Portland Bike Stencil (wikimedia)
Portland Bike Stencil (wikimedia)

[UPDATE 10/15: The Times sent a reporter to the summit.]

[UPDATE 2: See correction to the paragraph below in this post.]

This evening, in the Bertha Knight Landes Room of Seattle’s City Hall, the Cascade Bicycle Club is hosting a Traffic Justice Summit to discuss potential changes to the law that currently states that negligent manslaughter homicide due to negligence is a serious crime — unless you happen to commit it with a motor vehicle.

A traffic ticket is the worst the driver can expect if they run you over. Do you think there’s something wrong with this picture? We do.

If you agree, help us make history by changing the law. The Traffic Justice Summit welcomes Senate Judiciary Chair Adam Kline, Seattle city Attorney Tom Carr, Council Public Safety Chair Tim Burgess along with reserchers, experts, advocates, families, friends and victims to learn the facts and talk about what we can do as a community — and as a state — to protect pedestrians and cyclists.

The event runs from 5:30-7:30pm.  Sadly, it appears no one from STB is going to be there.

According to the CBC, almost 500 pedestrians and bicyclists a year are killed or critically injured by automobiles in Washington.  Just another part of the carnage that we accept as  a car-centered society.

79 Replies to “Traffic Justice Summit”

  1. “the law that currently states that negligent manslaughter is a serious crime — unless you happen to commit it with a motor vehicle.” Not true. There is no crime called “negligent manslaughter” in Washington. There is a crime called “second degree manslaughter,” which applies when X causes Y’s death through “criminal negligence,” and there is another crime called “vehicular homicide,” which applies when X is driving a car, is either (a) reckless, (b) acting without regard for the safety for others (treated as “aggravated negligence”), or (c) intoxicated, and causes Y’s death. “Criminal negligence” is harder to prove than “aggravated negligence.” Therefore, under current law, the standard for criminal prosecution for homicide/manslaughter is lower if you are driving a car than it is if you are doing something else. You cannot be guilty of either second degree manslaughter or vehicular homicide merely be being “ordinarily negligent,” unless you’re intoxicated and driving a car, in which case you don’t need to be negligent at all to be convicted. I see no reasons to extend criminal prosecution to drivers who are not intoxicated and do not act with “aggravated negligence.”

    1. I don’t understand how unintentionally killing somebody with an automobile isn’t “aggravated negligence.” If you cannot operate dangerous machinery without being distracted to the point where you cause serious bodily harm to others, what are you doing operating said dangerous machinery? To do so is extremely negligent.

      I would argue that anybody killing others with automobile is automatically guilty of vehicular homicide based on your criteria, since it undeniably “acting without regard for the safety for others” and pretty damned “reckless.” Even simply injuring others meets those criteria if you ask me.

    2. Thanks for the knowledge, Scott; I’ve changed the wording to stay within your legal definitions.

    3. Don’t forget that you have to be able to prove that the person was being negligent etc. Proving it is the hard part. It is easy to show that a person was drunk. Unless you have a eye witness how can you prove a person was texting, talking on the phone or distracted by something else? You often cant and thus they get off with a ticket.

      And when was the last time you heard of a driver of any type going to jail for more than 5 years?

      And look at this tragedy in Texas. I’m sure our laws are more similar than different. http://bikeportland.org/2009/10/10/tragedy-and-outrage-in-texas/

      We are talking about lives. My life, my dads life everyones life. There should be consequences that are appropriate for that level of responsibility.

      1. “how can you prove a person was texting, talking on the phone”

        At least for those you can go after their phone records.

      2. But how can you prove the the texting directly cause the accident? Yes of course it makes logical sense but our legal system in this context is set up to protect the driver from all actions unless otherwise proven.

      3. I am long-time friends with a couple living in Maple Leaf whose son was killed in what can only be described as a negligent accident. The young man was driving north on NE 15th at passing NE 86th; he was apparently not speeding. A car came roaring up NE 86th, literally flew through the stop sign, hitting my friend’s son’s car just above and slightly in front of the right rear wheel. Because of the place and the force with which the other car struck his, the young man’s car was whipsawed across the southbound lane of NE 15th Avenue, directly in front of a car passing southbound. That car hit the driver’s side door directly at speed, because the other driver did not have a second to react. The young man’s neck was broken so severely that doctors said he died almost instantly. The driver of the southbound car was also injured.

        The driver of the car who ran the stop sign has never even been cited for failure to yield! He claimed he was “blinded” by the sun and didn’t know the stop sign existed. Yet he worked in the neighborhood.

