Everyday danger

The all-too-common scene at the intersection of Anchorage’s Lake Otis and Northern Lights boulevards; stop lights are supposed to prevent these kinds of collisions but they only work when people pay attention to them/Craig Medred photo


Lack of consequences = dangerous roads

The question of the moment is simple: “Who killed Carlton Higgins?”

The Anchorage Police Department (APD) knows, but it won’t say. Why?

Because APD is in the business of covering up for motorists, and Higgins was killed by a one.

The agency has admitted that the 85-year-old Higgins was following the rules of road safety in the city’s University District on Sunday when “a Ford F250…turning northbound onto Piper Street from a parking lot on the west side of Piper south of Spirit Drive…struck the pedestrian, who was walking westbound in the crosswalk. “

A Ford F250, for those who don’t know, is a three-quarter ton pickup truck, and the proper description for what happened to Higgins would be that he was “run over.” The Ford F250 fits in the group of sport-utility vehicles, pickups, vans and minivans that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has identified as most likely to hit and kill pedestrians in a  country where pedestrian deaths have risen 70 percent since 2010.

Piper Street runs between the Providence Anchorage Medical Center on the east side of the street, and the large medical center parking lot on the west side. There is a well-marked crosswalk on just north of the entrance to the parking lot. The view of the crosswalk is unobstructed as can be seen in this photo:

Google Street View

APD, as is its norm, provided no details on the accident, and emails to its community relations office went unanswered, as is all too often the norm.

But given the location, Higgins’ age and his last known address at Chester Park Senior Housing in Muldoon, it is likely he was either on his way to or returning from the Medical Center when struck.

This did not stop the predictable responses to the fatality on the APD Facebook page where Carrie-Lee Hurzeler wrote that “just today driving down Muldoon we saw four people walk across without using the crosswalks and one guy specifically didn’t look at all where he was going.”

This speculation that any death of a vulnerable road user – even after it has been clearly stated they were following rules designed to protect them from motor vehicles – is a reflection of what researchers on the United Kingdom have labeled “motonormativity.”

Motonormativity, according to the team led by psychologist Ian Walker, defines the “unconscious biases due to cultural assumptions about the role of private cars” that excuses bad driving for causing death and leads political leaders to dismiss the need to protect pedestrians and cyclists – so-called “vulnerable road users” – from cars and trucks.

Motonormativity is a sign of a society where machines have taken over the thinking of their operators. The people supposedly in control of the machines have now become more concerned about what might impede the machines than of the fact that the machines can and do kill with alarming regularity.

In Anchorage, motonormativity also helps fuel the belief of many motorists that it is illegal to cross a roadway anywhere other than in a crosswalk. It’s not.

What the law says is this:

“No pedestrian shall cross a street or thoroughfare at or within 150 feet of access to a pedestrian tunnel, overhead walkway, or signalized intersection provided for crossing the street or thoroughfare, unless a marked crosswalk is also provided.”

One hundred fifty feet is half the length of the shortest city block legally allowed in the municipality and a fraction of the longest block allowed at 1,320-feet. An easier reference point for drivers might be the city’s busy Northern Lights Boulevard, which the homeless wander across with a frightening regularity.

The signalized intersections on the street are about 1,500 feet apart, which leaves a lot of space for the homeless to cross the road legally without so-called “jaywalking,” a term that traces its history back to 1909 Chicago and the start of the country’s Motor Age.

A machine takeover

Pedestrians and motorists were then in a struggle for control of the streets, professor Peter Norton writes in a history titled “Street Rivals: Jaywalking and the Invention of the Motor Age Street.”

At the time, he writes, motorists were trying to claim the streets while pedestrians were fighting back with accusations that “automobilists” with their “aggressions” intruded upon the rights of pedestrians to the roads and posed a “very great danger to children and aged people. Both views reflected the unspoken assumptions of their time: that people on foot, including children at play, had a rightful claim to street space.

“Motorists counterattacked with the jaywalker. ‘Chauffeurs assert with some bitterness,’ noted the Chicago Tribune in 1909, “that their ‘joy riding’ would harm nobody if there were not so much jaywalking.’ A jay (at that time) was a country hayseed out of place in the city. By extension, a jaywalker was someone who did not know how to walk in the city. Pedestrians had assailed motorists as a privileged class; jaywalker was similarly a broad-brush condemnation of willful pedestrians as boors.”

A lot has changed since then but one thing remains.

The pugnacious pedestrians fighting for space on the might be gone, but not so the “automobilists” aggressions.

By the 1980s, those had erupted into what is now called “road rage,” which saw the automobilists extending those aggressions beyond pedestrians to other drivers thought to be driving improperly or, as was the case when the shooting started in Los Angeles, driving too slow in the fast lane.

