Monday, March 31, 2014

When did we start blaming pedestrians for being hit by cars?

A colleague in Montana circulated this article that explains the history of how we view pedestrian fatalities.

It used to be that motorists that hit or killed pedestrians were viewed in the same way as someone who drive a motorcycle down a crowded hallway: That's just not acceptable. You shouldn't operate a large, fast, heavy machine in a place where there are a lot of people.

A typical busy street scene on Sixth Avenue in New York City shows how pedestrians ruled the roadways before automobiles arrived, circa 1903. Via Shorpy.

Now we just expect that pedestrians will stay out of the way of cars.

There are so many good quotes in the article, I won't even start to pick them out. But the old news stories, cartoons, and ads are also well worth the click. It follows the change in our society from drivers needing to watch for pedestrians, through changes in attitudes brought about in part by the auto industry; how traffic controls developed; and the history of traffic safety, including ad campaigns that target unsafe behavior.

In the Netherlands - which arguably has the highest bicycle mode split in the world - there is strict liability on the driver's part if s/he hits a bicyclist or pedestrian. That is, a collision is assumed to be the fault of the driver, and the circumstances when the driver is not considered 100 percent at fault are very narrow.

Strict liability is the law in all but five European Union countries, and there is a campaign to change the law in the UK. In the U.S., we struggle to pass Vulnerable User Laws.

Just after reading that article, I saw two items on our local TV news website about kids being hit by cars. One was a child that rode his bike out into the street from a driveway. And the driver didn't even stop! The other was a child killed when he ran out from between two parked cars. Both happened on residential streets.

Sure, these days, we think, "Well, those parents should watch their kids. The kids should learn that they have to be careful and stay out of the street."

But as the article about the history of pedestrians and motor vehicles in public roadways points out, streets are public spaces, and it used to be that drivers were expected to watch out for other road users, including people walking on the public right of way. We used to realize that kids are to be expected in residential areas.

We even allow drivers to break the law with impunity, as long as it's just a little bit breaking the law. Everyone assumes that "5 over" is OK for speeding, and the police generally won't write a ticket if you are not more than "10 over." If a driver is going below the speed limit, s/he is considered a menace and a freak.

What difference does 5 mph make? Well, a pedestrian hit at 20 mph has a 95 percent chance of surviving. A pedestrian hit at 40 mph has an 15 percent chance of surviving.

30,000 people are killed by motor vehicles every year in the U.S.: drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, passengers, etc. Any other product with that kind of safety record would be pulled from the store shelves within a day. Yet we let the carnage continue year after year. When is will we say, "Enough!"?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

From the "less waste" files

A short blog to get back in the habit of writing. [edit: It started as a short blog, but obviously, I am not capable of "short." No jokes about my stature, please.] I've been busy with my work, which also involves quite a bit of writing and social media content, so I've neglected my own writing. But I'm going to try to post shorter pieces just for the sake of getting the thoughts out of my head and on to the page. After all, that's why I write this: To clean out the thoughts rattling around screaming, "Write me down!"

On to a few short items about putting sending less stuff to the landfill. It's sort of a personal challenge to me to see how little stuff I can put in the garbage. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

1. Why is it so difficult for even smart, well-educated, Madisonians - i.e. people who should know how to recycle and why it's important - to figure out how to out a bottle or can in the recycling bin? I work at the UW, and pretty much every hallway has blue bins prominently labeled as "bottles and cans" or ""paper and newspapers" at each end of the hall. There are also recycling bins in many offices and break rooms. Yet I consistently find cans and bottles in the trash.

I'm not going through the trash looking for these things. I'm walking down the hall to the bus, and there outside an office is a small bin to be emptied by the cleaning crew: Plastic shrink wrap from a shipment, take-out container, coffee cup, a few napkins or paper towels, an apple core, and a soda can or bottle. Why? Why is it so tough to put that can or bottle in the container just steps away?

2. On a more positive note, I recently was reminded of Terracycle, a service that will take a lot of items that might either be cluttering up your house or going in the trash. They will turn your trash and clutter into either new items or rehabilitate what you send: Pens that don't work, old shoes, wrappers from energy bars, cereal and cracker bags, Britta filters, toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes, and lots more. It has eased my conscience to be able to bring those things in to work and have a place to recycle them instead of tossing them in the trash, or worse, hanging on to them out of guilt. ("Yeah, that pen doesn't really work very well, but it works sometimes, I shouldn't just throw it out. And that old toothbrush could be used to clean my bike or for other cleaning jobs. I should hang on to that.)

Someone in our office collects all the stuff and sends it in once a month. Terracycle will even send you the shipping label. If you have enough of certain items, you can designate a charity to receive a small donation. I'm sorting through all the old pens that don't work, the worn our shoes, and saving my wrappers to send in.

3. As I was brushing my teeth yesterday, (Why do great ideas always come to us when we can't write them down?) I started thinking about the beer bottle caps I'd been saving for a friend. He had told me that someone he knew was collecting as many types of bottle caps as he could. My friend knows that I like to try out different beers, so I might have a wide variety of breweries I could contribute. So I have a small bar of caps to give to him.

But then I started thinking about all the other bottle caps I'm throwing away. They are metal, so why can't they be recycled? So, being a good researcher, I Googled it. The first page I found was very useful - with photos! It said that metal bottle caps are steel, and can be recycled, but not just thrown into the bin as is. The problem is that they are very small, so they fall through the screens at the sorting center [video of how they sort materials with machines - actually pretty cool] and the caps never make it to the magnet that picks up steel. Recycling Week confirmed the problem and the solution.

But these two pages suggested a solution, which City of Madison Recycling Guru George Dreckmann confirmed is the way to go. (I was sort of proud of the fact that I actually provided him with this solution, which he had not thought of.) Put the caps into a steel can - like the ones that hold soup, tomato sauce, canned veggies, etc. Crimp the top so that the caps don't fall out, and then put that whole thing into the recycling. It's all steel, and that whole can will be picked up by the magnets. Do NOT use an aluminum (soda) can, because that would be mixing different kinds of metal, which is a no-no.

4. Finally, I am constantly amazed by people that stop composting in the winter. I understand not wanting to hike to the back yard in deep snow and bitter cold - both of which I did this morning to reach the compost bin with my just-about-full kitchen container. But on the coldest days, you could just dump it into a bucket outside the back door until the snow melts or the temps get more reasonable. That's what I did every year until I forgot to empty said bucket of ready-to-use compost before winter descended.

And besides, I like being outside, and emptying the compost is a chance to follow the bunny tracks to the back of the yard to where I know they are hiding in the brush pile.

But most people seem to think that they can't compost because everything will freeze. And yes, most of the pile will freeze, but not all of it. You'd be surprised how much of the pile is actually not frozen, sitting there creating heat for whatever critter has crawled in. Besides, it will all thaw out eventually, and then all those coffee grounds, bits of veggies, and stale bread will be ready to start over.

Oh, and one more thing I've started throwing in the compost: Kleenex. I usually get one bad cold a year, usually in winter, and go through almost a whole box of tissues in a short period of time. And then there is the normal nose blowing from dry air and cold outdoor temperatures. Instead of throwing it in the trash, I pile it into the kitchen bins and then the backyard pile.

It all just disappears into the compost. I have yet to find any paper left when I'm ready to throw it into the garden. Corncobs will still be there, along with bits of tough stems and other plant material that takes longer to degrade. But that can just go back into the bin for another round.