Archive | Transportation Planning

Don’t Call It an Accident

Even as desensitized as our culture has become to vehicular violence, the tragedy of February 22nd, 2015 is a tough one to stomach. That day, three children—ages 4,5, and 8—were run down while crossing a street in Springfield. They were crossing legally, in a crosswalk, with the signal. The driver of the car that killed them had a simple explanation: “I didn’t see any red light. What happened was an accident.” In declining to press charges, Lane County’s DA agreed that the driver “unwittingly ran a red light.” And on Monday, the Oregonian’s Editorial Board joined the exonerating cacophony with a piece entitled “When a tragic accident is just a tragic accident,” in which they declared that “‘accident’ is the only way to accurately describe what happened at that intersection on Feb. 22.”

No, it is not.

To be fair to the O, this sort of misuse of the word ‘accident’ dates all the way to the 15th Century: “As the medieval world had few scientific tools to investigate causation, it was not surprising that the word eventually associated itself with the phrase act of God.” A century ago, a young automobile industry in the process of inventing the concept of jaywalking co-opted it to blunt public perception of collisions, and over time the act of driving—and the act of crashing along with it—were normalized. Experts have been calling for a change in terminology since at least 1997, yet use of the word stubbornly persists in the media (just look at that article on jaywalking!).

Defenders of the term ‘accident’ often argue that the word applies for reasons of intent. Since nobody drives with an explicit desire to harm people or property, a word that denotes the opposite of ‘purposeful’ seems to fit the bill. But this ignores the fact that the very behaviors most likely to lead to crashes—driving drunk, distracted, or too fast for conditions, to name a few—are very much conscious decisions. Calling the end result of an ill-considered choice an ‘accident’  ignores the prologue, substituting a clear implication of blamelessness. It’s a biased, erroneous description.

Another sneakier limitation of the ‘a’ word is that, unlike ‘crash,’ the word ‘accident’ does not readily do double duty as a verb. You cannot accident into a tree. Thus a writer preferring the term ‘accident’ is tricked into using a passive voice, which often has the curious consequence of personifying a vehicle. In describing a different “accident” in which a woman “was struck and seriously injured by a car,” The O reports that, “the vehicle that hit her was moving west on Division, weaving in and out of traffic…It swerved toward Davis and struck her, then continued over a curb and through a grassy area before stopping.” The driver, though huffing laughing gas at the time, is relegated to the role of a mere accessory.

While I don’t believe that running a red light without even slowing can ever be unavoidable, the culpability in the Springfield crash is not on the driver alone. The generations-long approach to transportation and land use that has favored automobility over all other factors is a clear cause as well. This is what forced a family to cross a five-lane stroad so unironically called Main Street in the course of walking between their home and the ice cream parlor. Further, it rendered a 68-year-old man with apparent medical conditions dependant upon a car he could no longer safely drive. This, too, is no accident. It is a flawed approach to engineering and planning that we must hasten to abandon.

‘Accident’ is an inherently weak word; it is an excuse and a conversation ender rolled into one. When we declare something an accident, we throw up our hands and plead ignorance. We can neither understand it nor learn from it; it was unavoidable, unpreventable, and thus not worth fretting much over. Accidents happen, as they say.

What killed Tyler Hudson, McKenzie Hudson, and John Day on an Oregon street was no accident. It was an entirely unsurprising outcome of a century’s worth of systemic prioritization of cars over cities, of travel time over lives. Insofar as language shapes perception, describing their death using such an inaccurate, inarticulate word is perpetuating the very systems that make tragedies like it anything but accidents.

Three Four TPAC Seats Open

Updated 11/3/14

Once again, several positions on TPAC are open:

Also, as mentioned at last Friday’s meeting, we have started the recruitment for TPAC community representative positions and the application is now open online.  Three positions are open for two-year terms starting January 2015 and an additional one-year position is open, also starting January 2015.  Applications will be accepted until November 21, 2014.  The online application and additional  information about the recruitment can be found here:  Please feel free to forward this link to your networks or to anyone that you think may be interested in applying.


Original Post: 9/29/13

Metro is recruiting for three citizen positions on the Transportation Policy Alternatives Committee.

I spent 3 years on this committee a decade ago and it was a fantastic learning experience about how transportation planning and funding works in this region.

The application deadline is October 18th.

Transit Insight from Big Data

PSU Transportation Seminar

When: Friday, October 3, 12-1 p.m.
Where: Room 204 of the Distance Learning Center Wing of the Urban Center at PSU

Speaker: Mohja L. Rhoads, South Bay Cities Council of Governments
Topic: Using “big data” for transportation analysis: A case study of the LA Metro Expo Line

Summary: Access to a comprehensive historical archive of real-time, multi-modal multi-agency transportation system data has provided a unique opportunity to demonstrate how “big data” can be used for policy analysis, and to offer new insights for planning scholarship and practice. We illustrate with a case study of a new rail transit line. We use transit, freeway, and arterial data of high spatial and temporal resolution to examine transportation system performance impacts of the Exposition (Expo) light rail line (Phase 1) in Los Angeles. Using a quasi-experimental research design, we explore whether the Expo Line has had a significant impact on transit ridership, freeway traffic, and arterial traffic within the corridor it serves. Our results suggest a net increase in transit ridership, but few effects on traffic system performance. Given the latent travel demand in this heavily congested corridor, results are consistent with expectations. The benefits of rail transit investments are in increasing transit accessibility and person throughput within high-demand corridors; effects on roadway traffic are small and localized.

For more information or to view the seminar, click here.


A Fascinating Map

This map has been tweeted at me from many directions today.

You select an area and it will show you what mode: walking, biking, transit, driving; will get you to which parts of the City fastest.

You only have to click on an area in the inner NE or SE to see why cycling is doing so well there.

But the really interesting information to me is how seldom transit is the fastest answer. It only wins for medium-long trips with a direct connection.

Your Questions For Neil, “Round 5”, Part 3 – Service Planning

Here is Part 3 of our recent interview with TriMet’s Neil McFarlane, based on your questions. This segment is shorter than the others and deals solely with the topic of service planning, especially in suburban areas and more densely-populated areas currently lacking in comprehensive transit service.

Segment Navigation:

Have a look and let us know what you think, in the comments.