Podcast Transcript 302: ‘Right of Way’ with Angie Schmitt

November 8, 2020
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This week, we’re chatting with Angie Schmitt about her new book “Right of Way: Race, Class, and the Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America” (Island Press). Schmitt, the former editor of Streetsblog USA, talks with us about why she wrote the book and what she hopes folks can take away from it.

This episode originally appeared at Streetsblog USA and a full transcript is below.

JW (0s):
You are listening to the Talking Headways podcast network. This is Talking Headways, a weekly podcast about sustainable transportation and urban design. I’m Jeff Wood. This week, we are chatting with Angie Schmitt about her new book, “Right of Way: Race Class and a Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America.” Angie chats with us about why she wrote the book and what she hopes folks’ can take away from it. Stay with us. Today’s podcast is brought to you by The Overhead Wire Media’s production of Raymond Unwin’s “Town Planning in Practice.” If you want to purchase our recent audio book production of this 1909 classic, go to raymondunwin.com and click on the link to Awesound.

JW (42s):
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JW (1m 25s):
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JW (2m 8s):
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Jeff (2m 28s):
Angie Schmitt, welcome back to the Talking Headways Podcast.

AS (2m 31s):
Thanks for having me.

JW (2m 32s):
So we had you on early on, I think in the first 10 episodes when I was doing this with Tanya, welcome back.

AS (2m 37s):
Thanks. Yeah. I listen to the podcast, so it’s exciting to be here.

JW (2m 42s):
Excited to have you. And before we get started, I know folks listening to this podcast probably know about you a lot, but if you could tell us a little bit about yourself, that’d be awesome.

AS (2m 50s):
Yeah. So I live in Cleveland and for the last nine years I was working at Streetsblog. I was the national editor, the editor of the USA site before I left. So I was just there for really long time. A lot of people know me from Twitter. About a year ago, I had left. I was working on a book and that’s what we are going to be talking about today. It was published last month and just a few months ago, I also announced that I’m launching a consultancy related to the topic of the book, which is pedestrian safety.

JW (3m 23s):
That’s awesome. And what got you into transportation and urban planning and this, this whole world?

AS (3m 28s):
I followed this sort weird path where originally when I was out of college, I was a newspaper reporter. I worked on them in a few different cities, all over the state of Ohio. They were actually really different cities like I worked in at a Rust Belt city that’s kind of notorious for decline called Youngstown. I worked in some of the suburbs covering some of the suburban areas in Columbus and Toledo. So that got me interested in planning. And after a few years I went back to school and I got a master’s in urban planning here in Cleveland and from there went on to work at Streetsblog. And so I was really focused on transportation during that time and working at Streetsblog for so many years, we were just really trying to stay on top of what are the best practices, what are the trends in the industry?

AS (4m 13s):
And it gave me access to, you know, a lot of the smartest people in the field.

JW (4m 18s):
What got you to sit down and write the book?

AS (4m 20s):
So it’s sort of unusual for someone to cover transportation as long as I did, a lot of newspapers don’t have a transportation reporter anymore, it’s kind of rare as they pare back their staffs, right. So I just knew a lot. I had learned so much that I could sort of rattle off statistics. At that time I had a baby and also a toddler, but I was spending a lot of time at night on social media. And I started thinking, you know, if I took this time and put it into writing a book, I can probably do something a little bit more worthwhile. So I didn’t actually end up writing the whole book at night in the evenings eventually, like I did leave my job, but that sort of how it got started.

JW (4m 58s):
Did you find them getting off social media a little bit helped? Maybe your mental state a little bit? I don’t, I don’t know. I feel like every day I feel like I’m just gonna quit this and leave. (Laughs)

AS (5m 7s):
Yeah. I definitely like had many meltdowns about Twitter like in the night and especially with everything that’s going on politically and I just have sort of an anxious personality. So I don’t know. I still somehow manage to waste a lot of time on social media. (Laughs) So I don’t know how to answer that actually, but it does feel good to, you know, if it’s a little bit more of an, an accomplishment, I guess, having written a book than racking up Twitter followers, although I guess I shouldn’t minimize that, because it’s sort of one of the currencies and the way things work now.

