Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Unsafe because of high speeds

Baltimore City has become an unsafe area. People may think first about gun violence that makes it so, but increasingly it is the lawlessness of reckless drivers. In the last few days two drivers killed themselves in high speed crashes right in or near downtown. Given that modern vehicles protect drivers pretty well at what are supposed to be urban speeds these crashes prove the extent of the problem. Pedestrians or bicyclists that could have been near would not have had a chance.

Downtown crash, the building gets hit regularly

Anybody who uses Baltimore streets whether on foot, on a bike, in a bus or by car knows how certain drivers flout the rules with blatant disregard of fairness or the well being of others. Red light running doesn't only occur right after the light changed but increasingly one can find drivers setting off to cross on a red light in the middle of the cycle, sometimes by squeezing ahead on a turn lane and then going straight through. Leaves one kind of speechless.

The urban speed limits of 30mph or 35mph mean nothing to most who think it is fine to go 50 or even 60mph no matter whether there are people walking or waiting at bus stops. Crosswalks in Baltimore don't protect pedestrians, whether they are placed at a traffic signal or not. Bicyclists are honked at and passed at high speed within inches. Worst of all, almost every driver is fiddling with a smart phone either for a conversation in which the phone is held in front of the mouth like a sandwich or is used for e-mail, texting or directions. People who are confused by the instructions of the Google maps lady erratically veer across lanes entirely oblivious to who else is out there.

Anyone who travels to other cities or countries knows that all these behaviors are by no means the price we have to pay for technology and progress.

Whether it is Portland, Fort Worth, San Diego or Seattle, Vancouver, Stuttgart or Copenhagen, there are plenty of places where the street is a more civilized place. where cars stop for pedestrians, red lights and merging buses. Why?

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I suppose we can bring up the usual litany of Baltimore dysfunction as the culprit but we could also take some very practical steps to change the culture.
Police cannot continue to turn a blind eye on traffic just because the gun mayhem has a higher priority. While the "broken window" approach of policing clearly brought about abuse and mass incarceration, there is a kernel of truth in its underlying assumption that smaller lawlessness begets bigger one. That incivility in the street easily ends up in a bigger disregard for others. Someone who dumps a whole bag of fast food trash into the street, drives down a red bus-only lane, turns right from the center lane and runs red lights is obviously of the mindset that laws mean nothing and that the rules are solely governed by how each wolf can get ahead the fastest.

The more people live together on tight spaces, the less such a mindset can be tolerated and the more civility is needed.

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I vote for traffic education in schools, for police enforcement of traffic rules and cellphone bans and for reactivation of all the dormant red light and speed cameras. I am sure enforcement will do miracles, especially if it is sustained. We sure have plenty of cops out there. They just have to lift their eyes of their own laptops and handheld devices and take notice of an issue that greatly diminishes quality of life in this city.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

1 comment:

  1. I know the initial redlight camera system was flawed, but it seems pretty obvious to bring it back. Most jurisdictions in the US have these in place. I wonder why the city is taking its time with this...