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These Northgate kids pretty much sum up how runaway car culture creates hostile places

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 9.59.04 AM
Click to watch the video from KOMO

The culture of driving in America has little regard for people outside of cars. That’s not to say that people who drive are bad people, it’s that we collectively consider actions —such as not stopping to let someone cross the street — to be socially acceptable behavior.

Most people learn to just assume people won’t stop for you, especially if there is no marked, zebra-stripe crosswalk. It’s been that way for a long time, and a cultural norm is hard to change.

But this is not OK. And like so many cultural problems, it sometimes takes the perspective of a child to see just how wrong we are.

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That’s why this KOMO report from Northgate has been replaying in my head ever since I saw it. Especially the perspective of the young girl at 0:38 who simply cannot understand why someone would not care enough about her to stop so she can cross the street. Because she’s right. What an awful thing to do to a person! If only we were not so numb and used to it, we’d all have the same response.

Streets are places, and people live their lives in and around them. They are not pipes for cars. Maybe we’ve all forgotten that, but these kids should be a reminder that we have to change the culture even if that’s hard to do. That’s what safe streets are really all about.

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17 responses to “These Northgate kids pretty much sum up how runaway car culture creates hostile places”

  1. onshay

    What kind of monster flips off kids who are simply trying to create a safe place to be and play?

  2. Thank you for your this post! I couldn’t agree more! Living in Cincinnati for going on a year now, I can tell you the culture here is bad. I know it’s bad everywhere.

    I’ve come to expect what I call the Cincinnati Special: You are trying to walk or run across the crosswalk and you have drivers make right turns in front of you, forcing you to stop and wait. Left turning drivers sometimes pull the same move as well. I had a school bus driver Cincinnati Special me as I was running with my young daughter in a stroller.

    The culture needs to undergo a fundamental change. Everywhere.

    1. MikeG

      As someone who moved from Cincinnati over 7 years ago, I understand and share your concerns. I was much happier to relocate to the Seattle area and find better cycling infrastructure and fewer road-raging drivers, but even here yesterday on my dead-end residential street, some douchebag in a Mercedes SUV was racing to overtake me prior to a traffic calming bump and approaching stop-sign!

      I must have delayed him 5, maybe 6 seconds.

  3. another mother on a bike

    I had to take that detour in my car recently, and I was shocked by the speed of other drivers. The car in front of shot out as fast as they could go, and the one behind me tail-gated.

    There’s always speeding cut-through traffic on Maple Leaf streets during rush hour when 5th gets congested. I feel bad for people who live on the streets, and I wish the city could do something to prevent it. If you’re going to drive through a neighborhood, at least have the courtesy and sanity to drive slowly and look out for people.

  4. Dave

    Driving creates bad people–too much power, insulation, anonymity, and an environment that caters to you/them. This view probably makes me a bad person, but I hope and pray for events that cause a rapid doubling of US gasoline prices. 45 years of cycling will do that to a person.

    1. Van

      It doesn’t make you a bad person, maybe a bit biased, but not bad. I frequently ride in this area and frankly Northside drivers come in two flavors, super nice and super rude. There does not seem to be an in-between. From 98th street to 200th street, heaven help you if you need to use a crosswalk, much less signaling to turn. Be prepared, no matter how clearly you signal, no one cares. You ARE invisible and they WILL hit you. Assume the moment you are in the saddle or walking down the sidewalk you are invisible. Even the crosswalks with flashing lights are no guarantee you will be safe. And if you can’t walk very fast (I have an arthritic hip, and as “young” person people expect me to dash across and that is SO not happening) you’ll be subject to honking, shouting, and the occasional pitched object. If you’re going down a sidewalk you’ll find people parked in the middle, forcing you into the street until you pass them. They will also honk because even though there is traffic and they can’t pull out, how dare you continue on your way!

      BUT! Lets not forget some of those Northside folks are some of the nicest drivers too. I’ve had drivers use themselves as a blockade against drivers who don’t want to stop at red lights and turn WITH me so I am protected. Drivers who stop to ask if another driver had harmed me (one driver was particularly enraged witnessing someone through a can at me and proceeded to chase the driver down). Others who will stop to help with repairs. Heck, I’ve even had some drivers slow down and cheer me up a hill, and others who let me know they were envious of my free wheelin’ freedom. Some just honk to say ‘hi’ because I’ve met them outside of their car. Just because they are in a car doesn’t mean they are a villain. Not everyone in a car wants to kill you or run you over, but like us cyclists, the bad apples make everyone else look terrible and can make you loose perspective.

      1. Jonathan

        Ever since 35th closed at 110th my unfortunate need to cross Sand Point Wy to get home has turned into an ordeal. Last week I even went to the one nicely marked crosswalk on the north side of 123rd and Sand Point only to wait and wait and wait while a steady stream of cars whizzed by. Then, miraculously, a truck actually stopped for me, while a person turning left in the other direction was already stopped. So I walked across, even going behind the left turner so they could turn, only to have a car swerve past me in the parking lane to get around the turning car. And the best part… she honked at me as she flew by! At least I didn’t get hit, but this was definitely a lesson for me that my new neighborhood is not as bike/pedestrian friendly as Fremont.

