Tuesday, June 1, 2010

David Brooks is wrong about why pedestrians die in crosswalks

On Friday, David Brooks had an unfortunate bit of victim-blaming in a column about risk in society:

More pedestrians die in crosswalks than when jay-walking. That’s because they have a false sense of security in crosswalks and are less likely to look both ways.

People on foot die in crosswalks when people in cars and trucks drive at lethal speeds in crosswalks when they shouldn't. It's that simple.

A few weeks ago, I addressed Brooks's suggestion that it's up to pedestrians to exercise more vigilance. If you put the primary burden of safely crossing the street on pedestrians, the only pedestrians you'll have are those comfortable with risk, the rest will go by car.

If pedestrians have a "false sense of security," the answer isn't to make pedestrians more nervous. The answer is to make the sense of security less false.

There is no public policy reason for traffic going faster than 20 MPH in any single place in Newton where we want pedestrians to cross the street. None. If we changed the street geometry such that the 85th percentile speed was 20 MPH just before each crosswalk, the likelihood of a fatal accident would approach zero. At 20 MPH, a driver is much more likely to see a pedestrian. At 20 MPH, the distance required to stop safely is very short. At 20 MPH, the likelihood that a pedestrian will die after being hit is in the low single digits.


dr2chase said...

Ugh, you made me look at his column. Brooks is a platitudinous putz. Spills have happened before, and other countries have stricter regulations. This suggests that it could have been anticipated and avoided. Unlike the space shuttle, we're not breaking new ground here.

The crosswalk factoid is infuriating. No source, not even clear if it is a rate or a count, not clear if it is controlled for different locations of crosswalks and jaywalks, no mention of fault (pedestrians and cars just "collide", as if in a physics experiment). And, again, other countries have stricter regulations, and they appear to work there.

And of course, "risk". What the heck do we do with this "oil" stuff anyway? Good thing those activities have no "risk" associated with them, eh? I'm glad oil is not one of those valuable resources that causes us to build military bases near religious symbols, thus irritating the religious locals, so that they organize into terrorist opposition and fly planes into our buildings. I am guessing that Brooks was never very good at those "connect-the-dots" pictures when he was a kid.

Cavan said...

I want a column in the New York Times and/or the Washington Post so I can spew my wrongheaded victim bashing too!

Brooks is a sycophant who always sucks up to the rich and powerful against everyone else. He's making a good living off of it, sadly.