        Why do the police even bother to investigate accidents?

      4. The driver of the car who ran the stop sign has never even been cited for failure to yield! He claimed he was “blinded” by the sun and didn’t know the stop sign existed. Yet he worked in the neighborhood.

        That shouldn’t be a defense, it should be a confession.

        How is it not a confession of driving too fast for conditions to claim that your visibility was so impaired by the sun that you couldn’t see a stop sign or a crossing vehicle, yet you were driving so fast that you spun the car into the oncoming lane?

      5. Often, people confess to negligent driving, but it’s twisted into a defense.

        One of the first things motorists say after killing a pedestrian or bicyclist is “I just didn’t see him.”

        Motorists have a legal obligation to be aware of other users of the roadway, and to drive at a speed suitable to the conditions. If another road user was operating legally, and you didn’t see that other road user, that *should* be treated as a confession that you were either not paying enough attention or driving too fast for conditions.

        Unfortunately, it’s almost never interpreted that way. It’s a general-purpose excuse for running into almost anything smaller than a firetruck.

        “Sorry, officer, I wasn’t trying to kill that guy, I just wasn’t paying enough attention to see an adult pedestrian crossing in a marked and lighted crosswalk.”

        “Sorry, officer, I wasn’t trying to hit that woman. I just came around this corner driving twice the posted speed and didn’t have time to see her and avoid her. It was an accident, I just didn’t see her in time.”

      6. Exactly my thoughts. Our roads are designed with an abundant amount of safety features, such as traffic signs, speed limits, safety sight distance, etc.. and to the point of well exceeding standard observed human-vehicle reaction limitations. If a collision occurs, someone did something wrong and justice is deserved.

  2. Spoken just like a lawyer. Burying us with legal buzzwords, huh?

    Bottom line is the State Legislature has the authority to craft a new law that criminalizes the death or injury of a person via misuse of a motor vehicle — misuse being defined as an act or omission that is in violation of the traffic code.

    1. Uh… We’re talking about creating a law. Not sure if you’ve noticed, but Lawyers are kinda knowledgeable about those law things. Specialists and all.

      Shouldn’t we know what the current laws cover to better craft this law? Maybe there is already a law that might cover this that would mean just requiring the cops to enforce the current laws without having to go through the cost and legislative process.

      You should be thanking Scott for helping you and your cause by explaining the current situation and for helping Martin with a small mistake.

  3. What if a pedestrian wearing dark clothes at night darts out between two parked cars into oncoming traffic and is hit? Is that negligent, let along aggravated negligence? There are jury instructions defining criminal, aggravated, and ordinary negligence. You can look them up. And yes, the legislature can pass this law, but it shouldn’t.

    1. Yes, so clearly in the case with the absolute maximum fault of the pedestrian, the driver ought not to go to jail. Nice straw man. What about all the cases where the driver is speeding, or talking on a cell phone, or the pedestrian is in a crosswalk?

    2. How about the more likely scenario that a old person was cross a street at night and the drive was listening to music loudly and texting on their phone. The driver didn’t see the woman and stuck her.

    3. If the pedestrian “darts out between two parked cars” he’s by definition not in a legal crosswalk and is himself in violation of the traffic code. My point remains, an “accident” caused by an inattentive driver hitting a pedestrian lawfully on the City street can and should be criminalized.

  4. We,ve all been scared to death at some point driving a car, when you come upon pedestrian or cyclist wearing all black, and the bike has no reflective gear. Even at the speed limit or less, they come from out of knowwhere.
    Unfortunately, some of them get hit. The negligence is on the part of the cyclist in those cases.

    1. That’s a pretty good indication the speed limit should be reduced on bike corridors.

    2. “Unfortunately, some of them get hit”

      It sounds like you are talking about some kind of animal, not human beings.

    3. Try this one: a cyclist using more than the legally-required lights and reflectors is hit by a motorist who “just didn’t see him.”

      The police investigation determines that maybe the driver could have seen him, but it’s not fair to assume he *should* have seen him, since he wasn’t also using a reflective safety vest and accessory lighting beyond those required by law. Ergo, no negligence on the part of the driver, since he didn’t fail to see something he should have seen.

      If a cyclist has the legally-required light and reflectors, motorists should be expected to see that cyclist. If that’s not enough conspicuity, change the law to require more, don’t make the cyclist guilty of obeying the law.

  5. Scott’s right. The problem here is not a legal one, it’s a political one: the laws are on the books to prosecute people for negligent driving. Problem is, if the DA starts enforcing them too stringently, he (she?) runs the risk of alienating citizens who feel sympathy for the driver.