JW (5m 40s):
For sure. I’m also interested in, you know, this book is very well researched. There’s so many statistics and so much data that went into it. I’m wondering like how much work it took to go through and pull all this information, all of the research papers, all of the articles that you read. It just seems like an amazing task.

AS (5m 57s):
You know, actually one of the reasons I wanted to write a book is because I thought, you know, I know this is so well. I think like a journalist who is sort of approaching a new topic, that they just have an interest in, has to spend a lot of time on the front end doing research. And I really didn’t that much with this book. Like I jumped right into it and I could recall, “Oh, I wrote about that,” I drew a lot on some of the writing I did at Streetsblog and at various points I do like sort of cite myself, but it’s just like I wrote this article about this interesting piece of research years back that I could remember that fit in to a certain portion, I had to do some interviews and that kinda thing as well.

JW (6m 35s):
And I’m also wondering like one of the things that I noticed from the book is there are a couple of major themes and a couple of the major themes that I pulled from the book is that money is more important than human lives to car companies, to companies that are testing self driving cars, to engineers that are designing streets, to even politicians. How much did this theme specifically come up when you were thinking about writing the book and doing your research and even over the last nine years at Streetsblog?

AS (6m 59s):
I think really, especially with the stuff about the auto industry, I don’t know why it’s this topic in general or transportation topics, but especially traffic safety is for some reason, just so underexplored I think compared to the damage it causes, compared to like the human misery and pain and suffering caused by traffic crashes. People don’t find it interesting for whatever reason, but some of this stuff about the auto industry, it’s just like, wow, there really getting away with murder and even on big, like regulatory fights, like there’s a fight I talk about in the book that could save 1300 lives a year, right? A certain technology, and the Trump administration just like quashed it, nobody cared.

AS (7m 40s):
I mean, I don’t think it, there was the only place I can really find reference to it was in some audio industry publications, like even the New York Times doesn’t have anyone to my knowledge, that’s focused on traffic safety, you know, the Washington Post are big… So anyway, these big trucks, these big SUVs, the auto industry has made so much money marketing these vehicles that really cause a lot of damage, both environmentally and safety wise.

JW (8m 8s):
Well you mentioned that, you know, kind of the quashing of, I think it was pedestrian safety of some sort…

AS (8m 14s):
It was vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to infrastructure communication, which basically it’s exactly what it sounds like. It allows cars to sort of talk to each other and if one of the cars or, you know, if you were going to, I would say don’t hit me and it could automatically break the other car basically is how it works. And then it sounds like kind of futuristic, but it’s actually was pretty close to market ready. Like Cadillac had already started installing it in their car and their vehicles, some of them, and Toyota was ready to go to market with it. It all runs on this like radio signal sort of, is the best way can describe it. It’s called a 5.9 gigahertz spectrum.

AS (8m 55s):
So since the 1990s US DOT has kept this spectrum open. They were like, “This is reserved for safety.” Even though some people wanted to use it for commercial stuff, right. They can potentially use it to like sell things to you while you’re driving. And the Trump administration, it was through the FCC Ajit Pai, he just said, look, we’re going to take half this spectrum and we’re going to let private companies use it we’re going to let, Facebook was one of the advocates for this, some like really evil in my opinion, right-wing groups, like the Koch brothers, political groups pushed for this. So basically because of that, Toyota backed off said like, well, there’s no guarantee that we really need this full spectrum.

