It's Time to Change the 'Natural State of Things' on Our Roads

Farhad Manjoo calls for inconveniencing drivers in order to save lives and the planet
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 23, 2022 6:10 PM CDT
Our Roads Are Unsafe for Non-Drivers by 'Choice'
Bicyclists, left, wait for the traffic light to turn as another cyclist passes through the intersection of 9th St. and 5th Ave., in the Park Slope neighborhood of New York, shortly after a bicyclist was struck by a vehicle there, on Feb. 28, 2016.   (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

After a 13-year-old bicyclist was fatally hit by a truck in Mountain View, Calif., police called it an "extremely tragic incident." The driver had legally turned right on a red light, just as Andre Retana fell off his bike in the crosswalk; he was in the construction truck's blind spot. But to call it a tragic accident is wrong, writes New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo. The busy intersection where the incident occurred "is an asphalt-and-concrete love letter to cars," he notes. There are no bike lanes. "Our roads are deadly because officials will still call the inevitable consequences of this ill-design a tragedy rather than a choice." And a choice it is, says Manjoo.

He questions why "the safety and convenience of drivers are seen as the natural state of things." Nonoccupants of vehicles are suffering. They accounted for 20% of traffic deaths in 2020, up from 16% in 2011. The good news is that states and cities can use $1.2 trillion in new infrastructure funding to reverse the trend by making "a radically different choice"—to add protected bike lanes and other safety measures. We also need to shrink the size of vehicles—"SUVs are significantly more deadly to pedestrians than sedans," Manjoo writes—halt speed limit increases, and perhaps disallow turns on a red light, which "might have changed Andre's fate." Basically, "we have to be willing to slightly inconvenience drivers to improve the roads for everyone else." (Read the full piece, which argues why doing so would also be good for the planet.)

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