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Posts from the "Out of Town" Category

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Virginia Cops Flag Injured Pedestrians for Interference

Car-free New Yorkers have plenty to worry about these days, what with their crazy notions of personal safety under attack from seemingly all sides. But police in Woodbridge, Virginia are upping the ante by ticketing pedestrians hit by drivers. Via Grist and TBD, photographer Jay Mallin tells the tale: two men, hit on the same day on the same road, both airlifted to the hospital, both cited for “careless interference with traffic.”

This story should be shocking, but it stands to reason that in an environment designed almost exclusively for driving, those outside the main will at best be disrespected or, more likely, treated with contempt. Former Streetsblog Network editor Sarah Goodyear, who wrote about the Mallin video for Grist, recently summed up Tom Vanderbilt’s theories on the topic of cyclists as the hated “other.” The same prejudices, of course, are directed at those on foot. “You can’t cross the street anywhere you want,” said Officer Jonathan L. Perok, spokesman for Prince William County Police. Regardless of whether the nearest crosswalk is anywhere in sight, or if the walk signal button works, or if you are elderly or physically disabled or can’t afford a car.

Mallin also quotes Vanderbilt, who says that to the average traffic engineer, pedestrians are like “little bits of irritating sand gumming up the works.” With this mindset as a given among figures of authority, to be ticketed for “jaywalking” while laid up in a hospital bed is not nearly as surprising as it is unjust.

In fact, the cynical among us might rightly point out that if the two men in Woodbridge had died from their injuries, it would have saved the cops the trouble of issuing any tickets at all.

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Trend Watch: Governments Ceding Control of Roads to Outlaw Drivers

Traffic cameras have spotted hundreds of thousands of drivers speeding on Arizona highways since the 2008 launch of an automated enforcement program. Yet the AP reports that what should be a highly successful safety measure is in danger of disappearing. The reason: Law-breaking motorists are staging what amounts to an insurrection against the state, and they might be getting the upper hand.  

maskedmoron.jpgTo some in Arizona, reckless deadbeats like this guy have attained folk hero status.
Though more than 700,000 tickets were issued to drivers going 11 miles per hour or more over the speed limit from September 2008 to September 2009, many drivers are refusing to pay their fines -- and officials appear to be siding with the law breakers. Even Governor Jan Brewer believes the program, initiated by her predecessor Janet Napolitano, was "created more as a revenue source," according to a spokesperson.

Lt. Jeff King, photo enforcement district commander for the state's Department of Public Safety, which includes the Arizona Highway Patrol, says his agency "just wanted drivers to go the speed limit and did not understand all the backlash."

"Instead of spending so much time focusing on getting rid of cameras, why don’t they focus on the real problem, the root problem, which is getting people to drive the speed limit?" Lieutenant King said. "If everyone was to drive the speed limit, the cameras would never flash."

Logic of this sort doesn't stand a chance in the face of anti-enforcement hysterics, including camera defacement and drivers donning disguises to conceal their identities. No matter that a camera operator was murdered last year; the culture of scofflaw motorist entitlement has taken on the air of a populist crusade.

Read more...
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Charles Diez Gets 120 Days for Shooting Cyclist in the Head

Charles Alexander Diez, the former North Carolina firefighter who shot cyclist Alan Simons in the head, has been sentenced to four months in jail.

diez.jpgDiez
In an Asheville courtroom last week, Diez pled guilty to shooting Simons during a July 26 roadside confrontation. Said to be upset that Simons was riding his bike with his 3-year-old child, Diez fired his .38 caliber pistol as Simons walked away after the two exchanged words. The bullet struck Simons' bike helmet, narrowly missing his skull. 

In August, a grand jury reduced charges against Diez from attempted first degree murder to felony assault. While assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill certainly sounds like an offense worthy of a lengthy prison term, the presiding judge apparently agreed that this was a case of a stand-up guy having a bad day. Mountain Xpress reports:

Convictions on such a charge result in an average 20-39 months in prison for the defendant. But in the sentencing, Superior Court Judge James Downs found that Diez’s military service, along with testimony from former colleagues about his good character, were mitigating factors, and chose to sentence him to 15-27 months instead. Downs suspended all but four months of that sentence unless Diez breaks the law again in the next 30 months.

Diez must also undergo anger management counseling and pay Simons $1,200 "for damage to his eardrum."

The slap on the wrist issued to Diez has some worried that authorities have pretty much declared open season on area cyclists. Asked Brian Jones, who along with his wife is a regular victim of harassment and worse at the hands of local motorists: "If a cyclist shot a fireman, judge or prosecuting attorney in his head, in front of his family, what sentence do you think he/she would receive."