AS (9m 36s):
So if it’s a matter of safety and its going to be controlling whether their cars break and you know, we can’t have any interference innocent or more malicious. So then they basically just backed off introducing this technology. So that is a kind of a thing like, and US DOT by the way, has really sort of been pitching a fit about this. They’re like, this is a terrible idea, they’re sort of on the right side of this issue. But like I said, there’s just been no attention to it. They said it could save 1300 lives a year. And I think that was just a vehicle to vehicle, not a vehicle to infrastructure. There is a ton of potential. There is, I can’t remember off hand, but the number of red light running crashes alone is that like, well over a thousand and potentially this kind of technology could just prevent drivers from running red lights before they do it.

JW (10m 23s):
That’s really interesting. And even more than say, you know, traffic cameras that a lot of states are rejecting because they feel like they’re “intrusive” into privacy. Although I would say that killing somebody is much worse than privacy in that specific respect. You know, it’s funny cause you talk a lot about the auto industry. You talk about autonomous vehicle testing. You talk about SUV is and how dangerous they actually are because how big they are. The auto industry generally just doesn’t seem to care about pedestrians or anybody outside have a car. And I’m wondering, you know, like what you found when you kind of dug into that a little bit and why they seem to be so blase about it?

AS (11m 2s):
Right? So one of big bad actors on this is definitely the Big 3 automakers, right? The Detroit, the American automakers, and it sort of goes back to the seventies and eighties when they had these problems, they were having sort of problems with their vehicle quality. The reputation really suffered, right, compared to Japanese automakers and they lost a lot of market share. So for some reason, Americans sort of have really just internalized this idea that Big 3 American cars are inferior, right, to Japanese cars. And I actually think at this point it’s a little bit unfair. Like the quality had improved since that time. But anyway, that sort of had the stigma, but that really didn’t apply to cars.

AS (11m 46s):
Like Americans, especially like the kind of people who are white collar workers, maybe would never consider buying a Ford focus. Right? They want a Toyota Camry or now it would like a Rav 4. But trucks is a different story. Like they’ll think nothing of buying, like a Ford Escape or EcoSport or whatever. And a lot of these SUV are just tall cars, right? A lot of the crossovers are based exactly on a car model. So it’s just a modified car model. And I don’t know off the top of my head, some car guys would know, what car base, you know, the EcoSport, which is a small SUV, is based on. But anyway, all of a sudden it’s a little bit taller and the American auto companies can not only sell consumers on them much easier, but they could charge about $10,000 more dollars.

AS (12m 35s):
And that’s with a small crossover compare to a sedan and it’s as much as 16,000 for the mid size and larger, the markup on SUVs. And for pick up trucks, some of them, the Detroit auto makers are netting as much as $17,000 just purely in profit on some of these big full-size pickups that they are selling. So its extremely profitable for them. And Keith Bradsher wrote a really good book back in the early two thousands, but he talks about how that also created this political pressure to look past the problem because obviously American politicians and certain parts of the country are very invested in seeing the American auto industry succeed. They employ a lot of workers, especially in cities that have had a lot of decline and have a lot of issues with employment.

AS (13m 22s):
So it’s very complex, but it’s sort of a tragic story.

JW (13m 25s):
Yeah. And especially when you get into the discussion about autonomous vehicles and testing and you wrote a piece about Phoenix and you know how they are just kind of letting it go. Not even thinking about pedestrians even though Phoenix streets and Sunbelt streets, as you mentioned in the book, are particularly dangerous.

AS (13m 40s):
Yeah. You mean with the autonomous vehicles or–

JW (13m 44s):
Just vehicles generally it seems like. (Laughs)

AS (13m 45s):
Right? Yeah. Yeah. Definitely. I think like, one of the themes on the books and I’ve been travelling around and making presentations, well, Zooming around and making presentations about this. One of the points I make over and over again is I think like this issue of pedestrian safety gets overlooked because the people who are being killed are just very marginalized. One of the things in the book is how racism plays into it. Black and Hispanic people and Native folks are at increased risk for being killed. I think also it’s especially in a city like Phoenix, it’s not only, it’s more likely to be a person of color who would be walking in the first place, relying on a bus, but also very poor people. And some of the cities that have kind of lousy transit, which is sort of the norm right in the US, the people who are walking and places like that just don’t have a lot of political power.