    Change the culture to blame reckless drivers and you’ll start seeing negligence laws being enforced.

  6. In many western countries, the car is automatically at fault in a car-bike or car-pedestrian collisions.

    At the same time in some of these countries, a truck will always be at fault in a car-truck collision.

  7. Can the facts used here for a new law be any sloppier? National numbers that include injuries to drum up support for a law that only applies to deaths? If this is meant just to appeal on an emotional level (Carnage, car-centered), let’s not bother with trying to list facts. If we’re trying to support this on a logical level as well, let’s also have some pertinent facts.

    Since the law will be changed locally, let’s have some local numbers:
    * Out of those “almost 500 injured or killed”, how many are in Washington state?
    * Out of those injured or killed in Washington, how many were actually killed in the last year in our state?
    * Out of those drivers that killed a pedestrian or cyclist in Washington, how many were given the weak “traffic ticket” and would have been charged with the new stiffer law?

    Are we creating a law that would have seen jail time for anyone last year? 1-2 people? Dozens? A hundred?

    Out of curiosity:
    * Would this new law be similar to how bicycle-ped, bicycle-bicycle and bicycle-car deaths are treated? If I hit and kill someone while cycling, how am I punished?

    1. I don’t think read the post.

      “According to the CBC, almost 500 pedestrians and bicyclists a year are killed or critically injured by automobiles in Washington.”

      From the link.

      “Each year in Washington state, nearly 500 pedestrians and bicyclists are killed or critically injured by motor vehicles.”

      1. Thanks, Adam. The version of this post I read did not have “in Washington”. This was added in after publishing or their RSS feed is truncating sentences.

        That answers 1 of my 4 questions. Would you or anyone else have answers to any of the other three?

        ===============
        * Out of those [edited] 500 injured or killed in Washington, how many were actually killed in the last year in our state?
        * Out of those drivers that killed a pedestrian or cyclist in Washington, how many were given the weak “traffic ticket” and would have been charged with the new stiffer law?

        Out of curiosity:
        * Would this new law be similar to how bicycle-ped, bicycle-bicycle and bicycle-car deaths are treated? If I hit and kill someone while cycling, how am I punished?

      2. If I was able to attend I would answer all of your questions with exact figures. Here are my thoughts though.

        – 500 injured or seriously injured. Is any number acceptable? Does a lesser number of dead make it more okay? I hope not.

        – In the incident that I have read about I have not heard of a driver going to jail except in cases when they are intoxicated. Call that a very informal poll. Studies show that drivers are responsible for 90% of bicycle/car accidents (http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/08/cyclists-cause-10-percent-of-accidents.php).

        – Your last point implies that bicyclist are crazy, law breaking cyclist that go around killing pedestrians and drivers. I see you curiosity but this is a trivial point that should be addresses but is much less important that bicycle/car accidents where cyclist are injured or killed.

        I find it important to underline that we are talking about people, human being that are killed. When a driver is killed everyone says how sad it is. When a bicyclist is killed everyone assumes that the bicyclist was at fault and that it what was coming to them. This logic makes me sick. Since when has your mode of transport determined how human you are?

      3. Adam,

        – A number was put forth to help make the argument that this law is needed. The goal of this meeting would be to create/change a law for drivers who kill cyclists / peds, not a “Please stop injuring or killing” PSA. So, my question is still there. How many of the 400-500 mentioned are actually killed? The number won’t make their deaths less sad or more sad. If the number isn’t important, why is CBC / this post mentioning one?

        – The cases you’ve heard are sad. Though, I’m sure the local data is available to CBC so we can understand the gravity of the case and not having to rely on studies in Toronto or anecdotal, informal polls. Wouldn’t it be better to have a local Seattle or Wash. state link about how many car-bike accidents are caused by bikes than to have to send folks out to a Canadian study?

        – My last point did not imply anything. You inferred something I was not trying to convey. If we are writing a law to punish drivers who do this, why not model it on an existing law for at-fault cyclists who kill others? If there isn’t one, why not do the right thing and just use “drivers and cyclists” when this new law is created? You would agree someone killed by a cyclist is still a human being and there should be punishment for the killer, no?

      4. Absolutely; a rider should have the same relative responsibility as does a driver. The good news is that bicycle-pedestrian crashes almost never result in the death of the pedestrian or the rider. The bicycle and rider have much less mass creating momentum to be delivered to the pedestrian than even a small and light motorcycle and usually lower speeds.

