The Death Race is half way done and automotive deaths lead urban homicide by a score of 35 to 6 with an even more impressive 27 to 1 lead in stranger killing.
I am a very biased reporter, of course, but what has most impressed me thus far is, apart from the innocent dead, how much suffering there must be among the survivors of these crashes. There are two infamous moments in our household here where miscommunication almost lead to the death of my stepdaughter LunaLucia. On the very first occasion we wandered through the downtown and my arm gesture gave LuLu the impression that she was to cross the street, not the driveway as I had intended, and she blissfully, and rapidly, darted across the street on her scooter. Luckily no cars were coming. Then there was the time she had trouble closing her umbrella walking home and she handed it to me to fix; I did as we waited at the next intersection. I handed it back to her mumbling “ok” which she understood to mean it was “ok” to cross. It wasn’t. If I hadn’t grabbed her and pulled her back she would have been crushed by a speeding vehicle. When I remember those two events I still feel guilt and anger…and nothing happened!
Nearly every accident I’ve documented includes at least one, and often more than one, other victim who managed to survive. As far as I can tell none of these crashes involved anyone intentionally murdering or attempting to murder someone else. In each one of those cases then, there is at least one other person carrying not just the physical damage, but the psychological injury of killing another person OR, in the cases where the deceased was somehow the perpetrator of the crash, what I have to imagine would be a great deal of anger toward the late fellow motorist.
What also jumps out at me is how many of these deaths have been at the fringe of the metro area. Springfield has a major north-south interstate highway going through it carrying upwards of 75,000 cars a day along with the I-291 connector to the MassPike, a population of 155,000 people, and hundreds of miles of roadway; and there have been a handful of traffic fatalities. But when I compare that to a sleepy little town like South Hadley with 1/10th the population, no interstate highways, and relatively little incoming commuter traffic and I see at least 3 deaths from 3 separate traffic incidents already this year and I wonder how that impacts the people there.
Just as was the case last year we had two commercially propagated lists published this week. One claimed that Springfield, Boston, and Worcester were three of the “most dangerous” cities to drive in in the United States. Actually these cities are “dangerous” to the bottom line of insurers as they produce way more than the average number of accidents per vehicle mile while at the same time producing, as was displayed on the other list published this week, the fewest deaths per vehicle mile in the United States. On that second list each and every one of the six New England states were rated as the safest states in which to live in the United States.
I do not think that it is coincidence that the region of the country with the most communities that have retained a core at least of “patterns of traditional development” while at the same time experiencing among the slowest growth in the post war era, and thus containing relatively very little sprawl, yes “sprawl” development, is the safest region in the nation. It’s also reputed to be the most curmudgeonly in terms of governmental regulation and nanny-state-ism.
I find it interesting that often, just this week on the Strongtowns podcast for example, I read or hear that what communities most need is for government to just “get out of the way”. “Har, har, har, I’m from the gubmint and I’m here to help you! Har, har, har.”
While even the best government is not perfect government I would take Boston, and Worcester, and Providence, and Hartford, and Springfield over the intentionally unregulated Houston, or the unintentionally unregulated Detroit any day. A claim that just “giving people the freedom to act and that will will lead to success” is belied by the fact that the most bureaucratic and regulated part of the country is the richest, safest, best educated, and least crime ridden.
The claim which is often made, and that I have parroted, is that New England’s advantage in this area was just a case of being a winner in the genetic lottery; we just inherited all of these older communities. That’s not all there is to it, however. The industrial Midwest and even many parts of the rest of the country had thousands of these cities and towns as well; but they tore them up in ways that we did not. Boston was every ounce the shit hole that St Louis or Detroit could have claimed to be in the 70’s; why didn’t we raze Beacon Hill and the Fens to build suburban strip malls? Curmudgeonly bureaucratic red tape?
I don’t know, but I have a feeling that the culture that just gave us a 1960’s style parking garage on Main Street is the same one that preserved a safe, walkable grid in the post war era of auto-centric development. All in all I’d take that deal.