Greater Greater Washington periodically publishes opinion posts on topics of interest to our readers. The views expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Greater Greater Washington.
Julie O'Brien's brief testimonial last week in the Post on behalf of her friend and neighbor, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, managed to generate a good bit of cynical reaction.
That's probably understandable, as a few anecdotal examples of Kavanaugh's individual kindnesses toward those in his own enclave of million-dollar homes seem to address only tangentially, at best, the wisdom of granting him a lifetime appointment to the nation's top court.
More overlooked, however, is what O'Brien offers as the central tale of Kavanaugh's personal and societal priorities. With apparent admiration, she describes her “carpool dad” neighbor as one who is regularly “racing” his vehicle through DC and Maryland “just to catch the last 15 minutes” of his daughters' sporting and religious activities.
The fact that she sees herself as conferring a badge of honor rather than issuing a warning of recklessness seems worth pondering, for what it says both about Kavanaugh and about a society and legal system that presumably would nod along with her in lauding such a character reference.
My own children regularly walk and bike along Brookville Road, which is the main pathway between Kavanaugh's home and his family's church on the DC-Maryland border. Brookville is a narrow road with no lanes for bikes, and a skinny sidewalk so thin and obstructed in places that even pedestrians often cannot walk around each other without stepping down into the road.
Along some parts of Brookville, the sidewalk doesn't even exist. In many parts where the sidewalk does exist, such as near Kavanaugh's home, pedestrians and bicyclists must balance on its few inches of width, with manicured hedges pushing them from one side and drivers rushing past them on the other, perilously close. Ongoing pleas to state and local officials to change that situation have produced no meaningful change.
Like those on so many other roadways around us, the drivers racing up and down Brookville show little fear of consequences, bodily or legally. Without any safe location for non-motorists along stretches of Brookville, I'm left fearful each day that my children use it by foot or bike to get to their school bus or summer camp.
More than 35,000 people are killed by drivers each year in the United States. Several hundred of them are bicyclists, and thousands are pedestrians. Those numbers are rising, while prosecutions for motorists killing bicyclists remain rare. Notable local examples include former Navy Seal Timothy Holden and retired University of Maryland professor Ned Gaylin, both plowed into by drivers later given minor tickets — or no penalty at all.
And yet, with our highways and local roads jammed to the point of gridlock, politicians are talking up solutions based largely on the approach of laying down even more pavement for cars. Rarely do they work energetically to address the structural and legal obstacles that scare away those who might try modes of transit that are less bloated, destructive and expensive. Rarely do motorists admit that they pay nowhere near the financial and health costs they impose on others around them.
Local officials and advocates are lining up behind wonderful-sounding initiatives such as “Vision Zero” and “Complete Streets.” But “Complete Streets” aren't really complete, given that current plans would allow bicyclists only occasional segments of protected passageway rather than a fully safe network of transit along the roads they finance with their tax dollars.
And “Vision Zero” — a theoretical goal of zero road deaths — isn't going to come close to happening in any US road structure where drivers behaving badly around bicyclists are virtually guaranteed of no meaningful repercussions.
In that context, O'Brien's public alert that Kavanaugh is one of those regularly “racing” up and down Brookville and other area roadways probably is worth considering — if not directly in the discussion of whether he belongs on the Supreme Court, then at least on the wider question of whether our legal system affords equal constitutional protection to those who choose to move about the world without motorized assistance.
O'Brien appears to be assuring us that her friend, Kavanaugh, if given any opportunity at the very top of the US legal structure, will not be among those standing up to challenge the nation's very unequal and unsafe treatment of transportation choices.