The travesty in Asheville comes amid continuing reports of driver-on-cyclist violence, with, as Sarah noted this morning, recent incidents in Austin and Miami.

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Are We Smarter Than a Third Grader? On Livable Streets, Maybe Not.

The inspiring and, in a way, infuriating story of Elli Giammona popped up on the Streetsblog Network over the weekend.

MT.jpgLivable streets prodigy Elli Giammona. Photo: The Missoulian

Elli is a 9-year-old in Missoula, Montana who a couple of years ago began to question why she couldn't bike to school. When her mother explained that it wasn't safe because the road leading from their home to Hellgate Elementary -- a typical suburban arterial, from the looks of it -- didn't have a sidewalk, Elli took action.

With encouragement from her mom and the help of her younger sister and older brother, she petitioned Missoula County, gathering signatures and composing a letter explaining the benefits of a walkable Mullan Road. The Missoulian reports:

The letter is dated Jan. 14, 2009, around the time [county public works director Greg] Robertson was looking for a project eligible for American Reinvestment and Recovery Act dollars. Criteria? A quick turnaround, a project in the urban area, and one uncomplicated by problems like right-of-way negotiations and extra environmental reviews.

"Honestly, I didn't have any other projects for consideration at the time that would have met the criteria," he said.

Long story short: A new trail is expected to be finished in time for Elli to ride it to school next fall.

Not only has Elli made it safer for herself and her neighbors to ride a bike or take a walk, she's also made plain how completely the stars must align for something as simple as a car-free ribbon of asphalt to become reality. (Even now, the planned Missoula trail won't connect with the school because of right-of-way costs.) Just a few decades ago a kid riding or walking to school would be considered the epitome of American wholesomeness. Now it's a symptom of child neglect, in part because of infrastructure so obviously inhospitable that even a 7-year-old gets it.

Maybe, above all, Elli Giammona and her family have given us hope for a future in which full-grown adults get it too. One where it won't take an act of Congress to get a child to school safely.

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Instant Justice on the Streets of Sacramento

Here's another installment in what could ideally become a series on how police departments are doing right by pedestrians and cyclists. We posted the Chicago bike video a couple of weeks back. We now present the Sacramento crosswalk sting. (Warning: Insufferable Geico commercial may precede video.)

Back in April, TV station KCRA filmed a plainclothes Sacramento officer busting motorists who couldn't be bothered to yield the right of way. Notice how, though they cite the potential amount of the fine, neither the anchor nor the reporter ever intimate that the operation is a money-making scheme? Instead of sticking a mic in a driver's face for a quick-and-dirty accusation of extortion -- a near-must in most any mainstream media story about traffic enforcement -- the reporter is completely sympathetic to the pedestrians in harm's way, and rightly credits the officer for putting his life on the line.

Ben wrote earlier this year how similar measures could be effective here in New York. Wouldn't it be great if we could all point to a law-breaking vehicle and have NYPD swoop in?

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Key West: Florida’s Livable Streets Oasis

Small islands are often natural fits for car-free or car-reduced environments. Some take advantage, some don't. Based on my dozen or so visits over the last 13 years, most recently in July, I'd say Key West, Florida, falls mostly into the former camp.

In many ways, Key West is a prototypical American beach town. There are plenty of novelty t-shirt shops, the requisite seafood shacks, and a plethora of bars for sun-baked tourists to imbibe to the sounds of bad cover bands. But in addition to its noted architecture, the southernmost city in the contiguous U.S. is also home to a significant number of historic sites, two of the most famous probably being the Ernest Hemingway House and Truman's Little White House. With these and other attractions dotting "old town," and with little space for wide streets or sprawl development among its six square miles of land area, Key West has maintained much of its original residential and commercial density, along with a highly walkable and bikeable street grid [PDF].

And unlike other tourism-dependent east coast towns that are inexplicably hostile to non-motorized modes of travel -- we're looking at you, Savannah -- Key West is that rare U.S. small city where pedestrians, cyclists and motorists commingle with relatively minimal conflict.

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Update From NC: Shooting a Cyclist in the Head Is Not Attempted Murder

A grand jury in Asheville, North Carolina has reduced the charge against a motorist who allegedly shot a cyclist in the head from attempted first-degree murder to felony assault.

diez.jpgCharles Diez
According to reports, on July 26, Alan Simons was shot by Charles Diez after a confontation along a busy road. The shooting took place in front of Simons' wife and 3-year-old kid. Diez was reportedly angered that Simons was riding a bike with his child seated behind him. Simons was wearing his bike helmet at the time. Miraculously, the bullet missed his head.

Wheras Diez originally faced up to 13 years in prison, felony assault carries a penalty of around two years. Reports the weekly Mountain Xpress:

Grand juries deliberate in secret, and District Attorney Ron Moore submitted both the assault and attempted-murder charges. He told Xpress that he doesn’t know why the grand jury rejected the murder charge.

