This Is The City’s Plan for New Crosswalks and Stop Signs on Bernal Hill (and How It Could Be Improved)


Do you remember that City meeting a few weeks back to review the proposed pedestrian-safety changes to the intersection of Bernal Heights Boulevard and Bernal Heights Boulevard at the southeastern side of the hill, near the glamorous Vista Pointe Minipark? Well, Neighbor Tom attended the meeting, and took great notes, and made some spiffy diagrams of new crosswalks and new stop signs, and he thinks the current proposal needs revision. Neighbor Tom says:

First, the facts:

Three Bernal residents spoke, of which I was one. No diagrams were presented or handed out, but two of us were able to look at a diagram (by request) before the meeting started.

Of the three that spoke, all approved of making some improvements. Two of us approved of the stop signs, one felt it unnecessary, but the crosswalk is good. As far as I could tell, there was no resolution on this, just the hearing of opinions.

I created a sketch of the plans from memory. (I don’t like recreating drawings from memory, because it’s inaccurate, but if they’re not going to give handouts, then…)

The yellow parts are roughly what their plans showed. Here’s a version of the diagram with other colors added by me to illustrate my personal opinion.


My opinion is:

1. Locating the crossing at C will encourage people to walk the red path, with leads to a tricky crossing of Bradford (where a stop cannot be added, due to the #67 bus).

2. Locating the crossing at B instead would encourage the green route, which benefits from the pre-existing ‘stop’ on Bradford, and could be further improved by a cross walk.

The MTA say that the crossing must be located at C, since that’s where Parks and Rec have decided to put stairs.

Yes, stairs! I’m opposed to the stairs, since they will lead users to further steep loose ground, which they then have to ascend (or turn back). They therefore violate the principle of “don’t trick people into thinking they’re safe.”  I’m informed that the stairs will help reduce erosion. I suspect they’ll do the opposite – they’ll encourage more people to take the route.


51 thoughts on “This Is The City’s Plan for New Crosswalks and Stop Signs on Bernal Hill (and How It Could Be Improved)

  1. What about everyone (like runners and walkers) who likes to do complete loops on the pavement around the Hill? The existing A crosswalk is ideally situated for that, linking two sections of sidewalk. The B or C options would be useless, and would force people wanting to do complete loops to cross at an unmarked location, or to travel on an unpaved shoulder.

  2. Stopping at B is highly hazardous as vehicles will be rounding a blind curve going into B and won’t have adequate warning they need to stop. B should therefore be moved southwest past Carver and there should be no stop between C and the much further away B.

    The crossing marked ??? must be blocked off for similar reasons as vehicles coming up Alabama will (and do) have no warning they need to stop there. There must not be a stop or crossing there. Pedestrian barriers should be placed around that area.

    In fact it would be best as you argue to fence off that entire corner of the park and force people onto the sidewalks on either side instead.

    • Peter,

      Regarding the blind curve at ‘B’: We discussed that with the MTA, and they said that the *actual* location of the stop does provide enough visibility for oncoming drivers. As Todd noted, this diagram is created from my memory, so may be incorrect – the stop may be a little further South. If only they’d had hand outs of the plans…

      • A stop sign at B gives plenty of visibility, and slows traffic.

        A fence is a non-stater – no one wants a fence there.

    • For the record: I never proposed a fence, nor do I want one. (There seems to be a lot of comments about a fence – the first reference to which is Peter’s comment above). Tom

  3. I’d prefer 3 stop signs and 3 crosswalks right at the intersection, ie. move “B” north to the corner – it would be more intuitive for drivers and pedestrians. Instead of stairs, put a short sidewalk that runs from the point of the proposed stairs to the natural entrance point opposite “B”. Yes, people will still jaywalk across B but I think many would use the new intersection for safety.

    • Crossing at B is not Jaywalking. Jaywalking is between two signalized (lighted) intersections without any intervening roads (see link). B is already an ‘unmarked crosswalk’ because its at the intersection, and its perfectly legal to cross there.

      Studies show that crosswalks on curved road sections are inherently more dangerous than on straight ones, so B is safer than C. The city has a safety first policy, so the safest location must be considered before consideration of things like stairs.