        So I for one am willing to lock up the one or two bicyclists who kill a pedestrian every decade if I can also lock up the hundreds of drivers who do as well. I can’t speak for the others, but I bet they’d agree.

      5. As I said above I don’t pretend to have the factual answers to your questions. I was merely commenting on them.

        Also I’m sorry that I’m emotional about these issue but if you are a regular cyclist you most likely have very strong views about this, simply because I can be killed by the simple negligence of a driver.

        We talk a lot on STB about transportation issues but very few topics have such high stakes as this.

      6. At least four Seattle cyclists were struck and killed in 2009 thus far.

        Is this too low of a number for you to think that anything needs to be done?

      7. Of those four, how many drivers were issued “just a traffic ticket” and would have instead been arrested under the proposed law?

    2. Can the facts used here for a new law be any sloppier?

      I’m not sure how you think that a three-paragraph blog post, linking to a blurb about a forum involving lawmakers and the City Attorney, is being “used here for a new law.” I stated the simple fact that lots of people are killed and injured by cars, and that there seems to be little legal punishment for this. It’s not a white paper!

      What’s needed is a change in mindset by drivers to stop acting like they own the road and to instead be aware that there are softer “targets” around them. Serious penalties for not paying attention would be a good start.

      If you want the detailed facts on this phenomenon perhaps you should go the forum.

      1. I asked here because you posted it here. You passed on a number and I asked questions about it… This issue is obviously of interest to you and you are advocating for this, so why not discuss what you wrote on STB in the comments of the post you wrote?

        Since this is driving you on an emotional level and not on a logical level, maybe you can just skip using facts to bolster an argument that something must be done and stick with the emotional appeal. I think your advocacy for this would have been just as effective without repeating CBC’s misapplied numbers to this (and then bolding the number to bring our attention to it).

        This blog obviously has quite a few cycle-centric readers (and bloggers) who may be able to answer the questions I asked. I didn’t ask them thinking they were logic puzzles or unanswerable. I didn’t ask to say “This law is teh suq”.

        I asked to because the number you wrote in your blog post essentially said “almost 500 of X and Y happened, so we need a law that would punish a subset those who caused Y”. So… What’s the number of Y (killed) and how big is the subset (drivers who are only getting tickets) of those who caused Y (killed cyclists and peds). If that number isn’t important, then the “almost 500” isn’t either. (and no matter the number, it is sad when someone is killed, regardless of fault or punishment under the law)

        Already, we’ve learned in the comments four cyclists were killed in Seattle alone this year by drivers, though not how many would be charged under the new law proposed and it only covers Seattle and not all of Washington. Though it is not quite as attention-getting as “almost 500“.

      2. You didn’t just “ask for more numbers”, you accused it of being “sloppy”. In the post I provided one statistic and cited a souce. I’m sorry that anything aside from a total casualty breakdown amounts to an “emotional” appeal to you. No one is suggesting that the other numbers “aren’t important”, we just don’t have the numbers handy. As I said, it’s a blurb, not a white paper on bicycle safety.

        Why do you think the numbers are “misapplied”? Do you think the CBC is advocating tough penalties for fatalities but not for critical injuries?

        My “advocacy” for this is limited to enthusiasm for tougher penalties that break the culture of impunity that surrounds drivers, demonstrated by many anecdotes. I have no expertise on what specific changes are needed, which is one reason I find this symposium interesting!

      3. I said the facts used to bolster your assertion were sloppy. And they were. Apparently you recognized the need to edit the post to correct the negligent manslaughter and clarify with “in Washington”. And, that’s the best part of a blog… You can edit, clarify and refine your post.

        You own your words. You regurgitated a CBC talking point and that talking point does not logically address the argument. When the Seattle Times writes crap without thinking or applying logic (“Light Rail is hitting cars!”), there’s a rightful dogpile on the Seattle Times.

        I’m not saying you’re a bad person or that drivers should be allowed to run people over willy-nilly with no consequences. I’m not saying that this law is unnecessary.

        Maybe it would have been better if I had started off every comment with “Yes, it’s bad to kill or injure people, no matter what the reason/excuse and no matter if the victim is driving, riding or walking.”

        What I wonder isn’t as to what drives CBC to do what it does, rather 1) is there a problem (only traffic tickets for drivers who kill lawfully behaving peds & cyclists) and 2) do we already have laws that address this? If people aren’t killing peds & cyclists and then getting off with just a ticket, then why do we need to create another law? If we already have an applicable law and the local police aren’t enforcing it, adding another law to not be enforced is futile.

