I was out of town and unable to attend the Traffic Justice Summit at Seattle’s City Hall a couple of weeks ago, but thanks to great work by the folks at Seattle Channel, a video has been posted on the Web. The presentation also will broadcast on TV via Seattle Channel (21 on Comcast cable) over the next few days (link and showtimes below).
This show is well worth watching, for a penetrating look not only at how the judicial process marginalizes cyclists and pedestrians, the second-class citizens of our transportation network, but at the crushing impact that senseless, careless, negligent actions behind the wheel of a vehicle have on friends and families of those struck down.
The key word here is “justice.” Without a socio-judicial response equivalent to the severe injury or death suffered in a bike or pedestrian accident, there can be no sense of closure from loved ones, and — most significantly — no disincentive for others or even the same perpetrator to repeat the offense.
A horrific case in point was offered at the Summit. A bike rider, Ilsa Govan, told how she had been struck by a car driving on the wrong side of the road. She subsequently discovered that the driver, Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz, had a history of poor driving, and yet had been permitted back behind the wheel of a car time and again.
Eighteen months after her accident, the same driver killed Tatsuo Nakata, a City Council aide, while he was walking across a street in a crosswalk. As Govan put it, the rabbi “is not a bad person. He’s just a bad driver.”
Under current law, about all traffic enforcement officers can do in a case lacking clear intent to harm is issue a traffic ticket, even in the case of death where the victim clearly had right of way. Efforts in Olympia to address the legal discrepancy with “vehicular assault” legislation have stumbled in the past. At the Summit, Seattle city attorney Tom Carr and state senator Adam Kline brought us up to date on renewed efforts spearheaded by Cascade Bicycle Club and its tireless advocacy director, David Hiller, who emceed the event.
If any one segment encapsulated the shame, outrage and agony of the current situation, it was the moving testimony of Michele Black, widow of Ballard cyclist Kevin Black, who was killed by a van driver last February making a u-turn on 24th Avenue Northwest.
The driver was “in such a hurry to get to where she wanted to go,” Michele noted, that she not only ignored common sense and broke the law, she killed a human being. Or, as one of Kevin’s daughters put it in a card “to Daddy” posted at a memorial at the intersection where he died, “ran you over like a speed bump.”
“I want justice for Kevin, and I want justice for every person who has been killed,” said Michele, who had the added horror of coming onto the scene of her husband’s death shortly after the accident without knowing what had happened. “I don’t want another family to feel that pain.”
After Michele spoke, Hiller noted in a choking voice that last year’s legislation “got dropped on the day Kevin was hit. The day sticks in my head as well.”
Numerous other testimonials were offered, including from survivors of car collisions. Congratulations to Cascade and Hiller for putting together a session that was not only informative but struck a human chord as well and was not afraid to confront the pathos and tragedy of loss. As daunting as accident statistics are — and they’re going up as more bike commuters hit the streets and bicycling in general increases as an alternative transportation method and recreational activity — it’s people’s stories like those at the Summit which ultimately drive change.
We’ll keep you posted on legislative efforts in the upcoming session. The Seattle Channel link and showings:
TV (Channel 21):
Tomorrow, October 29, 2009 5:00 p.m.
Saturday, October 31, 2009 2:30 a.m.
Saturday, October 31, 2009 2:00 p.m.
Sunday, November 01, 2009 11:00 a.m.
Sunday, November 01, 2009 10:00 p.m.
Monday, November 02, 2009 3:00 a.m.
Wednesday, November 04, 2009 9:00 p.m.