      Not sure why both B and C are not an option. Even if they choose C I would still (perfectly legally) choose to cross at B, because B unmarked is likely safer than C marked. If you really want to talk safety, then the location is a prime candidate for a bulb-out.

      Click to access

  4. Also, you could create a big pedestrian bulb-out at the southwest corner which would square off the intersection, reducing speeds of cars going around the hill, and reducing the width of the crosswalks.

  5. Is “A” where the Yield sign is now? That Yield sign is useless–people routinely ignore it. In fact I don’t think San Franciscans even know what Yield means. Definitely need stops signs on the Blvd to slow the speeders down. I routinely get angry horn-blasted from behind when I stop to let peds cross at the top of Folsom. Also I agree that “vehicles coming up Alabama will (and do) have no warning they need to stop there”–in a car it’s very dangerous there because it’s a steep curve and you never know when the bus will take over the road.

  6. i assume the person(s) who ran over that poor snake on BHB a little while ago (afternoon of April 1)
    are satisfied with themselves and secure in the assumption that they are a superior species.

  7. I forgot to thank Neighbor Tom –thanks a lot! I was wondering what happened at that meeting.

  8. trying to keep my mind off that poor snake and address the topic of these intersections, it’s true of course that people ignore Yield signs since they generally ignore Stop signs all over the city of course but in this area in particular at Nevada and Powhattan, Powhattan and Peralta Ave. and Bradford and Bernal Heights Blvd.. people behind me never like it when i stop at these locations and drivers speeding up Alabama are always irritated when i pull out after stopping at the crest of the hill where i can’t see them at all until they are already on top of me and when i turn up Carver a little in order to see oncoming traffic before proceeding toward Bradford after coming up Folsom (you have to turn right in order to turn left) people are impatient and cut me off on the left racing to the stop sigh they intend to ignore.

  9. The ‘A’ route is downright dangerous. There are usually vehicles parked, as shown on the photo, that force people to walk in the road. To cross Bradford at Alabama traveling eastward is treacherous because you can’t see traffic coming up Alabama and traffic can’t see you trying to cross. Cars are usually moving pretty fast in order to make it up the grade.


  10. Lived in Bernal Heights for 55 years and seen all the changes to that beautiful Blvd-some not always for the better. I appreciate all the thought and effort that went in to the crosswalks and I truly sincerely hope that the pedestrians, dog walkers and joggers utilize them for their own safety, but from what I observe when I walk the hill is joggers running out in front of cars on many, many occassions. Now, I walk and don’t jog so perhaps I am unclear…does the elevated endorphins protect joggers when hit by 2000 lbs of metal…because I know the car feels no pain! I live on Franconia and cross over from behind the bus stop to avoid the blind curve. I also see a lot of dogs off-leash in the eastside of the hill where they are prone to run into traffic. You cannot always blame the driver. People need commonsense.
    Besides walking the hill I also drive it. I am sorry to see it has become a bypass for Army St. freeway traffic and people will go over to get to Bayshore. There are cars loaded up with dogs from professional dog walkers, out of the area who don’t really have the driving skills acquired from growing up in the city and on this hill in particular. Please drivers new to the area: going up the Folsom at 15 miles per hour is not good or safe driving. It just encourages those of us who can drive in this neighborhood to want to go around you. If there is no stop sign and no one in the crosswalk please do not stop on the crest of the hill. I know while on the Blvd the view is lovely. Please park somewhere to drink in it’s beauty and not while driving. Just my 2 cents from a Bernal Heights Native.
    As for the snake…please tell me you guys are just being sarcastic right???? The hill demographic has changed so much I just can’t tell.

    • Since you’ve been here so long, can I ask a question? What do you think about the recent thing that is lots of cars parking toward the top of Folsom where it breaks into Bernal Heights Blvd? I’ve been in this hood about 9 and a half years, and I can’t remember so many cars parking there. To me, it’s a bad idea, as that’s where the road narrows.

