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Part 1: Mark Baumer Reflection: Impounding Vehicles & Immigrant Rights

This is part of a multi-part reflection I've been doing following the death of my friend, Mark Baumer . There's nothing graphic i...

NSC and NHTSA Use Different Metrics for Vehicle Deaths

I've changed the headline for this article from "NY Times Under-reports Traffic Death Increase?" to "NSC and NHTSA Use Different Metrics" to better reflect what I've found about this statistic. See updates below for full accounting of data.

It's totally possible that I'm misunderstanding something-- in fact, let's go ahead and say that it's likely that I'm misunderstanding something -- but as far as I can tell the New York Times and Streetsblog both under-reported the percentage increase in U.S. traffic deaths that occurred between 2014 and 2016. 

The claims are from a report from the National Safety Council. Quoting from the Grey Lady:
"[M]ore Americans are dying on roads and highways than in years, and the sudden and sharp increase has alarmed safety advocates. 
The latest batch of bad news arrived Wednesday in traffic fatality estimates released by the National Safety Council, a nonprofit organization that works closely with federal auto-safety regulators. According to its estimates, 40,200 people died in accidents involving motor vehicles in 2016, a 6 percent rise from the year before. 
If the estimates are confirmed, it will be the first time since 2007 that more than 40,000 people have died in motor vehicle accidents in a single year. The 2016 total comes after a 7 percent rise in 2015 and means the two-year increase — 14 percent — is the largest in more than a half a century." (my emphases)
The 14% increase figure only makes sense if you calculate off of 2015 figures. 35,092 people died in U.S. traffic crashes in 2015. If you divide the 2016 estimate (40,200) by the 2015 figure (35,092) you get a figure close to 14% (although normal rounding practices would state that as 15% since it's 14.55%).

But we're not measuring a figure for 2017, but 2016. So a two-year stretch has to go back to 2014 numbers. According the NHTSA, there were 32,675 deaths in 2014. That would mean that we've had a 23% increase in traffic fatalities.

It's totally possible I'm missing something, and that the New York Times is right. But I think someone just made the totally understandable mistake of calculating off of the current year (hey, I've done worse).

Update: (See below) In fact, speaking of how easily such mistakes can be made, I did a similar thing in an earlier version of this article. I calculated the difference between 2016, on one hand, and 2015 and 2014 respectively, when I should have tabulated the data using only the year-over-year increase. In other words, I should have added (40,200-35,092)=5,108 to (35,092-32,675)=2,417 not (40,200-32,675)=7,525, because the 2015 numbers didn't rise all the way to 40,200, but just to 35,092. Combining the two figures gets us to an additional 7,525 deaths, not an additional 12,633. That's 2.5 September 11ths, not 4.2. Still staggering.
The additional deaths from 2015 and 2016 over 2014 figures amount to 12,633 7,525 people. That's 4.2 2.5 September 11ths. Of course, we don't experience a daily trickle of deaths the same way we do a sudden burst of them, but these deaths are not "accidents" in that policies we've implemented have led to their greater likelihood. 
Further Update: Maureen Vogel of National Safety Council got back to me to say that the difference between the percents I found and theirs may be the result of using different standards of measurement. See below:
Hi James,
Thank you for your interest in our motor vehicle fatality estimates. I believe the 23% increase you calculated is a result of you comparing the 2014 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) fatality estimate (32,744) with the National Safety Council’s 2016 preliminary estimate (40,200). NHTSA’s estimates are not fully comparable to the National Safety Council’s estimates. The National Safety Council’s 2014 fatality estimate is 35,398. The percent change from 35,398 to 40,200 is approximately 14%. Attached is a page from our publication, Injury Facts, that describes the differences between the NHTSA and National Safety Council’s motor vehicle fatality estimates.

Thanks again for reaching out, and we hope this helps clarify. Have a safe day.
The NSC sent a PDF with an explanation of how the statistical analyses differ between the two organizations:

The National Safety Council (NSC) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) count motor-vehicle crash deaths using somewhat different criteria. NSC counts total motor-vehicle-related fatalities – both traffic and nontraffic – that occur within one year of the crash. This is consistent with the data compiled from death certificates by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). NSC uses NCHS death certificate data less intentional fatalities as the final count of unintentional deaths from all causes. NHTSA counts only traffic fatalities that occur within 30 days of the crash in its Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). This means that the FARS count omits about 800 to 1,000 motor-vehicle-related deaths each year that occur more than 30 days after the crash. Nontraffic fatalities (those that do not occur on public highways; e.g., parking lots, private roads, and driveways), which account for 900 to 1,900 deaths annually, also are omitted. By using a 30-day cutoff, NHTSA can issue a “final” count about eight months after the reference year. 
This edition of Injury Facts includes the 2013 and 2014 NCHS final counts by cause of death including motor-vehicle crashes.The graph below shows the NCHS death certificate counts of unintentional motor-vehicle deaths through 2014 compared to the NHTSA FARS counts of traffic deaths. 
It's an interesting coincidence that the difference between the NHTSA 2015 numbers and 2016 NSC estimate are 14%, as well as that being the difference between the 2014 NSC and 2016 NSC number. I guess you learn something new everyday.