In the new millennium, American society has reached the point where the general view is that motor vehicles own the roads, that anyone who ventures on or near the roads without being safely encased in a cage of still is doing so at their own risk, and thus, should they die, it is really their own damn fault.

Unarmored humans are no more than collateral damage in a society where the goal is to get around as quickly and as easily as possible no matter the death toll. And motor-vehicle-related deaths, already significant from collisions, have skyrocketed since the pandemic began thanks to the unfortunate number of Americans who spend so much time sitting on their asses behind the wheel.

The per capita death toll in the masked-up, locked down, vaccine-mandated United States of America, according to the latest data, is 45 percent higher than that in Sweden, which refused to lockdown, avoided masking mandates and made vaccination voluntary. 

“Sweden,” according to a 2020 study published in the peer-reviewed journal BMC Public Health, “is one among the few nations in Europe meeting the World Health Organization’s recommendation of performing physical activities at least 30 minutes daily. Nearly 65 percent of the Swedish population over the age of 18 years are reported to be physically active on a regular basis.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, on the other hand, reports only about a quarter of Americans meet the U.S. standard of a minimum of 150 minutes per week – just over 21 minutes per day – of moderate exercise.

Given the strong connection documented between Covid-19 mortality and basic physical fitness, the difference in the Covid-19 death toll in the two countries should come as no surprise to anyone.

Human power

Part of Sweden’s effort to keep Swedes moving and thus protect them from themselves (sloth is, after all a natural state of human affairs) has centered on making roads safer for use by both pedestrians and cyclists.

“In urban areas, a new base speed limit of 40 km/h (25 mph) is a fundamental prerequisite
for achieving a safe urban environment,” according to the country’s road safety plan for 2022-2030. “In urban areas where vulnerable road users coexist with car traffic in a regular and planned way, a 30 km/h (19 mph) speed limit has to be secured. In 2022 the share of roads in urban areas with a 30–40 km/h speed limit was around 70 percent. The target for 2030 is 99 percent.

“The Swedish Transport Administration’s road safety survey from 2022 found that 61 percent respondents generally find it reasonable to lower speed limits in order to increase road safety,” the study added, while also noting that Swedish global warming activist and media darling Greta Thunberg seems to be losing ground on the climate change front in her home country. 

“Lowering speed limits for environmental reasons is only supported by 36 per cent of respondents,” the report said. “In 2020 this was supported by a greater percentage of all respondents – 41 per cent.”

U.S. support for such changes has not been surveyed, but it is likely weak to nonexistent.

When Seattle reduced speeds from 25 mph to 20 on residential streets and from 35 to 30 on arterials in 2016, KIRO News Radio’s Dori Monson accused the city of trying to “force everybody into the modes of transportation that are the most dangerous. By miles traveled, walking and bicycling are incredibly more dangerous than driving a car. You’ve got complete disingenuousness. This is about an unchecked anti-car zealotry in Seattle, and part of that means making the streets as congested as possible. Making it as gridlocked as possible. Make it so miserable to drive around the city that we will be forced onto their pet mass transit and bike projects.

“For a lot of people, I think we can wrap our brains around the school speeding zones that drop to 20 mph for a three-block period. If there are kids present, sure, I get that. But you also know what a tedious crawl it is for those three blocks at 20 mph as you go through the zone.”

Seattle went ahead with the plan anyway and by this year even Autoweek was reporting that Monson’s prediction that the streets would become “more dangerous” was wrong. They became safer.

With an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety analysis showing a 20 percent reduction in the odds of an injury crash on Seattle’s major roads, Autoweek’s Emmet White observed that “Seattle’s speed reduction program shows promising results.”

“There’s a time and place for enjoying full-throttle acceleration,” he added, “but not on city streets. If we want to live to drive another day and care for those around us, remember that going to the track or enjoying an empty canyon road is the way to go.”

The comments below the story were not favorable. Many drivers complained that the big problem wasn’t the speeds at which people were driving but all the distracted drivers on the road, an observation which may well be true but doesn’t change the fact that if a distracted driver runs into a vulnerable road user, or for that matter another car, at 20 mph the damage is a lot less than at 40 mph.

When the Anchorage Assembly decided to talk about safety for vulnerable road users earlier this year, however, there was no mention of reducing in-city speed limits, an idea sure to be highly unpopular in the state’s largest city.

Speeding everywhere

Residential speed limits are now 25 mph, though few seem to know because there are almost no speed signs.   Anchorage has some arterials with 35 mph speed limits, but they are few. Speeds generally start at 40 mph and go up to 50 mph with drivers usually driving five to 10 mph over those speeds.