      • Sigh…wish that was a no parking at anytime zone. There are sections where you have no choice but to go over the double yellow-head on waiting to happen!
        Grew up on Shotwell & Stoneman and bought my house on Franconia 8 blocks away from moms! Back in the sixties and seventies that hill was covered with kids sliding down on cardboard (Lol…and teens drinking Mouton Rogue). There was still a central freeway and Embarcadero Freeway so the 280 and the 101 around the hill were not bombarded with so much traffic. did not hear so much on the news about bike riders and pedestrians being injured when we still have those two free ways…less cars on the street- less traffic on this hill. It truly was a park…and a lover’s lane. Times change and we must adapt improvise and overcome.

    • MJ,

      My brothers, sisters, cousins, and friends were among those kids using the cardboard you mention. We would find it thrown out on the hill from old boxes that lay in June’s dry grasses on any given day of our summers. You remember this? I too have seen the changes and to be frank, I am not all too excited for them.

      I mean really, it is just amazing how when our neighborhood was “full” of hispanics, blacks, Filipino, Pacific Islanders, or in sum non-Caucasian (white), non-affluent (rich) families no one gave a rats ass about our safety up here.

      I am constantly amused by how suddenly the city decided it was a good idea to dig a fucking hole in front of my property -no peace, no quiet, no calm, and parking is “fucked”-to put in a tank for reserving water just in case a fire should start: the fire department used to burn the entire hill just before the 4th of July every damn summer dampening our fun with the cardboards since we needed the dry grass for the slide to ski efficiently–dry grass+slick surface (i.e cardboard)= reduced friction and away we would race! I am certain the water tank would have been very useful for the firemen during these controlled yearly burnings. To wit, they would park the fire engine in front of my home and use “one” fire hydrant to control the entire fire on the hill. One. The one you see before you enter the hill across the street from my place.

      One fire hydrant.

      Today, same hill, only this time around, one fire hydrant will not suffice; today they need an entire reserve tank underground the size of my home. But, it will only be useful if it fills from the heavy rains; rains that have not been heavy since I was a boy some forty seven years ago. In the seventies, such droughts had not become as severe as what we are seeing today. Back then, it rained sufficiently enough that such a tank did have “some”-more so than today anyway- certainty that perhaps it would fill, again-unlike today where we are having no rain at all. With the recent rains we’ve been having, the only thing such a costly project is going to be holding down there is air, and perhaps some left over snakes looking for refuge from the damn profiteers (i.e. dog walkers) who have destroyed the natural habitat up there.

      The point is, I have not seen this hill burn in June for well over forty years, don’t know how this reserve will be useful anymore. Of course, back then, our homes were not made of copper, nor did they harvest the sun for energy, or have walls made of glass for the views downtown; certainly did not cost anywhere near 3 million dollars. I suppose this is why our homes did not matter if they burned. I take it, this is why no tank was ever proposed for reserving water….

      just in case a fire should start.

      But today it’s different. The families are different. Today it is special because “these” new families moving here into our home get new crosswalks put at every intersection, same intersections that for years and years have been without. Families have been crossing these same streets for generations and no parent was ever heard, no politician ever saved a nickel for a lighting post.

      Take for example the crosswalk that has been put in near the playground where the owner of the liquor store was shot and killed. The same building that today is “Precita Park Cafe.” Parents stand in line waiting for lattes with strollers on hand standing right a top on the same floor space where this man took his final breath clueless of the crime that took place not so long ago. The same store my mother would take me to when I would ask for a snack. She would grab me by the hand and we would go for a soda and a bag of chips. But it is not so much the soda and chips that have stayed with me into adulthood: it “is” how my mother would hold my hand. She would grip it so firmly before crossing, the circulation would cease turning it blue with numbness.

      Hundreds of other moms and sitters would do just the same with their little ones. Back then. there was the same number of moms, sitters, and children playing, yet, no one ever cared to put in any crosswalks. I suppose “our” lives -non Caucasians (whites), non affluent (rich)- just weren’t worth the cost of the the materials that would be used to paint the “two” lines on the ground or the one pole that would hold up the STOP sign.

      Yup, I too have seen the “changes” MJ, and I must admit, I have never ever seen our neighborhood so “segregated” as today. Frankly, I am profoundly sadden of what it has become and my soul weeps frequently: remember the commercial of the native indian standing by a freeway as debris is thrown out onto his feet from a speeding car, the camera slowly zooming onto a tear that escapes out his left eye and down his red/brown cheek? That is what I feel every time I see this hill being abused by the high volume of people trampling on the fragile ecosystem that used to thrive up here.

