Elaine Clegg, Idaho Smart Growth program coordinator, shares her thoughts on the recent Walk of Silence in memory of Florence and Bob Goar, as well as other crash victims, with the following letter.
As a Boise City Council member who has long advocated for safer streets, and a long time staff member at Idaho Smart Growth working on pedestrian and bicycle safety I am honored to be asked to say a few words about the tragic loss of Bob and Florence Goar in a pedestrian/vehicle collision one month ago. I wish I could be there in person, but ironically I am traveling for the next few days working in small towns across southern Idaho on building support for pedestrian safety projects and education, a culture that I try to share as a representative of Idaho Smart Growth.
The City of Boise adopted a Transportation Action Plan recently. That plan is less technical document and more about the culture of our roadway network. For too long we have allowed public streets to be dominated by and largely given over to cars and trucks. Our design ethic and our use ethic center on vehicle movement and safety and other users are looked on as “alternative.” As drivers we are acculturated to treat the streets as our space. We are taught to look for other cars, to signal to other cars, to wait for other cars and to focus our attention on the cars around us.
While we don’t know the facts around this tragic collision we do know that the Goars were in a crosswalk and the driver was at a blinking left turn light. The walk light gave the Goars permission to walk with some expectation of safety. The blinking turn light gave the driver permission to proceed only if the road was clear. Our car culture emphasizes that means clear of cars. The turn was clear of cars…but not of people.
We can change the specifics of this intersection and I call on ACHD to work with the city to help make this happen as soon as possible. Changes may help remind drivers to also look for pedestrians and bicyclists, but there is another action that may make a bigger difference. We all need to change our culture and our mindset about roads and driving. Roads are public space. They are for and are filled with all kinds of users. Every user has a responsibility to be aware of and looking for all other users, not just the ones who look and act like they do. In particular cars and trucks are many times more dangerous to all users and should be taught to be especially aware of and held responsible for that.
We recently had another pedestrian tragedy in our area. The driver in that case was not charged in the pedestrian’s death because while the pedestrian was in a crosswalk and had a walk light, the driver wasn’t distracted or otherwise acting illegally, he just missed seeing the pedestrian. That mistake resulted in a death, and another life that is likely irrevocably changed. Maybe charging the driver would only make it worse, but not holding the driver responsible further reinforces the culture that accepts pedestrians as less important and less looked after than drivers.
In my mind our acceptance of that is what must change. Until that happens design will only act as a band aid. As I work around the state every community is worried about safety for their vulnerable pedestrians. Most of that worry centers around how to ensure that drivers see and respond to other roadway users. It’s that mindset shift we need to pursue. Slow down, pay attention, and stay safe.