      4. The “in Washington” omission was a typo. I reject the idea that the other facts were sloppy. Not being a lawyer, I was using negligent manslaughter as a colloquial term. When presented with more precise legal information, I changed it to avoid the confusion. I don’t think anyone misunderstood what I was saying.

        Judging from the group at the panel, it’s reasonable to assume that changes in the law would be helpful. If your point is that it’s necessary to increase de facto penalties but you aren’t sure of the correct administrative/legal route to achieve that, well sure, I agree with you.

        Is that what you’re saying?

      5. Here’s a different take on this — relatively few pedestrians are actually killed by the current epidemic of incompetent driving. But for every one that is killed, many more narrowly avoid being hit.

        In a perfect world, we could simply impound the vehicles of everyone who runs stop signs, fails to leave clearance when passing, or drives too fast for conditions. Our roads would quickly be much safer, more pleasant, and less congested. (Average traffic speeds might even increase after eliminating the drivers most likely to cause accidents that block traffic.)

        But this isn’t a perfect world, and there’s nowhere near the political will needed to stop another 9/11 this month, next month, and the month after. Politically, we’re still quite willing to tolerate slaughter that would be a national emergency from any other cause.

        So we have to start small, with modest punishment for the most egregious offenders, in the hope that this will directly address a small part of the problem, and possibly serve as a deterrent to the many motorists who avoid killing people through luck rather than caution.

    3. About 5000 pedestrians are killed in the US by cars every year. We have a slightly lower than average rate of pedestrian fatalities (and about average population) so probably a little under 100 pedestrians are killed by cars every year in Washington.

    1. I’m really not a fan of those posts… seems extremely distasteful, to use people’s deaths solely for a political purpose, especially under the distasteful headline “The Weekly Carnage.”

      1. Well, for those of us with long memories (or who read history), the major cause for the turn against Lyndon Johnson’s and Richard Nixon’s war in Viet Nam was the tv coverage of the carnage caused by the US and the sight of the body bags and flag draped coffins coming back to the US in transport aircraft. The death of several hundred thousand Vietnamese soldiers and civilians plus tens of thousands of US and “Allied” troops were politocal in every way one can define the word. Unnecessary and unpunished death at the hands of others, whether on the battlefield or at the hands of careless, inattentive and aggressive drivers of automobiles and lax police/presecutorial work on our streets IS political, always.

      2. I find killing these people somewhat beyond distasteful.

        Yet most motorists are quite content to ignore the very real carnage that happens every day on American roads.

        If Dunne was correct that the role of reporting is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, then drawing attention to the absolute mundanity of death on the road is surely in the great tradition of journalism.

        It’s not supposed to make you comfortable, it’s supposed to make you think.

      3. It’s really the only way to counter the false impression created by the media. A handful of people die in a Metro crash, and it’s front page news nationwide. Meanwhile, far more people are killed all the time on the nation’s highways with barely a peep.

    2. I’ll add a little more fuel: the driver of any vehicle (bike, motorcycle, auto, truck, bus) who kills a pedestrian crossing a street in a marked cross-walk at any time other than against a traffic signal or on a sidewalk or outside the paved roadway, including the breakdown lane or who kills a bicyclist operating in the direction of the flow of traffic in a marked bike lane should be guilty of a negligence so great that she or he is liable for life imprisonment.

      A driver who permanently maims someone to the degree of loss of a limb or a sense (eyesight or hearing) should be guilty of a negligence of such degree that she or he is liable to imprisonment for a minimum of five years.

      Twenty-five years ago drivers in Seattle would never turn in front of a pedestrian crossing at a marked cross-walk. In fact, most would wait for people crossing at the “virtual” cross-walk implicitly defined at each intersection. Today, they roar around the corner regularly, missing people by a couple of feet or even inches. No requirements for dress or ornamentation by the pedestrian should exist.

      Such egregious bullying should expose them to the full force of the law, but there is almost never a police officer to see a “safe” execution of this brutality. It remains for the unsuccessful executions which actually lead to an execution to bear a sufficiently heavy penalty to act as a deterrent.

      1. For clarity, when I wrote “including the breakdown lane” I intended it to mean that a breakdown lane is excluded from the area of automatic negligence. That is, it may or may not be non-negligent for someone to run over a pedestrian in the breakdown lane depending on the circumstances. It should not automatically assumed to be negligent as would a death in any of the other three instances.