Highwayesqe speeds of 55 mph on Northern Lights Boulevard through the heart of midtown are not uncommon. Why would it be otherwise given that speed limits on many Anchorage are seldom enforced? APD speed enforcement focuses largely on trying to catch speeders on the limited access, four-lane Seward or Glenn highways.

And the consequences of bad driving – unless drunk or sometimes if caught texting – amount to almost zero.

When Hannah Halverson, a member of the U.S. Nordic Ski Team, was run down and seriously injured in 2019, APD focused not on the injuries that put her in the hospital with a skull fracture and a traumatic brain injury, but on trying to protect the driver of the car that hit her. 

It would be more than a month before the agency revealed to then-Anchorage Daily News sports editor Beth Bragg that Halverson was struck by “an 80-year-old woman driving a Jeep west on West Seventh Avenue (who) stopped at a stop sign before turning south on L Street, where she hit Halvorsen. The driver was cited with failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.”

The woman never been identified. Request to APD for her name since the accident have gone ignored. And thus it is impossible to tell if she even paid a fine for the crushing injuries to Halvorsen.

This is not unusual.

When 65-year-old Redzebije Imeri was killed near the intersection of Minnesota Drive and Benson Boulevard July, APD reported that “initial indications are that an adult female was walking southbound across Benson, not in a crosswalk, when she was struck by a Dodge SUV being driven eastbound on Benson.”

APD has since ignored emails requesting information on what happened with the investigation into that accident, including an email explaining that a witness to the accident reported Imera in the crosswalk when she was hit.

That witness first posted on the APD Facebook page that she’d seen the collision that killed Imera. When later contacted for details, she had this to say:

“So what happened was the guy was over speeding. And hit the woman. And he almost hit my car too. He ran over the woman. For like a second it was sad, and I was screaming coz he killed her. And I left the scene coz (I) were scared. The old lady was not a jaywalker. The news sucks! It’s sad. He should be in jail.”

The news sucks because most of the time these days no reporting is done. The news is just a rewrite, if that, of handouts from government agencies such as APD.

(Alaska Native News has now gone all in on this model and largely runs stories bylined by government employees. Today’s Native News featured news stories written by Patti Sullivan of the Alaska Department of Law, Reagan Zimmerman of the U.S. Department of Justice, Megan Edge of the Alaska ACLU, and Grant Robinson from the Office of the Governor.)

And when actual reporters do get involved in covering the news these days, they are rarely any more aggressive than their “partners” in government. Yes, that is how government agencies and the media now often refer to each other, as partners.

The death of Magnus White – a high-profile, up-and-coming U.S. bike racer – presents a perfect case in point. He was riding in a bike lane in Boulder, Colo., in July when a car veered into the lane, ran him over and kept going for a long way before stopping.

In the wake of his death, there were a lot of stories about what a tragedy White’s death, the anguish it caused his family, and how Boulder is now talking about building a bikeway separated from the shoulder of the highway. But only Boulder Beat, a small online publication, made any attempt to find out what happened in the collision that killed White.

It this week reported a a 2004 Toyota Matrix veered off the road onto the 10-foot-wide shoulder “collided with the rear of the bicycle and made no evasive maneuver before or after contact. The car then traveled off of the right side of the roadway and down a grass embankment until it  collided with a fence and came to rest.”

A Colorado State Patrol diagram of the accident published with the story depicted White riding at the far right edge of the 10-foot shoulder, the Toyota traveling 80 to 90 feet after starting to veer and before striking White, and then continuing for approximately 250 feet before coming to a stop against the fence.

The story did not say whether the driver made any attempt to brake. It did say tHe driver blamed unspecified “steering difficulty” for the collision. The driver, predictably, was not named.

Asked why, Beat editor and publisher Shay Castle explained that “I believe there was a reckoning a few years ago in which many news outlets realized the negative impacts they could have on someone’s life by publishing their name before criminal charges were filed.

“This is not specific to car crashes or drivers, but to all suspects in crimes. Stories last forever on the internet; that can have irreparable harm on someone’s life. Journalist practices, today and in the past, have undeniably caused harm, so there is an effort to do less of that.”

Or, to translate, the feelings of a motorist matter more than who killed Magnus White in a collision that may or may not lead to charges.

And charges would appear unlikely given that “crossing a single white/solid line is not illegal, unless there is signage or otherwise posted prohibiting it,” according to the Colorado State Patrol, which does “recommend” against crossing the line.

California law is similar. According to that state’s Division of Motor Vehicles, “if a solid line is white, it tells you to stay in your lane, if possible. To indicate that changing lines is prohibited the pavement is marked with two solid white lines.”