      The hippies who raised me had it right. Back then, no matter what ethnicity one was -and l bare witness as you probably do too Mj- there were a whole lot more cultures than what there is left today. There was one important thing we did have in common: we were “all poor.” I suppose that is why no water tank for fires was ever proposed for our homes, no crosswalks were ever found necessary for our families, no light up at the foot of the entrance of the hill found useful for our nightly walks.

      Yes, it is true that we were all poor back then; but, it was this same economic status that made us “we” and not “me.” To wit, “we” were all equals, ungentrified, made up of “all” different shapes and colors. Thus, “we” were in it together as “one” unit. One strong bonding unit -like widow O’Brien’s cow- this is where one found safety. To all who are new to our neighborhood, I say this; It is just as safe here today, as it was when I was a boy forty-eight years ago, as it was before for the families who came before me, and (I saved this for last) as it was before it became the crowded, noisy, millionaire hubristic neighborhood it has become today.

      I am happy the hippies raised me,

      I am happy “racism” in the USA has been “cured.”

      I am happy there is “no” racism here in Bernal. But I am especially happy, and so damn glad I no longer have to worry about being shot by the police for not looking “white.”

      I mean “right”….. I gotta get this right. One day it is sure to get me in trouble.

      • The water “tank” being installed is called a cistern, and there already ARE older, pre-existing cisterns in and around Bernal. The underground cisterns are meant to be emergency water sources for the Fire Dept. in case the domestic supply fails (and the auxiliary high pressure system doesn’t have a hydrant nearby).

        Yours is just one of a new wave being built. Also, they are meant to be filled and remain filled, independent of rain. Leak repairs are part of maintenance.

        Considering the extremely aged and precarious state of our domestic water supply pipeline, emergency water sources make a great deal of sense. This isn’t speculation. The domestic supply failed in the Loma Prieta Quake aftermath. I’m sure the construction noise is awful, but it is for a good cause…

        Why are more cisterns being installed now? The High Pressure System expansion hasnt’ /won’t make it to certain areas. Grant or bond money allowed for new cisterns instead…

  11. 1) Is the snake comment an April Fools’ Day joke? Why do you misanthropically assume someone ran over the snake on purpose? Roadkill happens. The mortality rate of living things is 100%.

    2) Is it too late to restrain the urge to over-control Bernal Hill? Yes, it is an urban park, but can we PLEASE keep the signage and steppage and fence-age and general building to a MINIMUM? It’s soothing to be able to walk across a few feet of weedy grass and gravel without being herded and warned and lectured…

    Bulbouts… barriers… sidewalks… Can’t this last little patch of land be left alone?

    (Caveat to avoid the heartless bastard label: every accident is a horrible tragedy.) We are wired to ignore statistics. I don’t know how many injuries and/or fatalities have happened around the park. Whatever the number is, when you consider the astronomical number of drivers and pedestrians who’ve used the space over time, the rate of accidents is a insignificant fraction of the usage.

    Despite the drumbeat of ill-informed advocates, accidents can never be eliminated. Can we accept the futility of trying to make people act responsibly through infrastructural blight?

    • Ok, I understand your frustration with all the manmade nonsense in the park, but these are highly trafficked streets that are not in the park proper. And actually, street design can make a huge impact on the number of collisions (not “accidents” because that word presumes there is no fault – in reality, someone made a bad decision), so we shouldn’t brush them under the rug. If you are ever hit by a car, I doubt you’ll say it’s insignificant.

      Why does Sweden have such a low rate of traffic injuries? “Planning has played the biggest part in reducing accidents. Roads in Sweden are built with safety prioritised over speed or convenience. Low urban speed-limits, pedestrian zones and barriers that separate cars from bikes and oncoming traffic have helped.”

      • Thanks for understanding, Hunter. There is something mentally off with people who drive crazy. I don’t know how to fix it, but I know stop signs and traffic calming measures won’t make people act right. Pedestrians AND drivers need to be taught defensive skills. There are some physical improvements that can add safety, such as mirrors for blind corners, pedestrian bridges, etc. But Sweden probably has lower accident rates because of things like better driver education, more difficult licensing (it is just too easy to get a license here), and stronger enforcement and penalties. Plus, like it or not, countries like Sweden “benefit” from being small and culturally homogenous, thus increasing the influence of positive peer pressure.