AS (14m 34s):
So, when they’re killed, it’s so easy for everyone to just ignore it and move on. Or it’s been too easy for people to do that.

JW (14m 40s):
Yeah. And you mentioned a lot of stories in the book, which are heart wrenching, towards the end I was getting a little misty-eyed. I wonder how you dealt with it kind of going into the book and writing all these stories about people who had been killed by traffic violence, you know, knowing that something could have been done to save their lives?

AS (14m 56s):
Yeah. It’s really sad. Later in the book, there’s a couple people that are like heroes I think that sort of have taken this on and are trying to make a difference. But yeah, one of the things that sort of inspired me to write this was this group Families for Safe Streets that got started in New York and that is for people who don’t know, it’s a group, mostly parents who lost children to traffic crashes, they sorta got together and they formed a group and they started doing political activism around safe streets in New York. And I write a lot about it in the book, but since they were formed, there’s been chapters spreading up across the United States. But I interviewed a couple of the women who lost children and sort of hearing their story, and like Amy Cohen talks about how overwhelming her grief was after her 12 year old son was killed in New York while he was walking, like she talks about being unable to sleep, being unable to eat, just going through hell, right?

AS (15m 51s):
You know, I have two kids, my second child was born a little bit before I started writing this. And I think something changes in you when you have a kid and you start worrying about like, that’s the worst thing that can happen to you, your kid dying. And I think then in my head I was sort of playing around with my worst nightmare, this happening to one of my kids. And hearing stories, I’ve really felt a lot of sympathy for them. And I don’t think for this issue compared to a lot of other issues you sometimes, like for the opioid epidemic or if there’s a death related to domestic violence, you might get like a very sympathetic profile of the victim in a publication. Well, we don’t see that very much for people who are killed in car crashes, even though it’s such a big part of our culture.

AS (16m 32s):
I think that’s part of the problem.

JW (16m 33s):
Yeah. And a few words lept out off the pages at me and you used them a number of times. And I think they’re kind of emblematic of how we should treat this kind of epidemic: sympathy, empathy, but also you use the word complacency a lot. You know, what role do with people’s emotions actually play into this problem, and you kind of alluded to it in your previous answer, but I’m curious, thinking more about kind of how people are less empathetic it seems like to these issues.

AS (16m 58s):
Yeah. I’m trying not to curse. It’s, uh, very messed up.

JW (17m 2s):
I can bleep it if you want. (Laughs)

AS (17m 4s):
(Laughs) It’s really f—ed up, some of this stuff, like there is a case I was talking about. It was in the DC area, it was like the suburbs of DC. There had been seven or eight people killed in the course of a week. So one of the news stations there wrote a story about it and the headline of the story called them lazy. So they were paraphrasing this police officer who basically said it’s their own fault. They’re lazy. They’re not going to the crosswalks. And if you looked at, like, some guy was killed by a drunk driver, one was a hit and run, it’s hard to believe that people who were tragically killed would be slandered in their, you know, hometown press like that.

AS (17m 44s):
And I think there’s not a lot of other kinds of deaths where that would still fly. I think like even like an opioid death or a suicide, which historically would of been a really stigmatized kind of death, there has been sort of some consciousness-raising about that. And we’re a lot more sensitive with how we frame those kinds of incidents now that, that hasn’t happened yet with this.

JW (18m 5s):
Yeah. And then in the book, you mentioned those issues, opioid addiction, as systemic issues andsomething that once we get over the hump of thinking about it in a systemic way that we started to be more empathetic towards people. And I’m always curious how we can get kind of over the hump and in terms of pedestrian fatalities,

AS (18m 19s):
It was a lot of work to be done with the media. I think that like the media does a lot of damage with the way they cover this. Like I sound like Trump complaining about the media, but like..

