Photo by Transportation for America on Flickr.
Raquel Nelson has finally encountered some compassion in her Georgia jaywalking conviction case, getting a minimal sentence and even a chance at a new trial from the judge. But a comment on another fatality closer to home, in Anne Arundel County, shows that windshield perspective in the justice system goes beyond Cobb County, Georgia.
The judge, Katherine Tanksley, gave Nelson 12 months probation and 40 hours of community service, with no fines and no jail time. In an unusual step, Tanksley also gave her the option of a new trial, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
This may be the first time Nelson has gotten empathy from any officials in the county, who threw the book at her because a driver who’d been drinking hit her 4-year-old son. Nelson and her family were trying to cross a street from the bus stop to her home in the same way that numerous people do every day, where no realistic alternative exists.
The county transportation officials who designed this street to be so dangerous, the AJC reporter who pointed out she hadn’t been charged, the prosecutors who overcharged the case, and the jurors who had never taken a public bus all showed no remorse for encouraging a situation where people have to break laws and put themselves in dangerous situations just to travel to work and shop.
A similar windshield perspective is on display in a recent Anne Arundel crash. A driver fatally hit Alex Canales Hernandez and, as in Nelson’s case, left the scene. Also like Nelson’s, it happened on a busy arterial street that’s been designed for maximum vehicle speeds and not for bicycle or pedestrian safety.
Anne Arundel police spokesperson Justin Mulcahy told the Maryland Gazette, “Certain stretches of roads should really be just for vehicles.” He also encouraged cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers all to pay attention and make eye contact.
Setting aside the fact that “vehicles” include bicycles, certain stretches of road are just for motor vehicles, like freeways. But those always coexist with networks of other roads that can potentially serve all modes. In most suburban areas like Cobb County, Georgia and Anne Arundel County, Maryland, designers have often made local arterial roads more freeway-like without actually providing for safe bicycle and pedestrian alternatives.
Bus stops become tiny roadside perches mere feet from speeding traffic with few or no places to cross, and people trying to get around without a car, sometimes because they can’t afford one, have to take their lives into their hands and risk being blamed when anything goes wrong.
Not only do rude commenters and commentators blame these victims, but so do some police and callous spokespeople like Mulcahy or Jonathan Perok of Prince William, who blamed a pedestrian for getting killed in Dumfries who turned out to be a VDOT contractor there to install a traffic signal.
Jay Mallin made a great video in response to a similar Prince William incident that’s equally relevant to Raquel Nelson’s and Alex Canales Hernandez’s cases. It’s worth rewatching:
According to the report, the average cost of owning a car is just shy of $9,500. That may not sound like much until you realize the federal poverty level is $22,350 for a family of four. One-third of low-income African-American households do not have access to an automobile. That figure is 25 percent among low-income Latino families and 12.1 percent for whites. Racial minorities are four times more likely than whites to use public transit to get to work.
Yet the federal government allocates 80 percent of its transportation funding to highways.
"This is the civil rights dilemma: Our laws purport to level the playing field, but our transportation choices have effectively barred millions of people from accessing it,” the report states. “Traditional nondiscrimination protections cannot protect people for whom opportunities are literally out of reach.”
The report couldn’t be more timely. Sarah Goodyear asks, could the intense media coverage of this issue mean that society is ready to start taking pedestrian rights more seriously?