Like zombies, they walk among us, texting, checking emails, talking, selecting music — and, according to a study published Wednesday, oblivious to cars, trucks, lights, crosswalks and the concentration required to get through urban intersections alive.
This is the actual lead sentence in a Seattle Times story that occupied the front page of the Seattle Times homepage for much of Thursday.
The story promotes the same dangerous ideas that have turned our urban streets from places to deadly speedways, and places the blame for collisions between motor vehicles and people walking squarely on scofflaw walkers as though these hordes of “zombies” are mindless piles of skin with no desire to protect their own lives.
Instead of presenting the people studied as exactly that—people walking in Seattle—the story presents them as some marginal transportation mode observed breaking the strict rules of a transportation system that is not responsible for the pattern of death and injury in its wake.
First off, there has been no increase in collisions involving people walking since smart phones and other mobile devices grew to near ubiquity in Seattle (as the story seems to imply). The Seattle Department of Transportation’s 2010 Traffic Report shows that, adjusted for population growth, the number of collisions involving people walking is depressingly unchanged from 2002. Some would say this means the city is not investing enough in the safety of people on foot, but it certainly shows no significant increase to match this distracted walking theory.
But really, all of this is beside the point. The fact is, the vast majority of collisions between motor vehicles and people walking are the fault of the person driving. And when it comes to be inattention, distraction of people driving is far more likely to be a contributing circumstance to a collision than someone walking distracted. Here’s some data from SDOT’s 2010 traffic report:
So really, I could just stop there, since the graph very clearly destroys the main point of the Times story. But there’s still more to say.
Of all the moments in the story, this is my favorite:
People distracted by pets or children were almost three times as likely to skip looking both ways.
What an amazing illustration of how far removed from the reality of human life our traffic system has become! In the eyes of our traffic system and this story, the joys of family and pet ownership are simply “distractions” that make a “pedestrian” less likely to follow every bullet point on the researchers’ safety checklist.
There is no room for love, joy, family, music or friendship here. You know, the things that people live for.
Like SDOT Director Peter Hahn has said on many occasions, streets are places, not tubes for cars. Healthy, vibrant cities require streets that value human life—both in terms of protecting people from injury and promoting activities that make people happy.
UPDATE: For a visual representation of the terrifying walking environment our traffic system has created in our city, I love the following drawing (
I can’t find the source for the life of me. If you know, please leave it in the comments Thanks, Gene and Chris, for finding out that it is from the Swedish Road Directorate):