Which lawbreakers are at fault (updated)

The ordinance whose introduction by Daley inspired “Hello, Criminal” made its way through the legislative apparatus. The Tribune apparently thought it wise to celebrate by splashing my photo on the front page of its website yesterday. John Greenfield has the full story of the ordinance’s passage in Gapers Block. How this became controversial is beyond me; all that the ordinance does is codify penalties for rudely, dangerously, stupidly, and (already) illegally cutting people off in traffic. Anyone who speaks in favor of that deserves to be, well, cut off.

What motorists probably don’t know (but which astute readers here do) is that several detailed multiyear crash studies (Portland, NYC) have found that most bicycle crashes are caused by drivers breaking the law — not cyclists. The entire point of traffic regulations, historically, has been to defend against the deadly and reckless use of automobiles, and particularly against the shocking brutality of hit-and-runs. Even today, three generations after the first requirements that drivers and cars carry licenses, four Americans die every day in hit-and-run crashes.

Perry Duis’ Encyclopedia of Chicago article on “Street Life” notes that for the first half of their history, the parade of varied workaday activities — few of them related to speedy transportation — on Chicago’s streets even proved a tourist attraction:

In 1900, Scottish author William Archer proclaimed that “New York for a moment does not compare with Chicago in the roar and bustle and bewilderment of its street life.” Similarly, many of Chicago’s greatest writers—especially those of rural origin—wove their fascination with the energy and variety of the public spaces, especially downtown, into their works.

It all ends sadly.

[T]he automobile age… dramatically changed the relationship between Chicagoans and their streets. The auto not only benefited from the growing disdain for the street by providing the kind of isolation from street life that had once been enjoyed by only the wealthy… Drivers also demanded speed and the elimination of peddlers, plodding wagons, playing children, or any other street use that interfered with getting from here to there. By the 1920s the growing volume of fast-paced traffic produced intersection hazards that encouraged the introduction of mechanical traffic signals… The idea of the street as a place for getting from here to there was about to triumph… During the 1950s the press began to note a loss of neighborhood social life that had traditionally grown out of public places. The front porch or stoop, which had fostered neighboring on warm evenings, had begun to give way to air conditioning and television.

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