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We Are All People Who Walk

April 3, 2015
Glen Buhlman serves on the Kirkland Transportation Commission and is co-founder of Kirkland Greenways

 

Mark Twain Elementary School is across the street. This is the start of the Rose Hill Greenway. Facing sign warns people walking, biking, and driving that cars do not stop.

Mark Twain Elementary School is across the street. This is the start of the Rose Hill Greenway. Facing sign warns people walking, biking, and driving that cars do not stop.

We all become “pedestrians” for a portion of most of our trips once we get out of our car, step off the bus or lock up our bicycle. I don’t think anyone would suggest that we should outlaw dark-toned clothing after sundown. Requiring people walking to wear high-viz clothing is sidestepping a bigger problem.

The responsibility for safety lies with the person who is operating the multi-ton vehicle that can easily injure or kill others. Yes, people walking should be as aware as possible and we drill this into our children, but people walking are ultimately at the mercy of the person driving the car.

As people who drive cars/trucks/buses and even more importantly as parents of children who are getting their drivers’ licenses, we must also teach both our children and ourselves that every time we get into our vehicle we are operating a device that can easily injure or kill — and we are usually doing it on roads that were designed to prioritize speed and throughput of vehicular traffic at the expense of the safety of the people who use the roadway (including the people driving the cars).

We should all work together to make our streets safe, particularly in places where people on foot cross them.

Unfortunately, for the last several decades, the way our country’s streets have been designed is to engineer them so that people in cars are able to drive significantly above the posted speed limit, and to remove anything in the roadway that could be impacted while they do so. Lanes are wider, street-side plantings are limited,  the turning radius of corners has become very large so people can drive faster around the corner, and so on. Enforcement of speeding on city streets has gone way down too.

As a society we have all come to accept that people dying on our roads is just an expected cost of moving people and goods at maximum speed through our cities and states. When we hear of a person walking getting hit by a person driving a car we think that the person walking must be at least partly at fault because we want to feel safe when we walk and we don’t want to think that it could easily happen to us. Similarly, we think that we drive a car safely and don’t want to think that we could just as easily be the person driving in one of these collisions.

The streets are ours. It is up to us decide whether we want them to be safe places or not.

Our transportation and parking space is the largest slice of public land in our cities. We can decide if we want to accept deaths and injuries of the people using this space or if we want to make it safe for all of us.

Excerpted from a 3/10/15 letter to the editor in the Kirkland Reporter