By the way, if we take the 40,200 estimate and the 35,398 estimates that are apples-to-apples comparisons for NSC-to-NSC death statistics, we get a final result of 1.6 September 11ths of deaths resulting just from this increase in traffic fatalities from 2014-2016 (Take 40,200-35,398= 4,802 and then divide that by 2,996 to get 1.602. The September 11th number actually includes the hijackers, so you'd get a slightly higher number if you wanted to do a calculation of "innocent victims" caused by this change)
~~~~

Fake News and Real News

"Mayor Elorza Needs to Snap Joe Paolino into Reality" made a factual error. It wasn't anything Mr. Daisy Goes to China worthy, but it was serious enough to warrant a point-by-point revision. . The former mayor accused Transport Providence of being "fake news" and then rescinded the statement, so I am going to go through the factual statements in the article piece-by-piece to explain what was right and wrong.

Correct: Joe Paolino called Transport Providence fake news.

Yep.

Incorrect: Joe Paolino parked in the Park(ing) Day pop-up protected bike lane.

Oops.

This was not fake news, but merely a mistake. Anthony Paolino, who owns Paolino Accounting at 401 Broadway complained ahead of Park(ing) Day, and we agreed with the city not to put a parklet in front of his office. Someone from his office then parked in the bike lane the whole day, despite Park(ing) Day having raised and paid thousands of dollars for the rights to the (usually free parking. The Taveras administration did call Park(ing) Day and threaten to shut down the protected bike lane if we spoke to Paolino again-- just not Joe Paolino.

Joe Paolino did not do this. Sorry Joe, Transport Providence was wrong. Hey Anthony, you're a jerk!

Correct: Joe Paolino advocated for removing buses from Kennedy Plaza.



Joe Paolino commented as part of an article by Projo writer James Baar, saying that Providence should "Decentralize the bus station to fringe areas, possibly, as some propose, the 195 development land and acquire air rights over the railroad station."

"Fringe" areas really speaks clearly on this issue, doesn't it? The same article (though in the voice of James Baar) opined that "The sprawling, polluting bus station in Kennedy Plaza, a crime-attracting eyesore, a trash strewn mecca for vagrants." While there is a strong argument for reorienting buses into an "everywhere to everywhere" frequent network which would take some buses away from Kennedy Plaza, any successful plan for transit will have to have frequent north-south and east-west trunk lines frequently stopping in KP.

As recently as September Paolino said he would like to see buses moved to Allens Avenue. "It would be a lot better than having the scrap metal yards there," said Paolino. 

Correct: Joe Paolino advocated for making KP a parking garage.


The same Projo article by James Baar quoted Paolino as calling for Providence to "Build a huge parking garage under Kennedy Plaza similar to the 1,300-car garage under Boston Common and expand Burnside Park over the entire Plaza to create a mid-city garden."


Correct: Underground parking can run six figures.

Although there is a range of prices, underground parking frequently runs six figures, and always runs in the middle of the five-figure range per parking spot. Some parking spots in high land value areas cost many hundreds of thousands of dollars per spot. This is because land has to be excavated and structures and ventilation have to be built and maintained to have the parking.

In recent situations, per-spot cost in Rhode Island for even some surface spots (the cheapest kind) have run around $30,000 per space. It's reasonable to extrapolate that underground parking would run close to six figures in Providence given those figures.

For a 1,300 car underground garage like the one Paolino called for, you're looking at anywhere between $50 million and $100 million, without going into crazy New York City or San Francisco range.

To his credit, Paolino tweeted today to say that he admits that it would be expensive (but said he also thought it was a good idea):
Correct: Joe Paolino said bike lanes made the 6/10 Connector expensive.

I quote from the East Side Monthly, which has yet to link its current issue to the internet:
I worry about the mayor's over-reliance on planners. The 6/10 changes are fine but can we afford them? The bicycles paths they brought in are underutilized and have safety and maintenance issues like the one in front of the Providence Journal building where not only is it confusing but you can't plow them.

Joe Paolino commented that "I did not say that the 6/10 Connector proposal was expensive solely because of new bike lanes." Perhaps so, but as we pointed out in the initial article, bike lanes aren't even a small part of why the 6/10 Connector was expensive. Bike lanes are (really, really) cheap in their own right, and help to displace other costs caused by cars.


Correct: Joe Paolino said that Mayor Elorza's planning department was responsible for the outsized cost of the 6/10 Connector. 

Joe said it, but it's not true.





Mostly Incorrect: Mayor Elorza and Providence Planning made 6/10 expensive.

Mayor Elorza advocated for a boulevard, as did his planning department. The final result, agreed to by the city and the state, is too expensive, but that's largely because Gov. Gina Raimondo and RIDOT Director Peter Alviti called a press conference to unilaterally end the public process for "safety" (cough, "Jobs, jobs, jobs"). It was RIDOT that made 6/10 expensive (though perhaps the mayor could be blamed for not screaming and yelling enough to stop RIDOT).

As a matter of opinion, since Mayor Elorza could have probably fought a bit harder against RIDOT, he shares a tiny bit of the blame. But the blame is 90% in the Raimondo and Alviti's court, as having pushed really hard for a highway over Mayor Elorza's wishes.


Correct: Joe Paolino said that bike lanes are unsafe.

In his comment on our blog, later corroborated through his tweets, Joe Paolino said that bike lanes are unsafe.






Correct: Bike lanes are actually safe.

Read the data from the National Association of City Transportation Officials.






Incorrect (Not us, Joe): Providence needs more parking.

Providence does not lack for parking. Read the survey we did of Providence's parking on a midday during a workday.  Or look at the pictures. Even using garage spots as a metric shows that there are often many spaces available, while a look at Providence's downtown surface lots is even more unnerving.

Former Mayor Joe Paolino deserves credit for dialoguing, despite our having made a mistake in accusing him of parking in a bike lane to intentionally obstruct it. We look forward to talking more with Joe, and will be working to set up a small meeting in which some advocates can explain some of these issues and their importance.

Sorry for the mistakes.