We don't either, but we can guess

(h/t Cookster

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Want to Reduce Pedestrian Deaths? Stop Letting Their Killers Walk.

In her Streetsblog Network post on Tuesday, Sarah covered the alarming recent spike in New Jersey pedestrian fatalities. According to stats cited by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, more than 90 pedestrians have died on New Jersey roads so far this year, a nation-leading number that accounts for an astounding 30 percent of that state's total traffic deaths. Officials, meanwhile, are perplexed as to the causes of -- and therefore possible solutions to -- this serious public health threat.

ocstop.jpgInvestigation continues after another recent pedestrian death in Ocean City, NJ, where locals say they are accustomed to reckless drivers and crashes. Photo: pressofAtanticCity.com
The case of Alice Myers, linked from today's Weekly Carnage, should give them pause. Last December 13 at around 6:30 p.m., Myers was crossing the street near a Morristown hospital complex, where her daughter was undergoing cancer treatment, when she was hit by a driver who did not stop. According to accounts in the Star-Ledger, Andy Maguino was driving a car for a local pizzeria when he struck the 72-year-old and kept going. He returned to the scene an hour later and told police he was the driver. Myers died shortly after midnight.

Though he somehow got a job delivering pizzas, police discovered that Maguino did not have a drivers license. Despite the brazen recklessness and flouting of the law that led to Alice Myers' death, prosecutors and a judge agreed last week to let Maguino off with three years of probation and a $500 fine, plus 75 hours of community service and $162 in "penalties." Explains the Star-Ledger:

[T]here was no recklessness by Maguino, who was driving under the 35 mph speed limit. He was not intoxicated, and there were no mechanical problems with the car, Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Kelley Lavery told Judge Thomas Manahan.

Myers was dressed in dark clothing when she entered the street as the northbound Maguino had a green light. A nearby street light also was burned out and a crosswalk signal did not work, Lavery said.

"This was an accident," Lavery said. "All indications are he was not operating his vehicle recklessly. The state decided that ethically it could not pursue a death-by-auto charge."

As a result, prosecutors ruled out more-serious death-by-auto or manslaughter charges, and Maguino pleaded guilty to third-degree leaving the scene of an accident, which has no presumption of jail time, and to a traffic summons of driving without a license.

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Always Wear a Bullet-Proof Helmet

diez.jpgThe shooter, Charles Diez.
Here's some incredible out-of-town road rage, via TreeHugger. A motorist in Asheville, North Carolina was so incensed by the sight of a father biking with his 3-year-old kid mounted on a rear seat, that he pulled over and fired a gun at the cycling dad's head:

Police said the driver, Charles Diez, claimed he was upset that the victim was bike riding with his child on the heavily traveled Tunnel Road.

Diez pulled a gun and opened fire, hitting the victim in his bicycle helmet, according to police. They said the bullet penetrated the outer lining of the helmet but did not actually hit the victim's head.

Diez, a firefighter, has been charged with attempted first degree murder. We'll see how the "I shot the father to protect the child" defense holds up in court.

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Inspired by Streetfilms, Ciclovia Comes to Roanoke, VA

Here's a neat livable streets success story from Virginia. A short time back a woman named Andrea Garland dropped by the TOPP office in Manhattan. A transportation engineer and native of Colombia, Andrea now lives in Roanoke, where she is active in several cyclist and pedestrian groups. One of those groups, BikeWalk Virginia, is bringing Ciclovia to downtown Roanoke in August.

12453265_c3d19faae2.jpgDowntown Roanoke. Photo: ocracokewaves/Flickr
Andrea, who is planning the event, explains that the Ciclovia Streetfilm was instrumental in making it happen.

Watching the Ciclovia video was very inspiring. I don't often think that Colombia could be an example for the world. So I feel proud of Bogotá to have many features to showcase, such as Ciclovia and Transmilenio. I thought the video was worth more than 1,000 words, and it was the easiest way to get people's attention toward having a Ciclovia in Roanoke.

At first I used it to introduce Ciclovia to the people that are currently helping me with the event -- city officials, artists, friends, etc. I broadcast it during an Earth Day festival hoping to get some volunteer interest. Now that I'm actually having the event, I'm using it to get more organizations involved. I'm introducing the event with a brief description and including a link to the video so that they get a better idea. 

I really think that without the video (the short version actually is the one I use the most), it would have been very hard to even get a permit for it, because it is such a new concept for this region.

Congratulations to Andrea and everyone down in Roanoke. If anyone else out there has a similar story, or if you'd like advice on how to use Streetfilms, Streetsblog, or other Livable Streets Initiative tools in your town, let us know.