by Travis Mateer
If you don’t think there’s a movement to annihilate the independence that cars have represented to American culture for over half a century, then you aren’t paying attention.
If I wasn’t skeptical of heavily promoted social changes that seem, on the surface, to be well-intentioned, I’d be an eager cheerleader for removing the motor vehicle from the American experience. But I am skeptical, and with good reason.
The Missoulian article that spurred this post is titled Missoula bikers, pedestrians confront alarming crash trends. From the link:
Katy Robin Garton bikes around Missoula every day with her three children.
Elliot Melzer, 6, rides alongside his mother, who carts around Emi Sue Melzer, 3, and Teddy Waltman, 2, in a double-seated contraption on the back of her bike.
“We get them biking young,” said Garton.
She generally feels safe riding with her young children in Missoula, but streets are getting more dangerous for non-motorized users like Garton and her family.
In the past 10 years, the national traffic safety record for non-motorists has gotten substantially worse. According to Dr. Kelcie Ralph, an associate professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers University, 80% more people are dying on American streets while walking and bicycling.
This EMOTIONAL framing of the issue utilizes a nice family at the beginning of the article to get you worried about kids being killed by cars. It’s quite effective, and reflects the way I used to travel with my two boys when my family lived in the Slant Street neighborhood.
In fact, I am such an adept user of non-motorized transportation, I was once nominated as commuter of the year for biking to work every day, even in temperatures that plunged below zero.
Now, WHERE I was biking to work matters to this story because I’d like to introduce the concept of PEDESTRIAN BEHAVIOR as an important factor in whatever trend is being claimed in this Missoulian article.
I worked at the Poverello Center–both at the old downtown location, and the new one on West Broadway–and during that relocation discussion, the potential of vehicular conflict with client pedestrians was a BIG concern.
After we relocated, my role in addressing neighborhood concerns put me in constant communication with homeless clients, and I can say from direct experience that many of them demonstrated ZERO concern about walking straight across the road, traffic be damned.
Since leaving my job, I have had to slam on brakes and honk my horn AT LEAST a dozen times to avoid hitting and possibly killing people around the homeless shelter. In fact, just last Friday, I was driving down Cedar street when someone physically SLAPPED my vehicle, then pretended to be hit and fake injured. That incident resulted in a really fun conversation with a Rogers International private security douche bag who SHOULD BE keeping this area secure.
(on a side note, I hope the Poverello staff member I spoke with sticks with it. He’s only been on the job for two weeks, and already has a negative impression of the private security firm I’ve been trying to expose for being shady AF).
Getting back to the article, pedestrian behavior IS an acknowledged factor, but not as important as street design, allegedly. To me this sounds like preparing the public for LOTS of public tax spending, like I mentioned last week regarding the TIF-funded study to change one way streets downtown to two way streets.
Here’s more from the article:
Local mobility advocates and government officials see numerous reasons for the alarming trend of bike and pedestrian crashes. Street design, individual behavior and vehicle changes all seem to contribute to the growing danger.
“Roadway design is the predominant determinant of travel speeds,” states the city’s Safe Speeds on City Streets report created in 2021.
Wide, multi-lane arterials are particularly dangerous. In Missoula, that includes popular thoroughfares like Reserve Street, Broadway, Brooks Street, Russell Street and Orange Street — where a May 2 collision killed 77-year-old cyclist Vincent Burrafato.
The example provided in the article regarding the May 2nd collision bolsters the agenda of eventually designating some portion of Missoula vehicle-free, except for maybe buses.
Speaking of buses, a local municipal bus killed a pedestrian last March, a pedestrian that was apparently intoxicated, but that does NOT bolster the right agenda, so it’s not a useful to reference for this article.
A useful document that outlines how Missoula approaches transportation issues is the Activate Missoula 2045 (PDF), a long range transportation plan developed in March of 2017. Here are the goals:
Yes, one of the goals of Missoula’s transportation plan is to PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT, so I’m guessing that means eventually eliminating all the lethal car farts threatening our planetary health. Also, with the expansion of Missoula’s airport, eliminating cars will help balance all the private jets bringing deep pockets of wealth to our little valley.
One of the funny things about the Missoulian article is that the trend of accidents actually went DOWN over the past year. Is this a trend-busting aberration? No, it’s evidence of success, claims local transportation advocates.
Nationwide trends and the recent Missoula bike fatality notwithstanding, non-motorized crashes actually went down from 2020 to 2021, per MPD’s data. Both 2019 and 2020 saw 63 bike/pedestrian collisions, but 2021 only had 46.
While one year is not enough to draw conclusions about trends, existing local initiatives can be credited with contributing to non-motorized safety in Missoula.
Those initiatives include Missoula’s Neighborhood Greenways, a series of streets parallel to major roads that bikers and walkers are encouraged to use instead.
Local policy has also proven a useful tool for increasing safety on local streets. Bob Giordano, executive director of Free Cycles, lauded programs like Complete Streets and the Long Range Transportation Plan, which includes the goal of halving single-occupant vehicle trips by 2045 and tripling walking, biking and transit trips by the same year.
Yes, this MUST BE proof that money spent is having the desired effect, so the only conclusion is that MORE MONEY spent will provide MORE DESIRED EFFECTS for transportation safety and equality. I’m sure our illustrious leaders will make this happen for the betterment of ALL.
Thanks for reading!