~~~~

RI Delegation Must Support Fix It First

The United States needs a #FixItFirst transportation policy, and we can only get that with the help of Rhode Island's congressional delegation. Call Sen. Jack Reed, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressman Jim Langevin and Congressman David Cicilline and tell them that you want them to stand up: Fix It First. We spend the majority of our transportation funding on road widening and brand new projects-to-nowhere, which is the biggest reason why what is left over isn't enough for maintenance. This means that we don't have the money to invest in improved transit, biking, and walking. It also means that land use and traffic patterns are made worse for drivers.

I got to ask Sen. Whitehouse about this at Nathan Bishop Middle School, and he answered the wrong way. Today at East Providence High School I asked the entire delegation: three answered (no answer from Jim Langevin). Of the three who answered, I am most hopeful that we can transform Congressman Cicilline into a full-stop champion of this position, because he has demonstrated a lot of interest in dialoguing on it (Thank you, also, Congressman, for your kind words about Mark Baumer, whose death really serves as a symbol of what is wrong with our transportation system. I think those of us missing Mark really appreciate knowing that his impact made up the chain to members of Congress).

All of the delegation members have room to improve, but of the three delegation members who answered, Sen. Whitehouse's continues to be the most stridently wrong, which is a really shame given his national reputation as a climate change champion.

Why Fix It First?

Fix It First Stops Stealing from Blue States
The Tea Party may be strongest in Red States, but it's Blue States that are actually paying the greatest in taxes. This is for a lot of reasons, but one big one is infrastructure: our pursuit of road widening throws money on sprawling exurban subdivisions and rural communities and ignores inner suburbs, cities, and small towns. It may sound attractive to give money to a few pet projects in the Blue States (and some of those projects have merit) but the bigger pattern is to put the majority of funding to pork.

Consider a potent example former Texas Governor (and Trump Energy Secretary) Rick Perry's "18 Lanes of Freedom". In 2008:
Texas officials this week marked the opening of new lanes on the Katy Freeway, a stretch of Interstate 10 that runs 40 miles west from downtown Houston. The state has added 20 miles of interior lanes, including 12 miles of HOV lanes, which officials say will eventually be converted to variable-rate HOT use. The rebuilt Katy Freeway is 18 lanes wide.
This kind of a ridiculous spending hole is possible because of the structure of how federal money is set up. The vast majority is earmarked for highways, rather than city streets, transit, bike lanes, or walking. State DOTs get to administer much of the money, and those state DOTs make sure it goes to road widening. Rhode Island, as a small state that can punch above its weight class in the Senate, is able to get a lot of earmarks for transportation that it probably should not rightfully be entitled to, but the states that usually get that money are deep red. 

If we're going to stop the Tea Party, we need to take their free money away.

All This Spending is Bad for the Places that Receive It
An important thing to remember is that the places that get this money are getting a white elephant. Federal money pays for building things, but not for maintaining them. That means that when you do something dumb like propose widening I-95 (the whole delegation and Mayor Elorza support this) you get the free money up front but are stuck in debt for an eternity afterwards. It means that when you do something dumb (like Senator Whitehouse did) and advocate for rebuilding a highway disaster as-is instead of as a boulevard (despite Rhode Island advocates being able to get even the Tea Party to support a boulevard), you're stuck with a plan that will bankrupt your place longterm.

Rhode Island's small-state-punching-big-in-the-Senate status means that we get on a lot of lists that other Blue States don't. But that's nothing good. It's why when Providence appears on an embarrassing list of over-highwayed metros. Providence's partners were all from the Midwest and South. This list was called "The Who's Who of Urban Decay" by Walkable Dallas-Fort Worth and Streetsblog USA:
1. Kansas City – 1.262

2. St Louis – 1.070
3. Houston – .822
4. Cleveland – .816
5. Columbus – .779
6. San Antonio – .759
7. Jacksonville – .745
8. Providence – .742
9. Pittsburgh – .731
10. Baltimore – .724
11. DFW – .719
It's pretty clear that being on this list means we're not leading on climate change, and it's also clear we're not being the best leader we can be on traffic safety, job access for the poor, or other measures.

