Friday, June 9, 2017

Autoism Frames the Problem at Scott Elementary the Wrong Way

Ian Lockwood

It was great to see multiple discussions of the problem of safety for kids walking to and from school. Since it involves multiple cities, the school district, cherriots, and even the State of Oregon, effective solutions require coordination by multiple agencies.

At the same time, because we are so hung up on our autoist monoculture of driving as the mobility solution of first and only resort, and on allocating dollars for auto capacity expansion at the great expense of other forms of mobility and of safety, we land on feeble conclusions like "there is no funding available."

Commercial and Kuebler (click to enlarge)
When we allocate millions of dollars to projects like widening Commercial at Kuebler, or widening Wallace at Glen Creek, or committing to the Salem River Crossing, there is less money for protecting our children. There are trade-offs.

If you assume a mile of new sidewalk costs $500,000, $45 million a year would fund 90 miles of sidewalk. From here to Portland and back! If you assume an enhanced crosswalk with median and flashing beacons costs $200,000, $45 million a year would fund 225 of them.

Front pager on traffic violence
Our "revealed preference" as the economists say is to slight the safety of children - of all road users, in fact. That's the choice we actually make. We tolerate a shocking level of death and injury as an off-hand "cost" of driving and using the roads. Oh, we mourn this death and that death, mourn the individual deaths, but we do not extend the same passion - the suffering, and the determination - to look at the aggregate numbers of dead and the systems that exacerbate traffic violence. Most crashes are not actually "accidents," and were preventable.

What all these discussions of the problem at schools miss on is the idea that we should keep our commitment to driving intact, and make adjustments on the margins. But driving employs lethal force and is dangerous. Full stop.

If we are serious about student safety, and community safety more generally, we will want to reduce driving trips, reduce driving speeds, and allocate more resources to non-auto mobility. For safety, as well as the environment and livability, driving needs to be more of a mobility solution of last resort. Real student safety means a structural change, not merely cosmetic fiddling.


Susann Kaltwasser said...

Some years ago we had a section of road about two blocks long where a sidewalk was missing. We were concerned about children needing to walk to Swegle School. Everyone said there was no money. But we decided to get creative. First, we got a commitment from the City of Salem to provide supervision. Then we got a students from Chemeketa Community College who were learning about how to lay concrete to do the work. Finally, we got a local developer to donate the materials. Suddenly, a $100,000 project was done for about $15,000 and a safe sidewalk now exists in that area.

People need to think outside the box!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

DIY kinds of things are great! Glad you were able to bring that one in. But of course the problem is they don't scale. You can do a few projects like this, but it's very difficult to do tens or hundreds of them in this way. (In their embrace of "incrementalism" and DIY actions Strong Towns doesn't always grapple with the problem of scale.)