JW (18m 30s):
But this time it’s true. (Laughs)

AS (18m 32s):
Yeah, just the framing and, you know, the media, they are institutions and they are constantly adjusting the way they approach or the language they use around issues in response to advocacy, right? The terms they use to describe someone who’s disabled, for example, have changed a lot over the years or LGBTQ, the way we talk about that has changed because you know, the framing that they were using was harmful and we made a little bit of progress with that, but it’s still a big problem I think like the way they’re reporting about it. And they do like, looking for the answers in the behavior of the individuals instead of trying to see what the wider factors are and all the other environmental things that contribute, sociological factors, political, et cetera.

JW (19m 19s):
Yeah. Well it goes to that story you tell about Raquel Nelson, you know, thinking about how she was just trying to cross a street. And even after somebody ran over her child, she was, you know, served a $200 fine after she agreed to plead guilty for jaywalking, which, you know, if there’s no pedestrian infrastructure… And obviously it caused an uproar, but you know, those types of things seem to happen all the time. I’m wondering also how much it is related to police reports and how police actually monitor crashes and how we get data from those reports that we know are often victim blaming?

AS (19m 54s):
Yeah. It’s definitely part of the problem. I mean, nobody, nobody does a good job with this. It’s hard to point, I mean, other than planners, I don’t know that there’s a lot of people that are thinking about this even in public health. I dunno. It’s been a very invisible topic, so yeah, definitely I agree that police are a part of the problem.

JW (20m 12s):
What is Oslo done? It’s a little bit of a basic question, but there’s so much that’s attached to it. (Laughs)

AS (20m 19s):
Yeah. So I sort of hold Oslo up as a success story in the book, they pretty much achieved Vision Zero now, they only had one traffic death last year and it was the driver. So one thing I talk about in the book, it’s sort of remarkable how different the situation is in different nations, but some of these European countries are having a lot of success reducing traffic deaths. That’s probably the biggest success story to date. And they, you know, one thing that they’ve done in Oslo, I have to say, is they banned cars basically in a big part of the city center.

JW (20m 56s):
That’s interesting because you know, the Netherlands and other countries also have kind of stricter laws about who is at fault during these collisions. So if you have a two ton vehicle versus a 100 pound person, a two ton vehicle is going to be at fault more often. What’s keeping us from doing the same thing here in the U S?

AS (21m 13s):
Ha, everything. Like it’s a lot about like political power, right? It’s one of the themes in the books. So like who has the political power? It’s the SUV drivers, the auto companies. And there is hardly even anyone advocating for pedestrians outside have a few major metros. So that’s one of the reasons why they’ve been able to just sort of get away with whatever they want.

JW (21m 36s):
Which chapter was hardest to write?

AS (21m 37s):
I really had a hard time with the first chapter because I wrote it last. (Laughs) So I’d like written the whole book and I was trying to go back and write the introduction, but it’s just, I liked some of the other portions better. I don’t know why, but I was just trying to summarize some of the major points of the book, which is what you’re supposed to do.

JW (21m 56s):
Yeah, I think so. I think that’s part of the writing process is you have favorites and you have one that are like, eh, don’t know about that one as much.

AS (22m 4s):
Yeah, like I, at the end that I went through and I like rewrote the first and last chapters, basically, that was kind of stressful.

JW (22m 17s):
One of the other interesting pieces that I took from it, the manual on uniform traffic control devices, MU… (Laughs) MUTCD. The first thing that I thought of when I was reading about that, and you know, you’re talking about who is on the committee and all that stuff, was like, why are a bunch of dudes sitting at the Ramada Inn in charge of industry and traffic safety?