But what's most surprising of all is that they're awful for drivers. Adding lanes to highways incentivizes new, worse land-use patterns, flight from cities, inner-suburbs, and small towns, and changes in behavior towards more driving. All of that means that within a few years, traffic is the same or worse. This isn't something kitschy I made up: real traffic engineers with national credentials pointed it out as we worked for a 6/10 Boulevard.

That 18 Lanes of Freedom that Rick Perry was so excited about (Houston, #3! Represent!)? Well, The Houston Chronicle found that it worsened traffic for the metro. And now TxDOT's got to figure out how to pay for it. Maybe that's why TxDOT, unlike RIDOT, has been looking carefully at urban highway removals.

I sure wish our delegation could have helped us with that, instead of boasting that we've got "free" money for the 6/10 Connector.

Make Sure You Only Applaud for Real Commitments, Not Amorphous Ones
One thing the delegation has gotten smarter about since Sen. Whitehouse's meeting at Nathan Bishop is delivering amorphous statements that get applause points and distract from the question the person was actually asked. Sen. Jack Reed pulled one of these, intentionally or not. I agree with Sen. Reed's statement: "We need to make sure we spend on transit." Yes! Correct. But the question I asked was what the delegation was willing to do to obstruct new spending until such time as we have an accountable policy that does that. In the meantime, while the Republicans work to cut even the tiny bit of money we put to transit, biking, and walking, agreeing to support a Trump (or even Schumer/Pelosi) infrastructure plan won't help. We want our delegation say clearly to its colleagues: Yes, we will vote for infrastructure money, but only when we have accountability. 

So if you're in the audience and Sen. Reed says he supports transit, ask him to put his vote where his feelings are. 

Issues Are Complex
I'm glad that progressives are working to be like the Tea Party in the sense of demanding obstructionist votes from their Congresspeople. I wouldn't be glad to see us become like the Tea Party in terms of abandoning nuance.

So yes, I would be happy to see a compromise on this issue. Can the Rhode Island delegation deliver everything I want this year? Probably not. Might they lose on all the issues? Totally possible. But as many people said to the delegation, we're okay with the fact that we might lose. We don't want Rhode Island's fingerprints on a bad policy. Please, use your votes to demand a better deal, and if you can't get something incrementally better just say no to Trump.

~~~~

Mayor Elorza Needs to Snap Joe Paolino into Reality

Please see the factual update to this article. 
East Side Monthly this month (no link yet) ran an extensive interview with former mayor and parking lot/casino aficionado Joe Paolino. One thing caught my eye especially. Joe Paolino thinks that bike lanes are the cause of the 6/10 Connector's expense. He blames Jorge Elorza pointedly, in what can only be described as a set up to run for mayor (he's been doing a lot of those lately. . . ):
I worry about the mayor's over-reliance on planners. The 6/10 changes are fine but can we afford them? The bicycles paths they brought in are underutilized and have safety and maintenance issues like the one in front of the Providence Journal building where not only is it confusing but you can't plow them.
Mayor Elorza shouldn't feel too bad: Park(ing) Day's 2014
protected bike lane was underutilized too-- because Joe
Paolino parked in it (off-screen). The other car in this shot
moved graciously when we explained the idea to them, but
Former Mayor Paolino dug in his heels. We later got a call
from staff at Mayor Taveras' office telling us not to talk to 
Paolino or the entire event would be canceled. That's how 
power works in Providence.
I once referred to Paolino-- a Clinton supporter-- as the Donald Trump of Providence, because of his intense desire to build things that will bankrupt the city and his faux-populist mission of creating umbrage about a supposed explosion of crime and delinquency in Kennedy Plaza as a way of shunting away "bus people". It seems Joe is at it again, and we need to take him seriously. Like Trump, he's full of dumb ideas, but he could come to power.

Every broken clock is right twice a day, but Joe Paolino is right only once. He calls the Fountain Street protected bike lane confusing and unsafe, and I agree. It ends by spilling into a turn lane at Fountain & Dorrance, it only goes in one direction, it doesn't have adequate bollards to keep drivers from parking in it, and so it ends up being ineffective. The plowing issue is real, but could be resolved by using snowblowers, or by making the bike lane wide enough for an ordinary plow to go down it (I suggested these changes during the planning process).

But Paolino really has some chutzpah talking about an issue he clearly doesn't understand. Like the broken clock, he's only right by accident.

The 6/10 Connector is a tremendously expensive project, but it's not because of bike infrastructure. It's not even totally clear whether RIDOT is going to include real bike infrastructure beyond paint. As someone who has looked at the plans in meetings with the WBNA and the Fix the 6/10 Group, and as part of planning meetings with RIDOT, what comes out clearly from RIDOT's renderings is that they consider a bike "path" to be merely some paint on the ground. Most of what RIDOT plans biking-wise is for show to pretend that the state is concerned about cities, but there's little substance to it. And that is why I'm glad that community groups have been meeting to push for more.

Let's be clear, even if real, Dutch-style bike infrastructure gets included in 6/10, it will be a rounding error on a rounding error of the cost. And the reason that the 6/10 Connector is so expensive is not because of Mayor Elorza-- well, it's a little his fault, but I'll get to that-- it's because of RIDOT. RIDOT insisted that the project go forward as a highway, which is much more expensive than the boulevard model the mayor and his planning department--and the public-- supported.
I am often a critic of Mayor Elorza, but I have watched Joe Paolino's demagogic rise with concern. Mayor Elorza's biggest problem is he runs with half-measures. The bike lane on Fountain Street needs to get fixed so people can't park in it. The 6/10 Connector should have been a boulevard, and probably still can become one if Mayor Elorza grows a spine and tells RIDOT and Gina Raimondo to shove it, reopening the planning process. 

Some of the "lack of parking" in downtown (the Biltmore
garage)
While we're speaking about parking in bike lanes, let me remind people of something: in 2014, candidate Jorge Elorza came out to support the city's second annual Park(ing) Day, in which a temporary protected bike lane was tried on Broadway for the day, in cooperation with local businesses and the WBNA. I was extremely stressed that day, because a certain former mayor, Joe Paolino, decided to park his car in the bike lane all day, making it useless. Joe had complained to the city (then under Mayor Taveras) that by no means would he accept a parklet in front of Paolino Properties, and we stepped out as far as we could to accommodate that. He then slapped back at us anyway. Remembering just how much of a prick Joe Paolino was that day is one of many reasons I would never want him to be mayor again.

Let's talk about expensive: Also in 2014, Joe Paolino interviewed with James Baar at the Projo, claiming that Downtown Providence was plagued by crime and a lack of parking. He called for strict policies to get rid of the homeless and the buses, something he currently is working with Gina Raimondo to accomplish. And he said that the best thing to do with Kennedy Plaza was to turn the whole thing into an underground garage. Paolino apparently didn't know that underground parking runs at $100,000 a space, and that Providence has no lack of parking available at all hours of the day and night. Maybe before telling us how expensive bike lanes are, he ought to look to some of his own past statements.

The best way for Mayor Elorza to fight back against Joe Paolino is by doubling down his efforts to make the city a progressive place. I respect many of the things the mayor tries. Now he needs to try harder. Half-measures like the 6/10 Connector or the Fountain Street Protected Parking Lane will only weaken his efforts. Joe Paolino is an idiot who happens to have lots of money. But idiots with money win sometimes, and especially if the opposition isn't clear-headed and strong. Stick it to him, Mayor. A good place to start would be a tax on those damn parking lots.

But we must stop Joe Paolino.

