There are conceptual links which, somehow, form narratives in the news media, and others which don’t. Urban homicides form a narrative. Whether at a bar at closing time, a domestic dispute, a drug deal gone bad, or something gang related they are all bound together as a tale of death and the streets. That they are linked more to behavior and identity than place goes unnoticed and uncommented because it unwinds the narrative.
The story of death and the road, as distinct from death and the streets, is told much differently. It is told as a tale of behavior and identity (speed, age, drunkenness) but almost never a story of place. Place rating sites completely ignore traffic fatalities and pedestrian deaths in their calculations of livability despite the fact that there is clearly a causational link between place and fatality and injury: the more greatly a place conforms to post war auto centric design, the more injurious it is to people.
It may seem tautological of course, but the more people walk the safer it is to walk. On the other hand, if I had said “the more people walk, the more people get killed walking”, that too might have seemed tautological. Notice how much more dangerous Orlando is than Boston. Nearly 13 times according to this study’s pedestrian danger index.
Or while in a vehicle(This data is by city, I was unable to find equivalent metro area data):
It is also the case that within states and metro areas the places which are most dangerous are the most auto-centric and the least dense. People die at greater rates as they move faster and as they move away from the center and toward the periphery.
On a national level the story could be about the South and West, on a local level, the rural roads and suburban “stroads”.
There were three deaths in two days in greater Springfield just this week, before the start of the Memorial Day Weekend, when highway deaths ARE a story, but not the story I’ve outlined. Three people are dead, one in Hadley, one in Ludlow, and one in Granby, but if a connection is made between them and some other fatalities on the roadways it will be to a generic, ephemeral idea of “death on the highways” in no way connected to the auto-centric design and lifestyle of suburban and rural America…they represent “all of us” despite the fact that some of us do live in less car-centric places.
On the other hand going back to my introduction, if there had been three murders in Springfield this week, one a domestic dispute, one a drug deal done bad, and the other an altercation at a bar, the narrative of “urban dangerousness” or death and the streets would most certainly have been invoked by every media outlet. We don’t all have homicidal significant others, though that is the danger, we don’t all drink and engage with belligerent people at watering holes, though that is the danger, we don’t all participate in the drug trade, though that is the danger, but somehow the behavior is overshadowed by place and place becomes the danger.
Perhaps a motorcycle accident in Granby, a automobile collision in Hadley, and an ATV tragedy in Ludlow seem more disparate than the fictional violence I’ve described, but in truth they are part of a pattern of injury and death which surrounds auto-centeredness and is much more place driven than what is called “urban violence”.
You can be in a city, and reduce tremendously your risk relative to violence whereas just traveling, on foot or by car, in an auto-centered world represents the greatest risk of all which can only minimally be reduced by altering behavior. Even if you don’t drink and don’t drive fast those roads are dangerous whether that’s part of the narrative or not.