        Public safety and EMT drivers should be exempted because they often cross intersections against traffic signals and a pedestrian assuming she or he has the right of way might be hearing impaired and not be aware of the looming emergency vehicle.

      2. If you’re thinking “wow, this really puts the blame on drivers”, that is exactly what I intend. If a motorcraft runs down a sailboat and someone on the sailboat dies, the on person steering the powerboat is considered at fault. Because sailboats have little “way”, they have little ability to avoid other craft.

        The same is true of vehicles and pedestrians: the pedestrians can’t get out of the way of a vehicle at 35 mph, so the drivers of vehicles must bear a greater responsibility for vehicle-pedestrian accidents which happen in a location from which the vehicle is at least temporarily barred.

  8. Last year I witnessed a pedestrian killed by a driver. While the pedestrian was j-walking, the driver was going at least twice the speed limit, and I suspect he was distracted as he didn’t hit the brakes until he was a few feet away. Because the pedestrian (a homeless man) was j-walking, the authorities didn’t do any investigation beyond establishing that fact. They didn’t even bother to interview most of the witnesses. While on the one hand I felt outraged that the dead man’s life was treated so insignificantly and that the driver was easily absolved after being so reckless, on the other hand I felt sympathy for the driver. After all, I could imagine myself accidently killing someone while driving if I didn’t expect them to be in the street and I was momentarily distracted.

    I think this gets to the heart of the problem. Because we see the need for automobiles as essential (hell, not even a necessary evil, but a positive good–automobiles are the very givers of our freedom, right?), their use is ubiquitous, despite being incredibly dangerous machines. Thus we are forced into an unstated social contract that, hey, shit happens. We can’t confront the danger of automobiles any more than we can’t seriously confront their environmental and social destructiveness, because the whole system wouldn’t work without them. Thus, we are all complicit when someone is killed by an automobile, because we have accepted that the ends justify this unfortunately consequence of the means.

    Would that this would make us more contemplative about our way of life, rather than pushing us more and more into passive acceptance of the tragic reality.

    1. I can’t imagine myself killing someone on the road in that way, and therefore cannot sympathize with the driver, because I drive within the speed limit. I, too, have seen someone (a motorcycle rider) killed on the road, and after that experience I drive like people’s lives depend on me. They do.

      1. Bully for you, but it’s still possible to kill someone while going the speed limit. It’s also possible to kill someone while being careful, or while driving defensively. It’s a lovely idea that if we all obey the law, nobody gets hurt, but it’s just an idea.

        The reality is exactly what NJL said. This is the social contract we have entered into. If more people read the fine print on that contract and understood the gravity of the situation, the roads would be a better place.

      2. I can’t sympathize with that driver, because as NJL said, “the driver was going at least twice the speed limit.” Therefore, I can’t imagine killing someone in that way – one that involves twice the speed and exponentially more energy. I sympathize with those who kill someone in the circumstances you’ve described, afurrica, but those aren’t what NJL said happened. Twice the speed limit is just plain wrong.

    2. NJL, I think you hit the nail on the head: automobile-related accidents are considered unfortunate but unavoidable. I used to wonder how people could handle getting on an airplane early last century or an ship even earlier when there was such a high chance of an accident. Of course if there’s no choice, we tend to discount the risk.

      But there is an option in the city. Vulnerable users like bicyclists and pedestrians create negligible risk by themselves, but are disproportionately hurt in an accident no matter whose fault. They’re paying the price for others’ convenience.

  9. We have those same bike stencils on some of our streets, marking bike routes. It seems weird to me that most signed bike routes aren’t along streets with bike lanes or sharrows and most streets with bike lanes or sharrows aren’t a signed bike route… They should coordinate those more to encourage people to use the bike-laned streets.

    1. Unfortunately, there’s often a conflict between where roads departments decide to put bike lanes and where cyclists are safe riding if they need to go somewhere.

      Many segregated bicycle facilities aren’t really built for safe, efficient transportation, they’re built to get bicycles off the road for the convenience of motorists. Many bicycle lanes continue to ignore basic traffic safety rules, putting cyclists squarely in the door zone of parked cars, for example, or channeling bikes to the right of right-turning traffic. (You should try the truly horrifying sidewalk bicycle lanes in Kent some time — up on the sidewalk, out of sight of motorists looking for traffic conflicts, running across driveway cuts and under landscaping trees. Contrary to all sorts of well-documented safety standards, but there they are anyway.)

      When bike lanes don’t go where people need to go, or don’t go there safely, don’t expect cyclists to inconvenience and endanger themselves for the convenience of motorists.