        “Accident” is an appropriate word because even dangerous drivers almost never INTEND to cause damage and injury. I’ve been to more accidents than I can possibly count. The majority of accidents I see are caused by alcohol, speeding, inattention, alcohol, poor knowledge of traffic rules or alcohol.

    • An extensive study by the insurance industry showed that 95% of collision are not accidents, but due to human error, often multiple human errors. These include errors in road design, or human errors like someone decided to drink and then drive home. Examples of accidents are if you got hit by lightning, or a tree fell on you. Nobody expects to eliminate all human error that costs lives, but the idea is to move towards minimizing it.

      • Ummm… human errors ARE accidents. Humans make mistakes.

        Why are we so hung up on a vocabulary choice? We are all in agreement about what is being discussed (I think?). Is it important what we call it? Calling something an accident doesn’t allow anyone to escape responsibility.

        But since we’re philosophizing… I disagree with your definition of “accident.” Hitting my thumb with a hammer. Misjudging clearance when changing lanes and sideswiping a car. Mistakenly hitting the gas instead of the brake. All accidents.

        Intentional felony criminal behavior: driving with a BAC of >0.08%. Speeding… slightly less awful. Beyond that, there aren’t universal hard definitions regarding intentional vs. accidental. (Your shooting example isn’t analagous, since shooting into a crowd without intending to hurt anyone isn’t possible.)

        Define “gross negligence.” It isn’t easy. Consider this: A sober parent doesn’t realize their toddler has crawled behind their car and backs over the child. I’f call that an accident, which doesn’t make it less devastating. Assuming someone intentionally inflicted harm because they were driving a car and caused damage isn’t really helpful.

        Your last sentence about prisons… WHAT? I don’t get that statement. At all.

      • Hmmmm. Have not checked in on these comments during the week but see the trend has not changed. blaming the driver of the vehicle for every single accident and yes I’m saying accident is total tunnel vision. are you saying that in every case it is the driver of a vehicle who is using poor judgment?? I walk everywhere in this city and have never been hit by a car because I know I cannot win against metal. I don’t cross the street with my earbuds in checking out my latest text message. I don’t cross the street when there’s only three seconds left blinking on the lights.
        I very rarely see bike riders obeying the traffic rules especially when its a stop sign. As a driver I am very aware of these and while I’m a shake my head in dismay at the lack of other people’s judgement I continue safely along in my drive.
        But as I drive away I am keenly aware that those that practice poor judgement and lastly regular common sense are just accidents waiting to happen. Therefore I am not surprised to hear of these on the news.
        However trying to explain this to somebody with tunnel vision is a total waste of my time and really does not mean all that much to me. The whining is overbearing and some people prefer to lay blame instead of accepting responsibility. Sometimes it is just time to say “bye Felicia” 🙂
        PS…Orlanda, I too miss the old days on this hill. But, times change and somethings are better and of course some things are worse. This city used to be so free and energized and our neighborhood was one of its best kept secrets. we should have just kept our mouth shut about how good we had it it here.

      • Thanks for the note Bike-Scoot, I tend to agree. People have forgotten what an accident used to mean: “an event that happens by chance or that is without apparent or deliberate cause.” These are crimes of bad human decision making, not unpreventable accidents.

      • Just to clarify, I am not blaming or pointing fingers at one party or another for the human errors that lead to collisions. It is often a combination one or more pedestrian, driver, road design, and road maintenance errors.

        The key as that these errors should be studied and analyzed. The problem with calling collisions accidents is that the word ‘accident’ is very commonly preceded with “just an”, or “merely an”, or interpreted by the reader that way. This conveys an “oh well” attitude that leads to inaction, complacency, and lack of improvement. In this way, semantics are very important. CHP used to call collisions accidents, and now they call them just collisions, which is what they are.

