Saturday, March 29, 2014

Slow This Town Down (please)

Quite literally every other day in Southern Nevada someone’s life is taken due to vehicular traffic. Many more individuals survive these collisions, often with life-altering injuries.

Every morning that I rise to meet the day and read the daily news, there is a 1 in 3 chance that a member of our community has just been killed by or in an automobile.

I have to keep saying this because it never seems to sink in to those who hear (or read) these facts.

My mother died prematurely from medical complications that were finally unresolvable. My father passed away at a presumably expected age of 82 after several years of gradual decline in functioning ability.

My nephew lost the battle to leukemia at the tender age of 7, while my neighbor Dave was stricken down by the same disease at the age of 37.

I don’t even think I can track the number of our friends and family who have been affected from breast (among other) cancer. Some of whom are survivors and others we remember with the fondest of memories.

No amount of medicine or prayers could prevent the demise of those we lost from those awful diseases.

Yet 114 individuals who are brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews in our community were killed in 2013 right here on our streets, from motor vehicle operational errors. Traffic “accidents”.

More than half of those people were pedestrians. Many of those pedestrians were declared to be at fault.

When I read this in the news, which occurs dozens of times over each year, it always makes me a little nauseous.

Eight (plus) lanes of vehicular traffic (4 lanes travelling each direction) at speeds well over 45 mph, running alongside 48 inches of pedestrian walkway, separated by a 5 inch tall curb and city blocks that are half of a mile long (standard).

No, the pedestrians are not at fault (generally speaking). The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada is at fault.

Why are there laws prohibiting walking/bicycling on the freeway, when our surface streets and their juxtaposition to pedestrian access appear just as dangerous? I challenge each and every person at the RTC to attempt walking along (almost) any major street in this valley.

Better still, let me be specific, and please I encourage ANY person reading this whatsoever to take me up on this.

Take a walk along Sahara Ave from Maryland Parkway to Eastern Avenue. Eastbound or westbound, it makes no difference. Bring a friend, for two reasons; the buddy system and two, because you will need a witness to believe what you see.

Not only is the sidewalk far too close to the bustling surface street filled with angry, distracted motorists, but the geniuses who “planned” this walkway, added decorative impediments to the path itself.

As it is, the width of the walkway is barely wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side, but you must also weave around trees, light poles and fire hydrants. In some places, there are even extra-wide spaces dedicated to landscaping that separates the people walking on the sidewalk from the adjacent parking lots or block wall, opposed to wider sidewalks or heavens forbid, create a buffer between the people walking on the sidewalk and the cars driving in the street.

To make this brief lesson in civic planning really sink in, please (at least attempt to) use the mid-block crosswalk. Watch the vehicles approaching the crosswalk as they slow down but give you no indication whether or not they see you or intend to come to a complete stop.

See if you can walk across the massive street within the allotted seconds on the crossing meter.

While you’re on this 20 minute stroll, please be sure to look down and take special note of the many tire tracks on the sidewalk you will undoubtedly pass along the way.

If Sahara/Maryland is too central or inconvenient for you, go ahead and try treading down Buffalo or Cheyenne or Sunset or just about any other major thoroughfare in this valley.

The way that I see it, every major street in this city could stand to lose a lane (sometimes 2 or even 3) which can be re-dedicated to wider buffers between motorists, pedestrians and bicycles. Bicycles and skateboards could be given their own path that is not in the street nor on the sidewalk.

The bus routes that travel these major streets need dedicated lanes, if not to be replaced by a modern light rail system altogether.

The motorist who commutes each day (to work or wherever) in their own personal vehicle has a schedule to keep, however, the minutes these individuals waste or save in doing so, is of absolutely zero importance to me.

If slow-moving traffic gets you down than figure out another way to get where you’re going . Leave earlier, switch modes of transportation, move closer to your workplace.

Sluggish commuter traffic is no justification for taking human lives (from right here within our community), and this is precisely what is happening each time a solution of adding lanes, widening streets and raising speed limits is reached in our city.

It’s been the wrong approach for more than 30 years and I doubt that in 30 years, the “public servants” who reach these decisions have ever attempted to take the walk that I mentioned.

It is so completely embarrassing for a city such as Las Vegas, which basks in fabulous outdoor weather at least 8 months out of the year, that recreational areas and activities such as walking, jogging, bicycling, skateboarding, etc., have been all but eliminated from public view.

Out in the suburban sprawling, master-planned communities, these simple things that add so much quality to one’s life exist, but on the way to get there from the city’s core there is not much more than cinder block walls, sparse trees and shopping centers.

