A few more thoughts about Raquel Nelson and “dangerous by design” streetsJuly 22, 2011
By Stephen Lee Davis
Updated 7/25: This petition at Change.org for Raquel Nelson has a lot of momentum. Sign it if you haven’t already. It will be delivered to the judge in the case before sentencing tomorrow.
The response to our post on the Atlanta mother who was charged with vehicular homicide when her child was struck by a hit-and-run driver while crossing a street has been, to put it mildly, staggering. At last count, David Goldberg’s post has more than 150 comments, and many of the referring posts on the same topic have been similarly busy, some reaching into the hundreds of comments. More than 35,000 people read our post in two days and spread the story like wildfire on twitter. (Share the story with the #RaquelNelson hashtag.)
Though the response has been enormous — positive and negative — perhaps it really shouldn’t be all that surprising.
Considering that a huge percentage of Americans live in places not all that different from Austell Road in western Cobb County — once sleepy places near a larger city that were suburbanized around the automobile through the last few decades — many people could immediately relate to the story in some way.
Some may have been in Raquel Nelson’s shoes before, using sporadic public transportation or having to walk on streets where pedestrians are treated as an afterthought at best or a nuisance at worst. Some may be drivers who’ve seen pedestrians crossing without crosswalks from a similar bus stop and looked on in horror, having never considered what life is like in America’s suburbs without a car.
The comments on our story ran the spectrum. From sharing our outrage at the miscarriage of justice, to belief that the mother was wrong yet shouldn’t be charged, to people who would’ve obviously made the right decision in hindsight (with little understanding of what Nelson’s life was like), to shockingly callous comments suggesting she got what she deserved. (Oh, and a fair helping of just plain offensive, racist, nasty things. We had to edit, delete or otherwise moderate more comments on this one post than in 3 years of comments on the T4 America blog.)
Most people commenting on the story were entirely focused on the question of whether or not Raquel Nelson was at all to blame, ignoring the larger question we asked: Isn’t this a systemic failure of how we design, plan and build our towns and cities?
One commenter did pick up on this, also hinting at a deeper issue of justice and fairness:
“The comments do not address the underlying problem. It is not a matter of who is at fault in this specific incident as much as what is being done about the problem wherever it exists. This incident is proof that there is a problem with the way transportation is planned. The funding to fix these problems is being voted down. The ones voting against the funds are likely fine with that as the people affected will mostly not vote for them. Win Win for them.”
The people who are most likely riding the bus, walking along highways without sidewalks or crossing midblock to avoid 20 extra minutes of walking to cross a street in West Cobb County are people with few other options. They’re the people who the elected leaders in a place like Cobb County, that’s largely white and prosperous, probably aren’t going to spend a whole lot of time catering to.
This issue really is one of fairness and equity.
Should we be treating the people who have to walk (to say nothing of the people who want or choose to) as second-class citizens, forcing them to walk 20 minutes out of their way just to safely cross a street near their house or the store? Should we be more concerned with all the people who use a road, rather than just the ones who can afford to use a car? Is moving traffic as fast as possible, no matter the consequences to people on foot or bike, the only important function of our streets and roads?
One thing is certain: there are stories far too similar to Raquel Nelson’s all over the country. People walking along or crossing streets that weren’t designed for them, in places where the planning hasn’t caught up to the function — demonstrated in this instance where bus stops are placed across from residences with no safe, convenient way to get between the two.
We simply must do better. As long as we continue building and designing streets like these below, we’ll continue to see people die unnecessarily.
|Photo courtesy of Dr. Scott Crawford||Photo courtesy of April Bertelson, Portland Pedestrian Coordinator||Photo by Stephen Davis, T4 America|