      Sharrows, on the other hand, are supposed to be a reminder to motorists that yes, bicycles are legal vehicles, and you should drive expecting to see bicyclists in the traffic lane. In general, sharrows are placed on routes where cyclists already ride because they’re good routes for cycling. Sharrows have no dividing line, they don’t set aside any particular part of the street for cyclists — they’re a reminder to share the road.

      1. Hm interesting argument, advocating sharrows instead of bike lanes. One idea that looks really cool is the bicycle boulevard concept. I think there’s a Streetfilm about the ones in Berkeley, and I believe we’re planning them in a few places as part of the bicycle master plan. The basic idea is that cars and bicycles, as well as pedestrians, share the street, but it is oriented towards bicycles.

      2. I’d be perfectly happy to have bike lanes if they were safe and went where I needed to go.

        But making a safe bike lane requires more real estate than is politically feasible on most city streets. One of the most hazardous places to ride a bike is within the door zone of parked cars.

        If on-street parking is allowed on a street, the bike lane should start at least twelve feet from the curb.

        If you want a safe bike lane next to on-street parking, you basically end up dedicating the entire right lane to bicycles, which isn’t politically tenable.

        Alternatively, you could take away the on-street parking, replace it with a bike lane, and have a safer street with better visibility and a wider right general-purpose lane than before. But try that most places and see how easily people give up their socialized parking.

        So really the politically-acceptable alternatives are dangerous bike lanes or bikes in the general-purpose lane.

  10. I read in a guidebook for China published in 2001 a very strong caution against renting a car. It basically said that in such a crazy driving situation, in which tourists are likely to be confused, so choked not only with vehicular traffic but also pedestrians and bikes, the likelihood that you would hit someone is reasonably high. And that in some of the urban areas there, the one thing that causes people to flip out is when a car hits a pedestrian – it’s not unknown for people to be dragged out of their cars and beaten (rare, though, I would assume – guidebooks sometimes make mountains out of molehills).

    Anyway, I’m not suggesting we start committing vigilante justice against people who run over pedestrians with their cars. That note in my guidebook could simply be a little bit of an indication about whose side your average Joe is on in that culture – the correct side.

  11. Will STB be attending the CNU transportation summit in Portland in early November? I believe Thursday 10/15 is the last day for early registration.

  12. I am neither a bicyclist nor a driver – I am however an avid pedestrian and what I see and experience every day scares me. The fact that people drive as if there are no consequences is at least partially due to the fact that there are basically NO CONSEQUENCES. When I come across a driver that accelerates towards me while I’m in a crosswalk both I and that driver know that there is no way I could ever realistically lodge a complaint about that. We both also know that if worst comes to worst that they have the total freedom to kill me and metaphorically wipe me off their shoe after the fact by blaming the victim or claiming they saw nothing. So yeah, I say lets scare the s*&^ out of drivers by valuing life for a change and actively punishing those that recklessly destroy.

  13. Curious how the “personal mobility” mantra acquits the auto driver in conflicts vs. peds/bikes, but it doesn’t stop there. Look at light-rail critics who oppose Link because the trains pose a hazard to drivers who run red lights and make illegal turns. Imagine how they’d scream about peds/bikes if autos didn’t win every encounter between the modes.

    This country seems to find it acceptable that 40,000 people die every year in the pursuit of personal mobility happiness. That mindset is proving difficult to change. But it’s a terrible tradeoff, so try we must.

  14. This might be a little clearer if we look at it from another angle- if you want to kill someone in Washington state, and you can figure out how to do it with your car, they can’t put you in jail for more than a year.

    About a month ago, a woman tried to run down a pedestrian in a parking lot. Not a case of lapsed attention, but of murderous rage and an obvious attempt to run down her intended victim. Numerous witnesses got the license plate number and the police tracked her down.

    Turned out she had already murdered someone in a parking lot by running them down about seven years ago, served her year in prison, and was now out on the streets, free to kill again.

    IMHO, cars make people do things they would never otherwise do. I no longer think of it as people driving cars, but as cars driving people.

      1. All I can say is that it was local, a grocery store parking lot, and in one of the Seattle dailies just recently. Maybe someone like Danny Westneat would have it filed in his memory-bin of odd stories. There was a shopping cart involved in some way.

        Pretty weird, huh?

  15. As a regular bicycle commuter I am well aware of the dangers of being on the same road as cars. For the most part I find drivers reasonably courteous if you act like a responsible bicyclist/driver.