AS (22m 35s):
Yeah. They’re very powerful. It’s weird. So the, basically there is this like committee, they get together twice a year and they write this manual that’s used by all traffic engineers in the country. So they’re basically designing like every street in the United States. Engineers really have a lot of power over this kind of stuff. I think too much, because they have sort of a limited perspective. Their training, one of the engineers I interviewed, their training is limited. You know, it’s really about concrete and not the stuff that happens around the road. Not all the important, more like social science type things that can result from different kinds of infrastructure projects. Anyway, there is this powerful group.

AS (23m 16s):
They meet twice a year and they design this book and the book is a big problem. Like the instructions engineers are getting are a problem. It’s like one of them I singled out in the book was they have a, it’s called a warrant. It’s like a test an area has to pass in order to receive a crosswalk with the traffic signal, right, and that’s like the safest place for people to cross, is a crosswalk that has a traffic signal, but the open secret is they don’t want to slow down cars, right? They don’t think it’s worth delaying people. So the warrant for it is 93 pedestrians in an hour have to be crossing, which was like someone pointed out before, just completely random. They just like picked, the pretense of it is that it’s really sciencey, but it’s like someone just pulled 93 out of the air at some point and put it in.

JW (24m 2s):
(Laughs) I was definitely wondering where 93 came from.

AS (24m 4s):
Like they just made up a high threshold. I don’t know someone correct me if there is a better explanation, but I’m pretty sure that’s what it is. Or, 93 pedestrians an hour to warrant a traffic light crosswalk or five people have to be hit and injured at the location in a year.

JW (24m 23s):
Five? Not one?

AS (24m 24s):
Yeah. I believe it’s five. So that’s like one of the crazy things in this manual. The values definitely are kind of messed up and I think they’re like a little bit of a relic from, you know, the auto era from the highway days. And now that we’re getting a little more advanced as a society, we should be sort of looking at and making some big changes. But the guys that are in charge of that committee are kind of old school and are, you know, bristle at criticism and don’t want to do it. They just haven’t been, they haven’t been acting like there’s a crisis.

JW (24m 57s):
Yeah. They get grumpy when you kind of tweak them on Twitter for sure. (Laughs)

AS (25m 1s):
Oh, they hate me. (Laughs)

JW (25m 3s):
Yeah. Well that 93 number is really interesting too because you know what Seattle did, and what you explained in the book was that the threshold is there, but they put down the crosswalks ahead of time. And then after the crosswalks put in, they got 93 afterwards, which tells you that it’s so silly that you are required to have this many people crossing when they don’t feel safe to cross. And yet when you do put the infrastructure in, it allows you to hit the number. It’s kind of crazy that way.

AS (25m 30s):
Yeah. It’s it’s really 93 is just so arbitrary and it’s like, I think there’s plenty of good reasons to add crosswalks that have nothing to do with that. And that like there outta be a little more local control about these issues and there ought to be a lot more respect for neighborhood wishes. The one thing I talk about in the book, there’s this trend where people around the country are constantly painting crosswalks on the street, getting mad. They want a crosswalk, they ask the government like, Hey please install a crosswalk here and they’d get refused. And they, they were like eff it and they take it into their own hands and then they end up getting arrested in a lot of cases. I mean I sympathize, like I think that they’re sort of right, but it’s like the power is so concentrated so far from where they are, you know, in this Ramada in Columbus twice a year, with this group of people that are totally anonymous and don’t hear any public comments and I think that’s the way some people want to keep it.

JW (26m 26s):
That sounds like a good Dr. Strangelove spoof movie about traffic safety. Like just a bunch of dudes sitting around a table, maybe they’re war gaming traffic devices or whatever on a big table. And then it’s like a dark comedy of some sort. I feel like that would work really well. I don’t know.

AS (26m 39s):
I think that sort of, it is how it is. It’s like a boys club, it’s a fully like a boys club. I think the engineering profession is like that in general. But yeah, especially these really powerful guys.