~~~~

Part 2: Mark Baumer Reflection: U.S. 90

This is part of a multi-part reflection I've been doing following the death of my friend, Mark Baumer (Part 2 in fact-- Part 1 is here). There's nothing graphic in this article, but it does reflect on the circumstances of his death as they relate to transportation policy in order to pursue ways to not have others meet the same fate. Talking about the death of someone we love is really hard, and for many people I imagine simply moving on and remembering Mark for the tremendous amount of life he brought will be more emotionally productive. I respect that, and so if you're that type of person, consider reading something else. I feel like because Mark died the way he did, and especially because he was such an intensely political person, that this is a good way for me to cope with my feelings as I move on from the experience.

I hope that what I write here brings greater meaning to the senseless death of a very good person. It's undertaken with that in mind.
~~~~

One of the things I wanted to do when my friend Mark died was to grasp at what existed of him in the internet. It's a sad thing to do because in doing it you relive some of the feelings you have at losing a person, but you also get to relive what was alive about them. Mark left a tremendous breadth of work that I've only begun to explore. But part of that exploration led me to questions about why Mark had died in the first place. As it turns out, the plans for U.S. 90 conflict with deep things that Mark cared about: climate change, equity, and safety for people "walk down the middle of the road free from all the violence".


Looking through his videos, I found myself wanting to trace where he'd gone. In the last video, I followed along on Google Streetview. The places he highlighted were often places of little inherent interest to me other than that they'd been locations where my friend had been before he'd been killed: the Taco City, the Blue Dolphin Coin Shop, a weird "Bel Air" housing complex on the side of the road, a golf course where Mark taunted a man to "DO THE SPORTS!". We've all done this with people we care about as long as we've been able, but this strange instinct is empowered even more by the broad leeway given by modern technology.



A question that came up for me was whether something about this road led to Mark's death.



This is near where Mark was killed, according to media reports on the subject. It's kind of underwhelming as a place (of course, it's overwhelming in other ways, like in the way it reminds us of Mark). Somehow I expected something much more dangerous looking. By all means, the cars here are probably moving very fast, but there appears to be so much room. It gives you the impression that maybe you were wrong about judging the traffic engineering.
I combed further. One of the places that Mark mentioned was the Spiced Apple Farm, and when I went to look at that on the map, I came to this:


I kind of wondered what all these work trucks were doing, but I had an inkling based on past experience. I once did a bike ride from Philadelphia to Baltimore, and I remember one of the more magical parts of that ride being when I was on U.S. 301, a giant highway that oddly was placed on Maryland's bike map as a suitable route. 301 turned out to be a really nice place to ride, because at the time the DOT was widening it, and had put Jersey barriers up the whole length. The empty construction area, where no one was working at the time, became my protected bike lane. I recall the moment I knew I was in the South, when I came across my first Waffle House, as part of that leg of the journey. And so two-and-two clicked for me here. I wondered if maybe U.S. 90 was being widened. This grass shoulder that perhaps offered Mark the (unfortunately false) sense of security might have been preparations for making this road less safe.
 
This video seems not to always embed properly, so if it comes up as a blank space in the article, you can go here. It's a lot of thoughtful residents from a rural area of Florida trying to be part of their political process.

A number of residents bring up concerns about properties that they worry will be taken by eminent domain for this widening, which in Santa Rosa and Escambia Counties would take a four-lane highway and make it six lanes. The existing four-lane stroad has painted bike lanes, which is kind of an ugly joke.
U.S. 90 in Pensicola, in Escambia County.
A problem I bring up a lot in posts is the fact that the majority of American infrastructure spending is on expanding roads or creating completely new pieces of infrastructure, rather than replacing or repairing existing projects. The widening of existing roads actually worsens traffic and contributes a great deal to climate change. One of the things that is also apparent is that this model of engineering is never able to pay for itself and contributes to the poverty, degradation, and social dislocation of the poor that plagues many places across America. And yet this is a bipartisan problem: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse recently told me at his Nathan Bishop Middle School town hall that he intends to support increased funding for transportation, even as most of that is used for projects like this, not to repair potholes or upgrade transit and biking. Even Bernie Sanders is on the wrong side of this issue.

Of course, FDOT justifies its project with the same mystical language that many traffic engineers use. It promises additional traffic congestion, and declares boldly that the only way to get ahead of that congestion is with more building. This is done perhaps a bit more boldly in Florida than it is even done in Rhode Island:
