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Where Is the Urgency on Traffic Violence?

Once upon a lovelier time I was married to a man who earned a good living doing good work, loved our children, loved living in the Southwest, and dutifully if not lovingly paid taxes because we got to live in the US where life was pretty darned good. Then one day four years ago, a teenage driver in an SUV crashed into Bill as he pedaled along the roadside and, well, none of us who loved him ever had a chance to say goodbye. Being good is no guarantee of anything.

Last year our governor proclaimed a public health emergency based on our state’s alarming rate of gun violence incidents, in numbers so high our state rose alarmingly close to the top of the worst for gunshot fatalities. Her effort to reduce these numbers was dramatically trimmed, but her proposal will be up for renewed scrutiny when our legislature convenes later this month. We’ll see what comes of it this year. It’s bound to be contentious.

Meanwhile, another form of everyday violence continues to rob us of safety and happiness, a mundane violence with many victims but no stand-out heroes, the violence on our roads. We live in a city laid out with roads designed to move people and products as efficiently as possible from one point to another. Being Westerners, we have long regarded speed and space as being our rights. We love our sprawling vistas, our sprawling ranches, our vast and sprawling city and we loved big, fast, polluting cars. Did we ever love our seemingly endless acreage of parking lots?

New Mexico has, from year to year, either the highest or the second highest pedestrian fatality rate. The paucity of data regarding crashes of motor vehicles with bicycles makes that rate unreliable, but if you ride a bicycle at all on Albuquerque’s streets you know how unsafe they feel! Despite the valiant efforts of governmental initiatives such as our city’s Vision Zero program, the count of victims keeps going up. 

A recent article by the Harvard Public Health provides an excellent overview of how and why traffic fatalities, including those from car-to-car crashes, keep rising across our country. It’s not the fault of e-vehicles or driverless cars, though they, too, show up in the sad statistics. It’s due to the fact that our roads are built for speed rather than safety while our vehicles keep growing larger and deadlier with every year’s models. The report is easy to read and full of facts; I encourage all of you to click on the embedded link, above. Its conclusion: “Traffic deaths are a public health crisis in the US.”

We actually know how to resolve this crisis. There is lots and lots of research on traffic policy and road design that can actually make a difference. A few of them came up for debate in last year’s legislative agenda, most of them tabled or left to expire. And, right now, there is actually federal money available to states like ours with outrageous traffic fatality rates! Will anyone bring these up in this year’s legislature? One state representative hopes to introduce a bill to outlaw necrophilia during the 30-day session. Is that really our priority??

Unlike the equally urgent efforts to legislate gun violence, one need not lose any precious Constitutional right if we choose to devote time, energy and resources to speeding up our work to make our streets safe for all to travel. We don’t have a right to kill, do we? Taking the City of Albuquerque’s Vision Zero statewide and fully funding it will make all of us safer, happier, and healthier. What brave and farseeing legislators will take on this public health challenge?

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