JW (26m 53s):
You know, also this week, Joe Cortright, City Observatory, wrote a really interesting piece that was shared around the internet about performative pedestrian infrastructure, you know, meaning pedestrian infrastructure that’s really meant to help cars, not pedestrians. Then there was one example that he gave in Florida of a pedestrian bridge that has a quote unquote Mediterranean design. And I’m wondering if, when you were doing your research, you kind of found a lot of these issues of performative infrastructure come up for pedestrians that were actually just meant to speed up cars.

AS (27m 18s):
Actually, no I didn’t. I think more often the cases I was writing, just no one had thought about it at all. One of the points I keep trying to make when I’m talking about this is one of the big problems is there’s these missing pieces. There’s this gap in an infrastructure. So when you get down a highway, everything you need to be safe for the most part is there. If there needs to be a guard rail, there is a guard rail, right? There is the proper signs, they’re the proper reflexivity, you get my point, but that’s not true for ordinary roads across the United States. There’s so many roads, they lack sidewalks maybe, if they do have sidewalks, maybe they lack curb ramps. Maybe they lack bus shelters.

AS (27m 59s):
Maybe they lack streetlights, right? And any of those problems, any of those missing pieces puts people at risk. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to launch my own business. I think we should go back. We need to go back to all these roads that we’ve already built and make them safe. One thing I think is a good way to do it is with pedestrian safety audits, which is something I want to do, but just to walk the streets and sort of see, I think a lot of the people who are in positions of authority, they just, they never find themselves in the position where they’re walking along a suburban arterial outside Rockford, Illinois, you know, trying to catch a bus that comes like a once an hour and they’re using a wheelchair and they have to roll along this street because there’s a curb ramp where they need it or whatever.

AS (28m 41s):
These breakdowns, people who are more privileged just get to avoid them.

JW (28m 43s):
Yeah. And that’s one point you make about that group as well, is that they’re probably just driving cars all the time so they don’t understand what other people go through and it’s mostly as we call it “windshield perspective.”

AS (28m 53s):
Yeah, for sure. I mean even someone like me, like, you know, I’m into biking and I’ve been working on these issues for a long time, but I’m still privileged enough, you know that I’m not one of the people like waiting next to a nine lane arterial in Florida in the hot sun, you know, at a bus stop that’s just a pole on the ground. Like I’m still learning stuff about this. After I wrote the book, I was reading this report from LA Metro. They did this thing about women and girls and the obstacles they face to transit ridership. And one of the complaints from the women was that they would be standing at a bus stop and the bus driver would just not see them and just continue past them at night because, and I was thinking, Oh my God, like I hadn’t even thought about that.

AS (29m 35s):
Think about waving at a bus stop where there isn’t even a street, like you’re entirely unlit. You’re just standing there in the dark by the side of the road. And this is in LA too. It’s not like Gary, Indiana, or something. This is an LA, and that was one of their top complaints, is being passed up by buses because they couldn’t see them because they’re standing at an unlit bus stop at night. And I just, that’s just so outside my experience again, because of privilege.

JW (29m 57s):
My intern Nisa is actually writing a three part series right now about women in transit. And it’s really interesting to read what she’s writing and she’s writing pieces about LA and Mexico City. And soon she’ll write a piece about Sydney, Australia, but thinking about those issues is something that is really interesting to look at. And that’s something that comes up is those missed connections because you don’t have a streetlight. And that brings me to think about transit and how it’s connected to this as well. And you know, we’ve been talking about over the last few years about, even before the pandemics, specifically about drops in transit ridership. And I’m wondering, you know, you talk about this a little bit in the book, but how that ties to pedestrian fatalities specifically.

AS (30m 33s):
That’s a good question. So a couple of things I talk about as like an explanation for why pedestrian deaths have been increasing, I think may also help explain, and someone on Twitter was talking about this yesterday, why transit ridership is declining. We have these demographic changes where we have some gentrification, right, in some of our major cities which may be pushing the kind of folks that are more likely to use transit more out to less transit friendly areas. And also we have sort of a suburbanization of poverty. So for pedestrian safety that puts lower income folks that may rely on walking and transit out in more dangerous areas, but also makes it a lot more difficult for them to use transit.