Daily traffic on that portion of the highway ranges from about 30,000 to more than 43,000 vehicles, with the highest count between Avalon Boulevard and Glover Lane, totaling 43,400 vehicles. 
FDOT spokesman Ian Satter said those numbers are only expected to increase in the coming years, and the department has to begin planning to ensure U.S. 90 can handle the future traffic load.
Keep in mind that as ridiculous as any road widening is, the widening of a road that carries only 43,000 vehicles is especially ridiculous (the 6/10 Connector carries around 100,000 at its most busy section, while a highway in Seoul that carried 160,000 vehicles was removed entirely without any negative consequence. A RIDOT panel once justified not putting protected bike lanes on S. Main Street in Providence, a two-lane road, because they said removing one of the lanes would be too much for the 25,000 cars that use it, to give another example-- although traffic congestion is an exponential, rather than linear function, so neither 25,000 or 160,000 can be traced like a line to what 43,000 is.). U.S. 90 must be a busy road, but by no means one that needs six lanes. And adding lanes will increase demand to be there anyway. 

In any case, as I consider the idea of U.S. 90 being widened, questions come up for me. One of those questions is how we can be spending so much money without solving the problems we have. For instance, in my last piece, I focused attention on the fact that the person who killed Mark had many times had her license suspended, and many times been arrested for driving without a license, and yet no one apparently had any means of stopping her from having access to a car. When the most thoughtful opponents of car impoundment raise their voices, what they often talk about is the dislocation that can come of not having a car. What about the person who is too poor to pay their tickets, they ask? What about the person who loses their license (or is never allowed to have one) because of immigration status or racial profiling? These are justifiable questions. And yet, to look at the road where Mark walked his last steps, you see that it would be very doable to add a biking/walking path with a bump or a jersey barrier to keep the traffic from crossing into it. So much cheaper to do than adding a lane-mile of highway. If we spent a tiny fraction of what we're spending expanding our road liabilities, we could provide for last-resort methods of getting around that would be so nice, that many people who are allowed to drive would actively use them.


According to news reports out of Northwest Florida, some of the officials who pushed for the studies to expand U.S. 90 are facing ethics violations because they failed to disclose the fact that they financially benefited from the arrangement. Quoting an account about local officials Mack Thetford and Vernon Compton, who pushed for the U.S. 90 expansion:
"[Thetford] never disclosed that he owned and controlled property along and near the South route," Thompson's ethics complaint said. "The committee members to my knowledge never knew this either."  
The next day, the complaint states, Thetford, as a member of the Bicycle Pedestrian Committee, won committee support to request the TPO to consider advancing the South route to FDOT (my emphasis)
And you thought your Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Commission was ineffective.

We like to think that the reason things like this happen in the panhandle of Florida is because of some kind of cultural defect. We arrogantly assume that we are better. But Rhode Island does the same things, and RIDOT officials would probably get 19% erections thinking about the opportunities they'd have if we allowed them to do projects like this. Our entire Congressional delegation and Mayor Jorge Elorza endorsed a similarly stupid plan to expand I-95 near the Mall, just because it comes with some non-sense add-ons about a pedestrian bridge across the highway. To the extent that this happens more in other places, it isn't because of any defect of the people living there. It's because American traffic engineering is broken, and the funding schema we have at the federal and state level empowers that brokenness. 

The writer David Hembrow did a touching piece on the sheer number of animals killed on roads around the world (I'm having trouble finding the link, but if you see it, pass it on to me). Hembrow used the United States as an example, he said, not of how bad the U.S. was, but because our country happens to have available statistics on the matter. But one of the things that was most touching about the piece was the way that Hembrow emphasized that driving is itself an inherently dangerous act, against the nature of who we are and our ability to make tremendous errors. His writings, time and again, have emphasized to me that the only way to assure that others are safe is to promote a sane infrastructure policy. It is infrastructure again that is failing us in America.

I think Mark would want us to fight back. I'm not a religious person, and I don't know that any literal remnant of Mark exists in the sense of a soul, but I think one of the main purposes of life, since we all die, is to work to the point where we comfortably can pass the torch to the people who will come after us. Mark worked hard to create the groundwork for his torch-passing, and especially after re-reading an email he sent me talking with kindess and thoughtfulness about how to interact with people who harm other people with their cars, I felt like looking more closely at the situation he faced was a way to keep him alive. 


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Part 1: Mark Baumer Reflection: Impounding Vehicles & Immigrant Rights

