when they have the right of way.
But this situation does have a villain, and that is the road design. People are used to going fast here. People do not pay attention to pedestrians. It's where most of the people are killed in Toronto, in the suburban arterials that are designed for cars, not people.
And in New York..
Thanks to Vision Zero, it is now actually a misdemeanor to run over pedestrians or cyclists who have right of way, which is what this particular bus driver did. So the driver was arrested and the union is outraged. So is the New York Daily News, writing that "De Jesus was cuffed in the parking lot and led inside like a common criminal."
Ben Fried wonders in Streetsblog:
The question raised by the arrest of Francisco de Jesus is not whether he’s a decent person. Good people make mistakes with harmful consequences every day — and in general the law recognizes that carelessness can rise to the level of a crime. And this isn’t a debate about whether bus drivers have a hard job. There’s no doubt that driving a bus in New York is demanding, stressful, and deserving of respect. The question is: Do our laws protect people walking with the right of way, or not?
The union leader is seriously angry, claiming "Justice has been turned on its head". His plan:
Now we must respond appropriately, recognizing that we are being disgracefully and unfairly scapegoated and targeted. It is imperative that we immediately move to defend our livelihoods and protect ourselves against these attacks. Therefore, we MUST Yield/Stop “when a pedestrian or bicyclist has the right of way.” If there is a pedestrian in the crosswalk, Yield/Stop your bus until they are on the sidewalk. We must exercise extreme caution at intersections and on roadways.
Seriously, what the hell were they doing before? Running them over? Not exercising caution?
Over at Brooklyn Spoke, Doug Gordon gets to the nub of the matter: That as far as the bus drivers and "traffic violence apologists" are concerned, "Death and serious injury, it seems, are the cost of doing business in the big city."
If you accept that philosophy — that in order to keep buses moving on New York City Streets people are going to die every once in a while — then you should have to answer a rather serious question:
If the occasional death or serious injury is the inevitable cost of keeping the city running, how many of your family members would you be willing to lose?
Sitting in Toronto, I used to think that it was all Rob Ford and Denzil Minnan-Wong who were the "traffic violence apologists" but that if we had a Bloomberg and Janette Sadik-Kahn things would be better. That was totally naive of me; these are universal problems.