I swear I'll get back to funny/light posts that aren't about transportation issues eventually but this is too important a news story to not comment on. Raquel Nelson, an Atlanta woman whose child was killed by a drunk driver while she was crossing the highway in front of her apartment building, is now being charged with vehicular homicide for her son's death. Nope, not the driver who actually killed him. The woman who lost her child due to the combination of a selfish asshole driver and piss-poor urban planning is being charged with murder. Welcome to another battle in the war between pedestrians/cyclists and drivers.
Of course, comments are making much to-do over the fact that she crossed illegally. This is true, she did. But why should a mother with three young children be forced to walk almost a mile round-trip to get to the crosswalk? Why are crosswalks so scarce in this part of Atlanta? Why did the bus let her off in an area without a crosswalk? The story says that other bus passengers also illegally crossed there, and if I'd have to guess based on the aerial picture on that link I'd say that it's a pretty popular spot for illegal crossings. There appears to be a large housing complex on the opposite side of the street from the bus stop, a wide median strip, and no obstructions to prevent walkers from seeing cars speeding toward them. And there also doesn't appear to be a sidewalk on that road, meaning that walkers who do choose to travel along the shoulder to the crosswalk would still be in danger from cars drifting onto the edges of the road, plus the exhaust and harassment and possible disease-ridden debris normally found on shoulders. I've seen dead rats and broken beer bottles alongside highways, been panhandled, had things shouted at me. I don't blame her for taking a chance crossing that highway instead of mucking around on a shoulder for an additional half hour with three young kids, who tend to be inquisitive and put things in their mouths and such.
Naturally, race and gender have a lot to do with this, too. Would Nelson have been charged with killing her child if she was a white man? Well, maybe not, but maybe so. It's no secret that non-drivers are marginalized almost everywhere in the United States; a greater percentage of non-drivers are POC/poor/disabled which skews things, but even a person privileged in almost every other category becomes suspect when they choose not (or are forced not) to travel in a two-ton death machine, when they live in a walker/biker/human-unfriendly place. And in another news story, which did not mention Nelson's race, a commenter came right out and said a woman with children who doesn't own a car is a child abuser. Awesomesauce, right? To top it off, Nelson's jury wasn't comprised of her peers, not just because all six (and since when does a jury only have six people on it?) jurors were middle-class whites, but because they were all drivers. God forbid, if I am ever in a serious accident, I for damn sure don't want people who have never walked or cycled anywhere to be on my jury, no matter their race or class. (Actually, I don't want people who have never walked, cycled, or taken public transportation in their lives to even exist but we're talking about possible hypotheticals here.)
Being a pedestrian in a walker-unfriendly city is not a crime. Raquel Nelson is guilty of crossing a road illegally, but nothing else. The drunk driver who killed her kid bears the greatest responsibility (natch), but so does the city of Atlanta for allowing this situation to happen via some seriously shit-ass urban planning and bus routing. I think it's about time for people who take "alternative" transportation to start organizing around these issues, and for cyclists to care more about pedestrian issues, and vice versa. Walkers, cyclists, bus-riders... we all have more in common than we think we do, and the Nelson case sets a dangerous precedent for all parents who can't or don't have a car to be charged with murder (like, really, my mind's still trying to wrap around that one) for just attempting to get their kids safely home.