      • There are times when word choices matter, and changing vocabulary might influence behavior. I don’t think this is one of them. It seems like a distraction. Maybe you are generalizing your own ideas about the word “accident” to the general population. I don’t naturally impart any qualifiers to the word. The proposition that “just an accident” is a common attitude doesn’t ring true.

        “An accident … is an incidental and unplanned event or circumstance, often with lack of intention… (that) usually implies a generally negative outcome which might have been avoided or prevented had circumstances leading up to the accident been recognized, and acted upon, prior to its occurrence.” –Wikipedia

        “Collision” and “accident” aren’t official terms. 🙂 For San Francisco, terminology is more specific: M.V.A. = motor vehicle accident (solo or multi-car). Auto vs. Ped, Bike vs. Ped, etc.

  12. I like the solution as depicted. Three stop signs at A, B, and C, a new crosswalk at C leading to stairs (stairs will definitely reduce wear and tear), and the existing crosswalk at stop sign A, with safety enhanced by the stop sign replacing the yield sign.

  13. Tom,
    you analysis is correct. B is a much better place for a crosswalk, and, yes, where you put the red question marks is an extremely dangerous place to cross. I’ve seen a number of people almost hit there. A crossing on the other end of the ‘green route’ would also be a great idea.
    More steps on Bernal Hill! Almost everything the park service has done has made our hill uglier, and we certainly don’t need to facilitate any more foot traffic on what has become an overburdened place.

  14. OT, but how about some speed bumps on Manchester? Stoneman just got ’em.

    (Truly, IMO, Bessie needs to be one way — west flowing only. That would prevent people from flying down the hill and into houses. I kid you not. It’s happened three times that I’ve seen in the past nine years, and OGs on the street say more.)

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  16. Why would we not just put stop signs at A,B, and C, plus one at the red “???” portion of the blind U-turn? People coming from Esmeralda are not going to want to go to the Bradford stop, cross there, and then cross again if they want to continue on the north side of the park.

    Can we also get a 20mph speed limit with speed cameras while we’re at it? I’ve seen several drivers speed through the stop sign at the top of Folsom going 30+mph, looking straight at me. Nobody needs to go fast around the hill, and we should do everything possible to slow drivers up there.

  17. TOTALLY agree w Hunter on slowing people down–that Folsom spot is very dangerous for pedestrians.

  18. Hmmmm. I live on Franconia and come up thru Esmeralda to access the hill for my walk. I cross from behind the bus stop because I know what a blind curve is and use common sense. A car coming up that blind is usually going to go 20 mph or more to make the hill. A stop there is a bad idea and still does not put the people not using good judgement safe from injury. Unfortunately with all the changes and nanny state rules, there is still no way to regulate people to think about personal safety when doing something as basic as walking (or jogging). Cameras??? Seriously??? Perhaps you will feel safer walking in a suburb.
    PS…as you can see I am anti over-regulation and pro common sense but I did like the comment about Sweden separating walkers and bikers from automobiles with a barrier. Hahaha…and then all the joggers will complain that the bike riders don’t stop for them either and take some of the heat off the poor car driver.

    • The camera is to ticket those drivers that never stop at these stop signs, which is already a problem at the one installed at the top of Folsom. There is no reason people need to drive faster to make it over a hill – if your car cannot drive slowly up a hill, then you should not be driving it in San Francisco. Period.

      I wish common sense would make the streets safer, but the problem is they’ve been designed around speed for the last 70 years (safety was suppressed by the auto industry). In case you want a deeper dive, I wrote an article about just that topic last year: 🙂

  19. lol…still wryly smiling over the camera.
    Cameras are usually atop a lighted stop arterial. Camera is activated while it is a red light only and motion sensored if there is a car beyond the crosswalk to trigger it. How do you propose it to work for a stop sign? Continuous stream? Who then monitors it? Should the city hire somebody to just monitor it? How about an overzealous transplant with a plastic badge and a ticket book? Make sure you catch all those bike riders that don’t stop at stop signs either! Maybe even an emissions specialist at the stop sign to test the air to make sure my 2002 older model vehicle is in compliance because this neighborhood has changed so much you should really only be driving a newer model Prius Volvo or Subaru. Managed to live on this hill all my life and survived walking it, driving it, playing on it (before it became the city’s dog toilet) with no incident. No need to read your article, I saw the title.
    I work with Veterans and know there are more dangerous issues in this world than deciding if the speed limit should be 20 or 25 miles an hour in a residential area.
    Please I don’t mean to offend, it is my dilemma that I have such a low tolerance for non-issues. I am still wondering if the whole “snake got run over on the hill and I am devastated” thing was a joke or not??
    If you want to fix the speed on the hill put in more speed bumps, make it no parking at any time so that people don’t go over the double yellow. As for the blind curve -leave it alone and anyone who makes a judgement call and chooses to cross there should be able to accept the consequences.

