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August 05, 2012

Vehicular Bullies and a Failure of Decency: Pittsburgh's terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week

Pittsburgh is a nice place to live and a good place to be a bicyclist; in fact, Pittsburgh has received a Bronze Award as a Bike Friendly Community (BFC). This last week was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week of death and crime (but no punishment). For those unfamiliar:
  • Monday 7/30, Pittsburgh held a memorial ride and a ghost bike ceremony for James Price, a diabetic bicyclist run over by a driver and left to die alone on the 7500 block of Penn Avenue (fatal hit-and-run).
  • Tuesday 7/31 the driver of an SUV ran over bicyclist Anthony Green, on the 7700 block of Penn Avenue, and stopped after hitting a phone pole. Mr. Green died of his injuries. (fatal collision)
  • Wednesday 8/01 the mayor's office urged people to be careful and said an alternate bike route would be developed to get bikes off Penn Avenue.
  • Wednesday at Church Street and South Braddock in Swissvale, the driver of a truck hit a bicyclist and drove away from the scene. (non-fatal hit-and-run) Update: Intoxicated bicyclist ran a red light and ran into back of a truck. Driver didn't know, continued driving, returned when another motorist alerted him.
  • Thursday 8/02, a motorcycle police officer was riding Penn Ave. in response to the accidents. He was hit by the driver of an SUV. Uniformed policemen, official vehicle, blinking lights.
  • Friday 8/03, Driver flees scene after striking 6-year-old child on a bicycle in the 200 block of Alter Street, East Carnegie. (non-fatal hit-and-run)
  • Saturday 8/04, another cyclist hit by a driver in a hit-and-run, in the 2200 block of Perrysville Avenue in Perry North. (non-fatal hit-and-run)

Bicycle Apartheid and Vehicular Bullies

In the immediate response to the first two deaths on the same road, there was discussion of moving bikes off that street and of establishing alternate bike routes. Two widely different perspectives were communicated:
  • Here's the key quote from coverage of the Mayor's statement:
    After two bicyclists died after being struck by cars in recent days, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's office urged bicyclists to consider avoiding a section of Penn Avenue that runs through Point Breeze and Wilkinsburg.
    The mayor's office said bicyclists should consider exiting Penn at at Braddock Avenue and continuing to Meade Street. Pittsburgh has no legal authority to restrict bicycle traffic on Penn, a state-owned roadway.
  • An alternate view was expressed by PennDOT:
    "Motorists need to remember that bicyclists are extremely vulnerable," Steve Cowan, safety press officer for PennDOT District 11, said. "They have as much right to the road as you do in your car or in your truck or on your motorcycle."
Bicycle apartheid or removing bicycles "for their own good", is illegal, repressive, and rewards bullying behavior. Smells like "separate but equal".

Policy FAIL: Appeasing Bullies with Segregation for the Victim's Own Good

At a meta-level, this is an issue of responding to bullying. Will appeasing bad actors by segregating their victims help?

In Atlantic Cities, Sarah Goodyear writes about the objectification and diminishment of women, and attempts to protect women for their own good by establishing women-only train cars in India, Mexico, and Japan.
A woman writes that when she boarded a mixed-gender car, a man started crowding her suggestively. When she asked him to step back, he replied, "Why are you here? You should be in the women’s coach." She asserted her right to travel on the mixed coach, and things escalated.

Another man stepped in and got into a fistfight with the first one. The other passengers started yelling at the woman, blaming her for the problem. It was her fault for being there. Simply by being female in a public place, she had caused violence. She needed to go away.

The shaken woman ended her account this way: I’m AGAINST the separate coach for women. It is the most ridiculous solution the government came up with to ensure women travelers’ safety. Segregating men and women will never help anyone develop tolerance and respect for others’ PERSONAL SPACE.
Neither, I would add, will segregating cars and bikes.

Economic Patterns of Bike Friendliness: It's My Fault

I ride in Pittsburgh a few times a week: on the trails, on the streets, wherever. I am in the target demographic. All the new bike infrastructure and the associated bike friendliness have been deployed in places most likely to attract Me: the riverfront trails, the sharrows to gentrified neighborhoods with hipster cachet, coffee shops and cupcake boutiques — it's all about me. It's my fault.

The distribution of bike friendliness has followed the existing patterns of economic success and power, and that (unintentionally but nevertheless) mirrors patterns of race and class.

So our bike friendliness isn't evenly distributed. None of these accidents happened in the white-bread areas that have benefited from the attention of the last decade; they've occurred in the shabbier places that don't make the brochures.

It's a matter of essential decency

This last week shows that as a region (the incidents fall in several municipalities, but all are in the same County) we've lost the sense that there's a human being on that bike/motorcycle/walker, and being in a rush isn't worth killing somebody. There's a philosophical/moral problem at the root of it.

Certainly, there's a need for education, law enforcement, road calming etc - but there's a failure of decency.


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