In downtown Las Vegas, what are called “complete streets” which feature ample sidewalk space, parking, bike lanes, shade trees, benches, bike racks, mid-block crosswalks and a single lane for vehicle travel in each direction, are being constructed.

Along 1st Street from Boulder Ave to Bridger Avenue, where a “complete street” has been completed, are 8 city blocks that also equal 1 mile. It is a beautiful sight for sure, except it took nearly 4 whole years to complete this one mile stretch. For what it is worth, it is a very nice walk in either direction, connecting the arts district with city hall, Bonneville Transit Center, Fremont St and the local detention center (look for reality television show Las Vegas Jailhouse on RealTV for behind the scenes action).

In a few short years, Main Street (Las Vegas) will get a similar treatment when it is converted into a one-way street ushering vehicles north from the Stratosphere, through the arts district and toward Fremont Street. Likewise, Commerce (west of Main St) will send motorists south toward The Strip.

The future for downtown Las Vegas is progressively on course with little to fear, but this is not where the fatalities on our roadways are constantly occurring. The fatal collisions are happening virtually everywhere but in the downtowns of Las Vegas, Henderson and Boulder City. Lives are being taken on our surface streets and even inside our neighborhoods.

This is not an acceptable norm for our society. We can and we must stop this from continuing.

It starts with the City and the Metropolitan Police Department mandating education to those who need it.

How do we do this?

The city must first create a civics class that covers all necessary subjects, including but not limited to; rules of the road, pedestrian safety, bicycle safety and driver’s ed.

We are a transplant community, where more than 70% of the population moved here from someplace else. Insisting that all new residents, licensing themselves or registering their vehicles at the DMV, be required to take such a course in civics and local laws would be an incredibly wise decision.

Unlike the current traffic school which serves as a kind of punishment in which an offending motorist attends a class to avoid demerits on their record, this school should be a welcome learning environment that everyone will truly benefit from. Also unlike the existing traffic school (and health card class for this matter), one must actually pass the course through examinations to prove they have retained the knowledge put forth.

Certainly, these classes and teachers already exist, they are just not being properly utilized. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here, we just need to gather our (human) resources and put them to a more proper use.

Next, Metro takes progressive action citing every jaywalker they see, every bicycle driving on the sidewalk, every motorist who fails to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and bicycles- essentially any person who is being reckless and/or endangering the public.

Obviously, our society has back doors for the wealthy, so you won’t be able to insure that every single dangerous person on the road will take the civics class over a hefty fine, but it is a very good step in the right direction.

Today, we have television commercials featuring some lawyer and some law enforcement officer telling us that we need to “look out” and “be careful”. Not very effective. I would much rather see ads demonstrating the difference between safe and unsafe behavior, including the “3 foot rule”.

I would bet that the majority of drivers in this town are completely unaware that they are required by law to leave 3 feet between their vehicle and a person who is riding a bicycle (when passing). Although, I suppose they’re not really “required by law” if law enforcement does nothing to enforce said law. Maybe it’s time to start enforcing this law and maybe bicyclists can get off of the sidewalk.

Bicyclists on the sidewalk.

I am afraid that I might murder someone one of these days and I really do not want to. It’s just that every time a bicycle nearly takes me (and my partner) out while I am walking on the sidewalk, I am incredibly tempted to bump them just so, sending them flying into the mass of vehicles hurling past. It would be so easy and over so fast and then I would likely live the rest of my life in regretful, utter misery inside of a Nevada penitentiary- which is why I don’t do it. That and I am a truly gentle soul.

But it is so very tempting.

I can empathize however. Though local customs define a bicycle as a moving vehicle that belongs in the roadway, I completely understand wanting to drive your bicycle on the sidewalk.

I did the very same thing when I was growing up in this town until about the age of 12 or 13 when I began to comprehend that the sidewalk is reserved solely for pedestrians aka walking.

It is such an easy mistake to make, largely because the idea of bicycles sharing the road with automobiles is suicidal at best. Who in their right mind ever truly believed that a person driving a bicycle (even with a helmet) should be using the exact same paths as 2 ton hunks of steel traveling at increasing excessive speeds? Who, I ask!

This brings us back to the civics class. Many, I mean to say, an enormous chunk of our population, have moved here from countries south of the United States.

Get this.

As it has been explained to me, in these central American countries, you are required to ride bicycles on the sidewalk and it is illegal (and even more insane) to drive them in the street.

Could it be that someone needs to sit them down and explain how things work here?

If the local governments and law enforcement don’t act then who will?

No one.

The police will simply continue to REACT to offenders and issue fines as if this is a way to prevent crime. It’s not.

This may sound overly simplified but that is just because the answers appear to be just that simple.

Educate the public.
Educate them and keep doing so until the magic number of ZERO FATALITIES is a reality.

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