This is part of a multi-part reflection I've been doing following the death of my friend, Mark Baumer. There's nothing graphic in this article, but it does reflect on the circumstances of his death as they relate to transportation policy in order to pursue ways to not have others meet the same fate. Talking about the death of someone we love is really hard, and for many people I imagine simply moving on and remembering Mark for the tremendous amount of life he brought will be more emotionally productive. I respect that, and so if you're that type of person, consider reading something else. I feel like because Mark died the way he did, and especially because he was such an intensely political person, that this is a good way for me to cope with my feelings as I move on from the experience.

I hope that what I write here brings greater meaning to the senseless death of a very good person. It's undertaken with that in mind.

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When I came out of the memorial to Mark Baumer on Saturday, I combed through things I had from that friendship. Most of the conversations I had with Mark over the years were in person, standing in the aisle of some grocery store or on the street, or at a library or some other public place. But I did have a few physical remnants of email or Twitter conversations. I had this urge to sort through them, to try to find some piece of the friend I lost. One conversation I came across stood out in particular.

About two years ago, Mark Baumer sent me an article about the actions of a "vigilante" bicyclist who took photos of aggressive drivers and sent their license plate information to the police. Mark added the comment, "I like everything about this except the part about giving it to the police." That email conversation with Mark led me to write this post about honing the balance between driver accountability and avoiding an amping up of the police state. Mark's conscience shines through beyond the article itself, because when I sent him the post he replied with an elaborate proposal to find driver information from license plates and go to have conversations with the drivers about what their actions meant to people around them. In typical Mark fashion he managed to be extremely ambitious and idealistic without a hint of arrogance, saying that he like my post and adding that he "was hesitant to add the part about the police." 

"Is there a way to find out who someone is if you have their license plate?" Mark wanted to know. "I wonder what happens if you tried having a conversation with people later about it. I imagine people would probably get pretty defensive and lash out."

That Mark was thinking so deeply about the complex nature of bad driving, and of the humanity of people who do ordinary, everyday, banally evil things, was just like Mark. Reading this as I came out of his memorial made me feel like I had a duty to do some thinking about the person(s) who killed Mark.

Car & Driver

Sonja Ziglar killed Mark Baumer when she lost
control of her vehicle on Highway 10 (U.S. 90)
in Crestville, Florida. She was a habitual violator
of driving with a suspended license.
Journalism on pedestrian deaths often ascribes a kind of passive-voice responsibility to the car "losing control" or "leaving the road" as if the machine itself does the killing rather than the person behind its wheel. When we move beyond blaming the SUV that killed Mark, we get to the driver, whose name was Sonja Moore Ziglar.

Ziglar* who-- unusually for pedestrian deaths-- faces charges for her irresponsible driving, has arrest records that show she had previously driven on a suspended license. The charge refers to her as a "habitual offender". On the day Ziglar killed Mark, whatever other illegal behavior she might have exhibited-- texting, speeding, and so on-- might remain a mystery. The source of her charges, and the reason she does not join the endless chain of drivers who have killed and faced no legal ramifications, is for the fact that she was driving without proper authorization.

Equity & Impounding Vehicles
California Democrat Jerry Brown, whose administration has taken
strong liberal stances on issues like climate change and immigrant
rights, signed a bill blocking impoundments of most vehicles,
citing concerns over immigrant rights.
Why is it so easy for drivers with suspended licenses to hold onto their vehicles? If driving is
not a legal activity for these drivers, wouldn't removing the tool with which they drive be a sensible way to avoid potential harm if they decide to break the law again? Especially for repeat offenders like Ziglar, this question rings out, and led me to search for comparative data on how vehicle impoundments work around the country.


As with many legal issues in the United States, the equity issues that plague our country complicate the issue of impounding vehicles, perhaps getting in the way of a consensus on the issue.



Immigration status is a big issue that thwarts that consensus. In California, Governor Jerry Brown signed a 2012 law allowing license-less drivers to keep their cars if they were stopped for reasons other than DUI. According to The Los Angeles Times, "Some Latino lawmakers have alleged that sobriety checkpoints have been misused by some cities to unfairly target illegal immigrants who do not have a driver’s license. Because cities can hold cars taken from unlicensed drivers for 30 days, the accumulated impound fees can turn out to be more than the car is worth, resulting in some drivers losing their cars". One can understand this concern. Rather than fix the root of the issue, which is laws disallowing undocumented immigrants from having drivers' licenses, the California law made it so that drivers facing serious moving violations like speeding or texting while driving would be let to keep their cars, even as it resolved some of the issues that resulted from racial/national-origin profiling.



Wisconsin Republican Joe Sanfelippo, whose office