JW (31m 12s):
Yeah, that’s what it seems like, is that, you know, you push people outside and they either, if they don’t have a vehicle, they still have to walk and stuff to access places and so they are walking in the more dangerous terrain. What do you hope that people get out of the book?

AS (31m 27s):
People will ask me, “So what’s like the silver bullet, you know, what can we do?” And I think they want like a design sort of answer. And I do think like I do try to point out some design treatments that I like and a lot of them aren’t like super exciting from a design perspective. But I think like we sorta need to reframe the way we think about this. I think it’s like the most important first step because we sorta know how to fix this a little bit. We just don’t have the will to do it right now, right? So if we can get to a point where we weren’t just like accepting these deaths and there are some exceptions, right? There’s some cities in the U S where they’re taking Vision Zero pretty seriously and they’re looking at this, but they’re sort of the exceptions, right?

JW (32m 10s):
Yeah. But as you also mentioned the book, there’s some places that seem to have tried it and then just got this massive political push back for it. So it makes it really hard, like you said. So I think your point’s well taken in terms of thinking about the politics of this all and how it can move forward through that avenue.

AS (32m 26s):
Yeah. But one thing I want to say is one of the insights I sorta got out of this and also one of the reasons I wanted to try to get involved with implementing some changes is I think that there’s some stuff that’s really not very controversial that we can be doing that would make a big difference that we’re just not doing again because we sort of don’t care. Like streetlights. One of the big success stories in the book is about Detroit and how they saw a big decline in pedestrian deaths after they fixed their streetlights, a lot of which were broken and not functioning. So I don’t really think anyone would oppose better streetlights, especially in lower income neighborhoods.

AS (33m 6s):
It’s not like a bike lane really where it becomes this “war on cars” type thing. It just, hasn’t been a focus, right? And there’s other things like we could be adding pedestrian islands in more locations sorta mid-block I mean they’re sort of cheap on an individual basis, but it does take a little bit of money to install those, but it wouldn’t take any space away from cars. So that’s another thing where in some cases the politics really isn’t the obstacle it’s just like money and attention to the issue a little bit.

JW (33m 35s):
Yeah, for sure. The book is “Right of Way: Race Class and a Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America.” Angie, where can folks find it?

AS (33m 43s):
You can buy it from the publisher if you want, Island Press. And if you use my last name, which is Schmitt, S C H M I double T you can get 20% off. It’s also on Amazon, but I know a lot of people don’t like Amazon. Amazon, they do have a Kindle version on there, but it should be available at a lot of local bookstores too, if not in person, you can, a lot of times just order it through their website if you do have like a favorite bookstore.

JW (34m 8s):
Yeah. If you go to a bookshop.org and you have your local bookstore is usually attached to it, they’ll give them the proceeds from it. So definitely try to do that if you get a chance. Angie, where can people find you online?

AS (34m 25s):
So I’m on Twitter. My handle is kind of embarrassing, but it’s @schmangee, or my business is 3MPH Planning and consulting, it’s 3mphplanning.com.

JW (34m 38s):
Awesome. Well Angie thank you for joining us today. We really appreciate it.

3 (34m 41s):
Yeah. Thanks so much for having me.

JW (35m 10s):
And thanks for joining us. The Talking Headways podcast is a project of the Overhead Wire, on the web at theoverheadwire.com. Sign up for a free trial of the Overhead Wire Daily, our fourteen-year-old daily cities newslist, by clicking the link at the top right of theoverheadwire.com, and please please please support the pod by going to patreon.com/theoverheadwire. Many thanks to our current patreons for their ongoing support. And as always, you can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud, Overcast, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts. And you can always find its original home at USA.streetsblog.org. See you next time at Talking Headways.


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