Letter: People walking and biking can’t be responsible for safety on roads that aren’t designed to keep them safe

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People ride bikes on the streets of Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020.

In her recent letter, “Pedestrians and cyclists need to be responsible for their safety,” Ann Smyth argues that people walking and biking need to be more responsible for their own safety. Smyth apparently fails to realize that our streets aren’t designed to be safe for people walking and biking.

In the 1940s and 50s, streetcars and trolleys were uprooted and discarded to make room for more cars. Since then, the vast majority of streets in car-dominated North America have been designed for one thing only: to move as many cars as fast as possible.

If you’re walking or biking and you get hit by a car going 40 miles per hour, some studies put your risk of death at 80% or higher. On roads that are designed to keep cars moving that fast or faster, even the most attentive person walking or biking is still at a high risk of being killed by a car.

Arguing that people biking and walking need to be responsible for not being hit by a car is victim-blaming and ignores that streets aren’t designed to keep them safe. It also absolves drivers of any blame. Drivers should recognize that when they choose to get behind the wheel of a car, they’re operating a deadly weapon.

Luckily, the Salt Lake City Transportation Division is committed to change by focusing on moving people — not just moving cars. The city has initiated a “Livable Streets” program that aims to slow cars down through physical traffic calming, which studies show is one of the most effective methods for making streets more safe. Hopefully more local and state transportation agencies will follow suit, and Utah will be filled with streets that are designed to keep people safe, and not just to move cars as fast as possible.

Jacob Klopfenstein, Salt Lake City

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