spoke with Transport Providence, supports stronger 
vehicle impounding laws and would be "open" to 
non-citizen licenses in his state, which voted for 
Donald Trump.
Wisconsin, too, had prominent news stories appearing about the conflict between those who wanted to grant the state the ability to impound cars to protect the public, and those who felt that doing so posed an equity issue. A television news interview with a Republican state representative, Joe Sanfelippo, placed the context mostly in terms of income. The vast majority of the 114,000 or so stops that Wisconsin officials made for non-licensed drivers resulted from drivers who had not paid traffic tickets, while only a much smaller portion were for DUIs. Again, my own perspective on this is that someone who speeds or texts while driving should be as liable to lose their car if they don't pay the appropriate tickets as someone who has a DUI violation, and that was the perspective expressed by Republican Sanfelippo. But some probing around on Wisconsin's DMV website reminded me that moving violations in some states can also include things like driving without a seatbelt. If a consensus around impounding vehicles is to be found, exempting issues that don't affect the safety of others might be an necessary step. It's hard to feel fair about taking someone's car away because they didn't pay a seatbelt ticket.


The Wisconsin television station did not focus on immigration status as the California coverage had, but I wondered what role that might have, especially after coming across another article on an independent news blog raising the disparity. From my perspective, it's both maddening that someone cannot drive simply because of their immigration status-- especially because getting a drivers' license essentially documents the person receiving the license-- while allowing drivers who have endangered others to continue having access to their cars.

In a racist political mailer, Speaker Nicolas Mattiello of Rhode Island attacked his Republican opponent Steven Frias for 
not being explicitly anti-immigrant. Mattiello barely won reelection, but has continued his push to block immigrants without documents from getting drivers' licenses. What would Mark Baumer do about this if he was alive?

To find out what role this might have, I contacted Representative Sanfelippo's office myself. The office cordially responded, but at first offered nothing related to immigration status. When I pressed the office in another email, a staffer for the office, Joshua Heisington, replied to say "Rep. Sanfelippo was the co-author of 2015 WI Act 374, which sets uniform guidelines for local governments to issue municipal ID’s, which can include issuance to non-citizens. I’ve listed more information below. I believe Rep. Sanfelippo sees a conflict with individuals who break the law on Wisconsin roadways and put the lives of law abiding citizens at risk. Considering the issue listed above, I believe Rep. Sanfelippo would be open to having a discussion on non-citizen driver licenses, and he has discussed such a proposal with Rep. Zamarripa in the past. However, Rep. Sanfelippo did not support her proposal as it was written at that time." The email went on to include a Sanfelippo press release on immigrant IDs which was critical of the IDs. Nonetheless, the key words saying that Sanfelippo-- a Republican in a Trump state-- is open to drivers' licenses for undocumented immigrants should shame Rhode Island Democrats like State Speaker Nicolas Mattiello, who campaigned on a platform of preventing immigrants from having licenses. I believe after my research that one of the reasons my friend Mark is dead is because denying licenses to undocumented immigrants creates disrespect for the law, which then blocks a consensus to protect the safety of people on roads through impoundment of vehicles owned by irresponsible drivers.

Not many states offer impoundment as a tool in the toolbox for keeping people safe from irresponsible drivers. Florida, the state where Mark was killed, did offer that tool, but only for DUI drivers. A first-time DUI offense allows the state to impound a vehicle for just 10 days. A second is up to 30 days. A third (!) DUI offense allows the state to impound a vehicle up to 90 days. Each of these also has statutes of limitations separating offenses from one another. For instance, a third offense must be within ten years of the last one in order to get the 90 day penalty. The CDC keeps records on states that do and do not have impoundment as an option for dealing with bad drivers, and many do not even have these options. Rhode Island is one of the states that does not impound vehicles, even for DUI offenses, according to the CDC chart.

When I consider the actions of Sonja Ziglar, I'm brought to think of Mark's own words from his email nearly two years ago. What understanding does a person like Ziglar have of her actions? How would she react if someone like me (or Mark) had tried to talk to her about the effect of her irresponsibility? How would Mark feel about prisons and policing in the context of a person like Ziglar, who now, after many chances, has taken a life? I don't know how to react to the personal character of someone like Ziglar. I'm drained of anger, and my urge is to just want to understand more. But what does leave me shaking with anger is the notion that our society is more okay with locking up a person who has been given the rope to hang themselves than taking that rope away. What can we do to address the inequalities Mark cared about-- things like immigrant rights? How is our racism preventing us from being able to keep people safe?

I miss Mark. I think he would want an answer.

Part 2: The Road to Perdition is Wide
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