Thus when a driver in San Ramon, Calif., crossed a white line in 2021 and entered a marked bike lane where he ran into and killed cyclist Greg Knapp, a coach with the National Football League’s New York Jets, no charges were filed.

Authorities “concluded that the primary cause of the collision was inattention by the unnamed driver on Dougherty Road that summer afternoon, but prosecutors determined the actions did not rise to the level of criminal culpability under the law,” the Pleasanton Weekly reported.

The driver’s name was never released. San Ramon police told the Weekly that it was  department “policy to keep the name confidential at this point.”

This is motonormativity defined.

Whose responsible?

The attitude is that people don’t kill people, motor vehicles kill people. So why should any people be blamed.”

This phenomenon led a Canadian researcher who studied road deaths to conclude the “If You Want to Get Away with Murder, Use Your Car.”

After digging into “the persistently high rate of pedestrian and cyclist traffic fatalities in Canada,” Heather Magusin at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, concluded the cause of these deaths was in part societal.

People in general are willing to accept the idea that deadly driving is OK, and those in law enforcement – who spend most of their driving – help to reinforce this idea. .

“Despite empirical evidence that cyclists and pedestrians are rarely at fault, popular discourse continues to put the onus on vulnerable road users, often blaming them for their deaths,” she wrote in a paper that categorized the reporting of the deaths of people like Higgins as “dehumanizing.

“Pedestrian deaths are reported as isolated incidents with no human repercussions and no link to larger systemic health and safety issues, and drivers are nearly always rhetorically and linguistically absolved from blame. This reflects the social reality of pedestrians, one that prioritizes vehicle traffic over pedestrian safety and enforces both physical and rhetorical car dominance.”

Nonmotorists are, in other words, nothing but “collateral damage” that can be ignored.









9 replies »

  1. Intentional hit-and-run death of cyclist: police chief, 64, was murdered by laughing 17-year-old.

    Las Vegas hit-and-run death of cyclist Andreas Probst was intentional, video shows: Retired police chief, 64, was murdered by laughing 17-year-old while on his morning bike ride.

    Video emerged showing August 14 death of Andreas Probst, 64, in Las Vegas

    Driver, 17, was arrested and charged with murder, but his name was not released

    PUBLISHED: 17:02 EDT, 16 September 2023 | UPDATED: 17:57 EDT, 16 September 2023

  2. People cannot be bothered to share the roads or think of someone elses life on them. Everyone is in a hurry to go nowhere anymore.

  3. Have crossed there many times as a pedestrian and as a driver. I usually wave vehicles to go by and only cross when none are in sight. Why?? While a vehicle in one direction may stop, vehicles approaching from the opposite direction often don’t. Also, the crosswalk is adjacent to a parking lot entrance. Vehicles exiting and entering the parking lot add to the peril of crossing. If You survive being hit, at least You’re close to the hospital…

  4. For example: Urban areas should allow only electric and human powered vehicles in the core areas. Eliminates emissions in these typically high pollutant concentrated areas. Alas, we are simultaneously seeing the end times of commercial office space.
    As instant interconnect ivy changes everything.

  5. Wow. Your great “normativity” screed. Depending on what that means or doesn’t mean, I don’t know. We all live in a life of motorized convenience. I think we should re-think our pedestrian and electric powered vehicle route planning. Create separate routes with more grade separation, etc.

    • Great idea, but costly. Easier and cheaper to just slow traffic down, which wouldn’t end up costing people much time and might leave them better adjusted.

      The psychology of how the machines influence our behavior is pretty damn interesting. It’s funny. If I’m on the bike and get close passed, I’m angry for a minute or two about someone almost killing me, but then it’s gone.

      In the car or the truck, shit, I’m like everyone else. Some other driver does something stupid, I start getting irritated and can feel it starting to percolate. It always lingers longer than the same feeling when the on bike even though I’m much safer than in the car.

  6. [ Asked why, Beat editor and publisher Shay Castle explained that “I believe there was a reckoning a few years ago in which many news outlets realized the negative impacts they could have on someone’s life by publishing their name before criminal charges were filed.]

    So possible negative impacts to a living suspect are more important than the death and loss of all benefits of living for the victim!!! Jeez – a bunch of mush brains.

  7. Norway has been more aggressive than Sweden, and in Helsinki residential speeds are 30 km/hr and arterial speeds 50 km/hr. Day fines are common and scofflaws are not viewed as mythic cowboys but as sociopaths. And its not just APD- transportation agencies have been protected drivers from the consequences of their recklessness and negligence for decades, as have been auto manufacturers. Cars are the altars of our industrial society and drivers are the acolytes of our motor cult.

  8. Thank you, Craig, a great article. Add in the long slippery road season in Anchorage and your observations are even more important when compared to other cities in the States.

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