        Y’all be careful out there. Traffic is getting worse and people who are entrenched in the car culture mentality are going to see us an obstacle (not as part of the solution… which we are).

    2. jay

      One keeps hearing about the great Bicycling infrastructure in the Netherlands and such places. but I don’t recall hearing all that much about their $9/gallon gasoline prices, I wonder if there is any connection between the two? http://www.bloomberg.com/visual-data/gas-prices/
      I wonder how bicyclists fare in Venezuela ?

      1. Dave


  5. jay

    Now, I understand that after all the costs involved the city doesn’t make a LOT of money off traffic tickets, but if say 2 or 3 cops working as a team wrote 100, $175* tickets a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, that is 4.3 Million dollars a year, there as got to be some net there, but even if not, it’s providing some well paying jobs, and if it saves some child’s life that is icing on the cake!
    Well, ok, 100/day is a bit optimistic, while finding that many offenders would not be a problem, that is only about 4 minutes a ticket, probably not enough, and they’d have to move around a lot when word got around (but then the cell phone tickets would up the take a bit). And no doubt a non-trivial fraction of drivers will be “impaired’ and processing those will really cut into the ticket writing. Also the “occasional pitched object”, that’s assault so they have to be hauled off to jail too.

    If only we could think of some catchy slogan to shift peoples priorities, how about “Think of the children”, naw, sounds kind of hackneyed and old fashioned.
    Remember “Buckle up for safety, Washington cares” now it is “Click it or ticket”
    “Every litter bit hurts”/ “Litter and it will hurt”
    [home video of adorable kid] “Please don’t drive drunk”/”Drive hammered, get nailed”

    “Let them cross, or get the cross”? Naw, I’m pretty sure the SCOTUS would not be happy with crucifixion for traffic offenses (or anything really, not even serial killers). On the other hand, a Pillory tends to look a lot like a cross, but I bet SCOTUS wouldn’t be to thrilled about that either.

    “See me, feel me … touch me and it’s guaranteed to tear your soul apart”, maybe? Could be copyright problems, but it has promise.

    * From the Seattle Bike Blog: “A $175 ticket for failure to yield at a crosswalk is the same exact ticket the person driving would have received had he not hit anyone and a police officer pulled him over.”
    You were outraged that that is all the killer of Caleb Shoop got, but that would pale compared to the outrage of the 10,000 people or so getting the tickets (yes, 100 * 5 * 50 does equal 25,000, but I expect repeated offenders. Of course even 10,000 voters means this will never happen. While hundreds or even thousands may be outraged when someone is killed (especially if it is a child), except for family and friends of the victim, few will remember for very long. (though the ghost bike on marginal ways creeps me out every time I pass it)

    1. Ben P

      Maybe we could do a “killed on the cross” series about people injured or killed on crosswalks. Every episode could end with “don’t kill on the cross”. I imagine this might make a subset of Christians cross though.

      Crosswalk haste lays waste. Running to die. Sped to death.

    2. jeik

      When my husband is going to fast through a neighborhood (a habit I think I finally broke him of), I say “This is somebody’s home”. Nobody wants speeding or traffic in their own neighborhood, so encouraging a little empathy really helps.

      It could be a little catchier, but I think a slogan along those lines could help neighborhoods.

  6. Dave wrote: “Driving creates bad people–too much power, insulation, anonymity, and an environment that caters to you/them.”

    Very well stated. As I put it: “Driving does terrible things to people.” I hate to admit it, but I think most of the people being inconsiderate, uncaring and even overtly aggressive behind the wheel are otherwise good people.

    Daily I see my neighbors – people who say hi and wave, who stand and chat with me, who invite us over, who offer help if we ever need it – exhibit piss poor behavior as they roar by my house in their vehicles.

    I agree with those here who think an ad campaign might help. It would have to be ongoing for many years to have much effect, probably. I always think of the “Give ’em a Brake” campaign that road construction workers have enjoyed for so long. Every time I would ride the WSF ferry, I’d have to hear it. And, man, does law enforcement seem to take the safety of road workers seriously. Consider the whole fines double in work zones thing, and the threat of 5 figure fines and imprisonment.

    How do we cyclists and pedestrians gain that type of power?

    Or, the laws could simply be enforced! Fear of imminent fines, increased insurance rates or imprisonment would change people fast.

    No, folks like the culture just the way it is.

  7. jeik

    Wow. Just clicked on this “related” post from 2011.


    Seems like our dysfunctional police culture has something to do with it too. Let’s hope the new chief improves things.

  8. […] week in bikes: Northgate kids shame speeding drivers, the Federal Highway Administration reports that bike and pedestrian improvements pay dividends in […]

  9. Double D

    I live on 65th St. in Ballard and I’m continually shocked at how fast people drive on this stretch. There’s no bike lane or buffer lane near the on-street parking so it’s sketchy even going to get into my car on the rare occasion that I drive because the majority of motorists don’t slow down at all upon seeing me opening the door to get in, nor do they give much space.

    It sucks that the city can’t/won’t do anything to slow down traffic on 65th at all because it’s considered an artery. I believe the only way that’s going to happen is when someone dies. I feel bad for those with children living on my street. “Don’t go out into the front yard kids…”

    1. Double D

      Correction – arterial…

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