    • How about just a license plate camera so the next time someone gets hit-and-run while walking in the crosswalk, they’ll have evidence to track them down? You really think traffic violence is a non-issue? I guess you’ve never been hit by a car or had a friend killed by one or been in a collision, but it’s certainly likely you will be. Good luck crossing those streets!

      • A friendly correction, Hunter: it is actually NOT likely M.J. will be hit or killed by a car. Statistics prove otherwise. Most of us will not be subject to any of the horrors we are taught to fear by the newsmedia and idle chatter. 99.9% of the population has a decent day, plays tee-ball, watches The Walking Dead and goes to bed in one piece. That’s not newsworthy.

        Also, maybe M.J. wasn’t saying traffic violence is a non-issue? Maybe just that money spent on measures that don’t address the main cause–bad, drunk and inattentive drivers–could be better spent elsewhere?

        Your article looks like it has a lot of interesting information in it and I’ve printed it so I can read it fully later. A couple of initial reactions: 30,000 is not even a statistically significant percentage of 340 million. Then there are the actual circumstances of each of those cases… the point is: vehicles, including cars, are an indispensible part of our society. How is your Amazon package delivered? How do you get around when you’re in a cast? Etc.

        Demonizing cars is just an easy deflection from the harder, core problem: people who behave imperfectly. A real solution to that problem is on the horizon, however: Self-driving cars. When they are ubiquitous, accidents will be all but eliminated.

      • Actually, 30,000 deaths is hugely significant – it’s the #1 cause of death for people under 35. How is that insignificant? The point of the headline isn’t to be unbiased but to challenge the status quo. Truthfully, a huge portion of collisions are deemed “accidents” when they are the result of conscious decisions to speed, drink, look at one’s phone, etc., which is why this term should be retired.

        Just because you are comfortable with that word doesn’t mean it’s an accurate description. As you said yourself: “The majority of accidents I see are caused by alcohol, speeding, inattention, alcohol, poor knowledge of traffic rules or alcohol.” This means people made bad decisions, which is why accident is a misnomer. Reckless driving doesn’t happen by accident. It happens by choice. Again, I wish you good luck crossing the street. 🙂

      • I don’t mean insignificant in a moral sense. I mean the chances of you being killed in a road accident are statistically insignificant.

        Also, you are being loose with the numbers, possibly for effect? Road accidents are the #1 cause for those 15-24 (6500 per year–followed closely by suicide: 5900/yr). Not #1 for everyone <35. (For those 25-34 and 35-44 the leading cause is poisoning!) Also, nothing in those numbers says the road accident is vehicle vs. pedestrian, or that the fault is the vehicle's. Circumstances vary widely, and there is no inherent argument against the automobile.

        It may seem like a quibble, but facts matter when discussing public policy.

        I'm not saying drunk drivers, reckless drivers and bad drivers aren't responsible for their actions. I'm saying they don't INTEND to kill someone. Doesn't matter… "accident" is a vocabulary choice. My point is that all the stop signs and neon crosswalks in the world won't stop any of those types of drivers.
        I haven't had a chance to read your article yet, so I'm still unsure what it proposes for a solution. I feel like "Murder machines" doesn't bode well. The societal benefits of the internal combustion engine VASTLY outweigh its negative effects (which are constantly decreasing anyway). And your choice of villain seems odd. Cars aren't the problem. Bad drivers are.

