By declaring a traffic violence crisis Gainesville and Alachua County got our attention. Now what?
Well, among other things, Mayor Harvey Ward says GNV needs to launch a public awareness campaign. “Nobody gets into their car thinking ‘I’m going to kill a pedestrian or cyclist today,’” Ward told me.
So what can we do to remind drivers of the potentially deadly consequences of the everyday routine of driving?
We can start by refusing to forget friends and neighbors who became victims of traffic violence.
A recent article in Bloomberg.com harkens back to an age, a century ago, “When cities made monuments to traffic deaths.”
A more innocent age, perhaps, when cities like Pittsburg, St. Louis, Baltimore and others decided that dead children were too dear a price to pay for the autoAmerican freedom of the road.
“Deaths to pedestrians, and especially to children, were regarded as intolerable public losses to be publicly grieved by the whole community,” Bloomberg reported.
So what happened? A backlash, that’s what.
Basically the auto industry and affiliated “motor clubs” mounted campaigns aimed at blaming the victims of traffic violence for their own irresponsible behavior. Some PR genius even coined the term “jaywalker” to paint pedestrians with a very dark brush indeed.
“Motordom’s reframing of the traffic safety problem was substantially successful, and we live with its legacy. It takes the form of the tendency to presume that pedestrians’ rights are dispensable, and worth curtailing for the sake of motorists’ convenience,” Bloomberg reported.
And make no mistake. “Motordom’s” propaganda campaign continues to this very day. Hence hyped-up complaints about “the war on cars” that have gained currency in political circles.
But with pedestrian and cycling deaths climbing even as traffic fatalities overall decline, some communities are reviving the old idea of erecting monuments to traffic violence casualties.
“People have gone numb to the number of lives that have been lost,” Damian Kevitt, executive director of Streets Are For Everyone told the Los Angeles Times. “But when you have lost a loved one, you remember.”
And in New York City, where 200 people died in traffic violence last year, Greenpointers.com reports : “ Right of Way–an organization that promotes the right of way for pedestrians and cyclists, teamed up with a group called Families for Safe Streets to show folks traffic fatalities aren’t just a faceless statistic.”
“Eight different locations were chosen to show where victims were killed and were honored with street art memorials. Seven of the sites involved families, the eighth location was chosen in remembrance of an “unknown victim.”
As it happens, GNV already has a memorial to victims of traffic violence. Although for a time it was all but forgotten.
On the day after Christmas in 1996, a six GNV cyclists were riding to St. Augustine. They were traveling in a pace line on a rural road in Clay county when a distracted driver in a pickup truck slammed into all six cyclists.
Two of the riders, Margaret Raynal and Doug Hill, were killed instantly. The other four, Lauri Triulzi, Charles Hinson, Eric Finan, and Jessica Green all suffered serious injuries.
That incident so traumatized GNV’s – and Florida’s – cycling community that friends of the dead and injured cyclists, as well as cycling advocates, came together to create “rammed-earth” sculptures in memory of the riders.
Remains of the ruined bicycles the victims were riding were embedded into hardened soil and put on public display. The sculptures, were displayed along with an information kiosk next to the rail-trail along Depot Avenue.
Over the years however, the sculptures fell into neglect. The kiosk was dismantled. The rail-trail was rerouted. Weeds and overgrowth eventually obscured the structures from public view.
In 2016, Bike Florida raised or donated $16,000 to re-landscape the area around the sculptures. They were renamed the Share The Road Memorial, and now anchor the northeast corner of Depot Park.
“The decisions we make every day on Florida’s public roadways are literally matters of life or death,” visitors to the memorial are informed. “We ask all who visit this memorial to reflect on the price so many have paid for because of a moment of inattention or carelessness.”
So here’s one idea to help kick off Mayor Ward’s public awareness campaign.
Let’s have a ceremony at the Share The Road Memorial. And a formal rededication.
And let’s take that occasion to add to the existing memorial a tribute to all of the pedestrian and cyclists who have died in and around GNV since that tragedy in 1996. And, when possible, let’s display the names of the victims as well.
Lest we collectively forget.
And let’s make it an annual occasion. A GNV Traffic Violence Remembrance Day in the Park.
A day to remember lost friends, loved ones and neighbors.
A day to chart our Vision Zero progress over the previous year.
A day to talk to have an open dialogue about what we can do – what we must do – in the coming year to help prevent future traffic violence deaths.
Because when we forget we concede to the forces of “Motordom.” Those who want us to assume that a fearsome traffic violence death toll is simply the price we must all pay for our precious autoAmerican Freedom Of The Road.
Those who want us to blame the victims because, surely, they would still be alive today if they had just been a little more careful. Or, better still, if they had stayed off our public streets altogether.
Motordom’s triumph is that a century after cities erected memorials to victims of traffic violence, we have marginalized the rights of the non-driving public on our “public” streets. And as a consequence, our neighbors who die of traffic violence tend to be little known nor long remembered.
Listen, our collective memories of loved ones taken from us by traffic violence is a terrible thing to lose.
Let’s not do that anymore, GNV.
Great timing Ron, I walked by the memorial this morning and remembered the dedication and writing about the original accident. Gary