    For my part, I am the most visible thing on the road that they are likely to encounter on the way. That’s a 55mph highway flagger’s vest, a 400L flashing red, a 1/2 watt flashing red, another 9 old LED flashing reds for the rear, 15 W flashing white on the helmet and I’ve recently added some blue flashing stuff. If you hit me, you are really blind. I’ve also got two mirrors, one on the eye glasses and another on the handlebars. I can see you coming up and I’m watching to see what you do when you get closer to me, to know whether I need to make a dive for the curb. I do not wear ear buds with music so I can also hear you coming.

    On the penalties: Prison for 5 years killing me seems a bit harsh. But just a traffic ticket is too light.

  16. We’ll never keep our roads safe until we can hold drivers accountable. In addition to the obvious problem of low penalties for drivers who kill people, there is a huge resistance to taking people’s license away for negligent driving. If a driver’s excuse for causing even a fender-bender is that s/he was distracted or that s/he didn’t see the other party, that person’s license should be revoked: on the spot, hail a cab, car gets towed. If you cannot stay focused on the task at hand (controlling a 1 ton-plus death machine) you should not be allowed to do so.

    As my friend Jon asked, Where are all the “personal responsibility” conservatives on this one?

    1. Also, as a cyclist, I’m not worried about applying this law to the two-wheeled-contraption operators for the same reason stated earlier. Even with all the brakeless-fixie-riding, scofflaw hipsters running red lights and stop signs, nearly all auto/bike collisions are shown to be the fault of the auto driver- either because of distraction or because of running stop signs, turning without looking, and other failures to yield. It’s also really difficult to kill someone with a bicycle (at least while riding it)

      1. Actually, about 30 years ago a pedestrian was killed crossing the street by the SE corner of the U of W HUB. The cyclist was probably going about 30 mph and got up and rode away, becoming a hit-and-run driver sought by the police. The pedestrian died almost instantly.

      2. I think you’ve reinforced the original post — a hit and run bicyclist killing a pedestrian was so unusual that you remember it 30 years later. It’s hard to remember just how many car accidents I pass in a week, let alone a decade.

  17. I am startled by the tone of many posters, who seem to be interested in vengeance more than productive solutions. Does anyone really believe that even if we threw every driver who killed a pedestrian in jail that it would lead to appreciably fewer deaths?

    The problem here is that motorists rarely encounter cyclists or pedestrians on many roads, so they do not expend much effort in looking for them. Despite many drivers not expecting pedestrians, planning departments have not chosen to give pedestrians safer ways to move from point A to point B.

    In my opinion, ideally we would give cyclists routes through the city completely separated from automobile traffic. While using these routes may increase the travel time of cyclists, I think it would be a viable solution.

    1. I agree. It’s just an anecdote but the segregated bicycle (and bus) route on 3rd Ave during commute hours cuts a huge amount of time off of my commute back to the train station.

      That bike lane they put in on 2nd is *terrifying*. Left turns across the green stuff? Green means “go” right? Getting doored on the passenger side of a car? Passengers do not have a (good) facility to check for traffic approaching from the rear. And if you enter the vehicle lanes you get cussed out and run off the road.

      I agree that in most cases the agenda with putting in a bike lane is to get bikes out of the road for the convenience of motorists. If there’s a bike lane there then motorists assume you have no reason to be in “their” lanes. I will go miles out of my way to avoid that 2nd Ave bike lane in particular.

    2. Seattle has enough roads and streets already.

      If Basho is proposing closing roads to cars and trucks and converting them to bicycles and pedestrians, that might be a good idea. Building another set of roads for bicycles is just another way of saying you don’t want to do anything, because we all know an additional set of bicycle roads will never be built.

      Why are we so effing stupid that we can’t learn a lesson that could be taught to 8-year olds riding 24″ Schwinns? Bicycle, take a half a lane. Driver, give the bicycle a half a lane. The law that’s already on the books and only needs effective enforcment.

  18. Jail time may be too drastic, fines may not be a good deterrent. But mandatory community service, especially picking up trash next to major arterials, is perfect.

    1. I think sending careless drivers to the penitentiary is probably silly. But a long-term revocation of a drivers license and/or impounding of the auto seems to address the public safety issue of having these people on the roads.

      1. A more modest proposal: every conviction for a moving violation, no matter how minor, should result in license suspension until the driver passes the driver licensing written and driving tests again.

        This combines the nuisance/punitive factor of license suspension with mandatory re-training/re-testing.

        Apply it to every moving violation, not just those committed against pedestrians and cyclists — innocent motorists don’t deserve to be killed or maimed, either.

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