      • That’s simply untrue – the CDC classifies most road deaths as “Unintentional injuries” and I was told by multiple experts there that they are the leading cause of death _on average_ for all Americans under 35. When you break it down into much smaller age brackets, other causes may be higher, but the message is that for younger people (who are generally not dying of natural causes or dying at birth), car collisions are the top killer. I’m not sure where you got your numbers from, but here is a chart from the CDC showing the numbers from 2010:

        Here’s a quote from their website reinforcing these stats: “For those aged 5–34 in the United States, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death, claiming the lives of 18,266 Americans each year.”

        It’s nearly impossible to govern individual behavior without changing the environment / roadway / car design / speed / traffic laws / etc., so those are the things that we can and should change at a policy level. You are simply wrong that changing signage and laws doesn’t affect the behavior of reckless drivers, as that has been proven time and again, which is why we have lower speed limits around schools and harsher penalties for drunk driving. Regardless, they don’t go far enough (many drivers who have killed someone due to reckless driving never lose their license).

        I don’t disagree that we need cars / vehicles for many things in our world, but I truly think our complete reshaping of America to suit the car has had disastrous effects—leading to everything from increasing obesity to the acceleration of climate change. These are things we must attempt to halt / reverse, and minimizing car usage (even self-driving cars) and reshaping our built environment is part of that process. Read the article for more info.

      • The WHO has more complete and granular charts than the CDC, and breaks categories into useful sub-categories. The charts are also interactive. Check it out.

        If you have inexplicably become convinced that lowering a speed limit will alter the behavior of someone who has chosen to disregard speed limits, I don’t believe logical arguments will do much good.


        I ALWAYS appreciate a civil discussion with someone who has clearly put a lot of thought into an issue. So thank you for that.

        I do find it fascinating how similar your rhetoric is to many other religious and quasi-religious movements that have preached that mankind has despoiled an imaginary Eden and is on a path to imminent destruction. Salvation always requires austerity, penance and rejection of progress. I could go on, but this isn’t a novel argument. Crichton’s speech to the Commonwealth Club in our fair City (2003?) is a great example.

        In this case, Stop signs will sober up the drunks and transform the wicked–I mean reckless–into good people in an instant. Amen!

        (Happy Easter!) 🙂

      • WHO is global – not American, which changes things entirely, as we Americans rely on cars much more than most countries around the world. If you have good links at the WHO I should check out, please reply with them in a comment.

        I do think you’re condescending attitude about my “rhetoric” is actually the opposite of civil, as you’re trying to undermine my factual arguments by making them seem religious. Good luck with that attitude.

      • The WHO website has complete charts by country, so the statistics I used are for the U.S. only.

        I admit that tone is very difficult to convey in writing, as opposed to a verbal discussion. Since I don’t seem to be able to make the point without it seeming uncivil; since it is not an easy point to make concisely; and since it is off topic anyway, I take it back.

        The relevant point: Stop signs and crosswalks will only stop people who obey stop signs and crosswalks; they won’t affect reckless or impaired drivers. There ARE such things as legitimate accidents, in which good drivers make mistakes–also not affected by stop signs. Everyone with sense already maintains vigilance for pedestrians, cyclists and other cars, regardless of traffic controls… I just don’t see any benefit from putting up signs and fences and painting the streets.

        But it’s just a few thousand dollars and a little more infrastructure anyway, so who cares? A little bit here, a little bit there… Ban parking, install stop signs, build stairs, and erect fences. Cool.

      • Cool, I totally get your doubts that this kind of infrastructure changes behavior—but with proper enforcement / education (let’s re-test for driver’s licenses every few years at LEAST), I think they really can. Here’s hoping!

      • I forgot to say, regarding your title: “Murder Machines” doesn’t exactly promise a fair and unbiased essay; nor does it attract those who might benefit most from the article.


  20. An extensive study by the insurance industry showed that 95% of collision are not accidents, but due to human error, often multiple human errors. These include errors in road design, or human errors like someone decided to drink and then drive home. Examples of accidents are if you got hit by lightning, or a tree fell on you. Nobody expects to eliminate all human error that costs lives, but the idea is to move towards minimizing it.

    As for as intent…if someone shoots an automatic weapon into a crowed plaza and they did not intend to hurt anyway, is it still okay? Same for driving. Its the gross negligence and irresponsibility that are the issue, not just the intent. Penitentiaries are full of people who did not not intend to hurt anyone.

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