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Nelson's judge shows sympathy; Anne Arundel police don't

Raquel Nelson has finally encountered some compassion in her Georgia jaywalking conviction case, getting a minimal sentence and even a chance at a new trial from the judge. But a comment on another fatality closer to home, in Anne Arundel County, shows that windshield perspective in the justice system goes beyond Cobb County, Georgia.

Photo by Transportation for America on Flickr.

The judge, Katherine Tanksley, gave Nelson 12 months probation and 40 hours of community service, with no fines and no jail time. In an unusual step, Tanksley also gave her the option of a new trial, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

This may be the first time Nelson has gotten empathy from any officials in the county, who threw the book at her because a driver who'd been drinking hit her 4-year-old son. Nelson and her family were trying to cross a street from the bus stop to her home in the same way that numerous people do every day, where no realistic alternative exists.

The county transportation officials who designed this street to be so dangerous, the AJC reporter who pointed out she hadn't been charged, the prosecutors who overcharged the case, and the jurors who had never taken a public bus all showed no remorse for encouraging a situation where people have to break laws and put themselves in dangerous situations just to travel to work and shop.

A similar windshield perspective is on display in a recent Anne Arundel crash. A driver fatally hit Alex Canales Hernandez and, as in Nelson's case, left the scene. Also like Nelson's, it happened on a busy arterial street that's been designed for maximum vehicle speeds and not for bicycle or pedestrian safety.

Anne Arundel police spokesperson Justin Mulcahy told the Maryland Gazette, "Certain stretches of roads should really be just for vehicles." He also encouraged cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers all to pay attention and make eye contact.

Setting aside the fact that "vehicles" include bicycles, certain stretches of road are just for motor vehicles, like freeways. But those always coexist with networks of other roads that can potentially serve all modes. In most suburban areas like Cobb County, Georgia and Anne Arundel County, Maryland, designers have often made local arterial roads more freeway-like without actually providing for safe bicycle and pedestrian alternatives.

Bus stops become tiny roadside perches mere feet from speeding traffic with few or no places to cross, and people trying to get around without a car, sometimes because they can't afford one, have to take their lives into their hands and risk being blamed when anything goes wrong.

Not only do rude commenters and commentators blame these victims, but so do some police and callous spokespeople like Mulcahy or Jonathan Perok of Prince William, who blamed a pedestrian for getting killed in Dumfries who turned out to be a VDOT contractor there to install a traffic signal.

Jay Mallin made a great video in response to a similar Prince William incident that's equally relevant to Raquel Nelson's and Alex Canales Hernandez's cases. It's worth rewatching:

Wired also wrote today about a new report (PDF) framing transportation as a civil rights issue:

According to the report, the average cost of owning a car is just shy of $9,500. That may not sound like much until you realize the federal poverty level is $22,350 for a family of four. One-third of low-income African-American households do not have access to an automobile. That figure is 25 percent among low-income Latino families and 12.1 percent for whites. Racial minorities are four times more likely than whites to use public transit to get to work.

Yet the federal government allocates 80 percent of its transportation funding to highways.

"This is the civil rights dilemma: Our laws purport to level the playing field, but our transportation choices have effectively barred millions of people from accessing it," the report states. "Traditional nondiscrimination protections cannot protect people for whom opportunities are literally out of reach."

The report couldn't be more timely. Sarah Goodyear asks, could the intense media coverage of this issue mean that society is ready to start taking pedestrian rights more seriously?
David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Saying that some vehicles don't belong on roads where they are legally allowed is saying that there is some secret set of laws that people should follow. And if they don't, then they're just as guilty as if they broke actual laws.

If it you really think some vehicles don't belong, then ban them. But since that hasn't been done, then the onus is on the state to make the road safe.

Besides, Hernandez wasn't even on the road, he was crossing it. Is he to just be trapped inside all of these not-safe-for-bikes roads.

My correction "there are just some people who shouldn't be behind the wheel."

by David C on Jul 26, 2011 3:34 pm • linkreport


by Nick on Jul 26, 2011 4:53 pm • linkreport

Nick: I wouldn't call this discussion "over analyz[ing]." It's simply being "analyzed." I'm not sure what's wrong with talking about how we can make things better. Can you let us know what's wrong with this discussion?

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Jul 26, 2011 7:37 pm • linkreport

I think you're being overly harsh toward the AA county spokesperson. The fact of the matter is that the road isn't going to be changed anytime soon and peds/cyclists are safer avoiding these types of roads. In no way is he implying that peds/cyclists don't have the right to use the make it sound as if he's giving his statement with a sly wink to the antibike crowd. This is a common thread here...someone who is powerless to change anything states that the situation sucks, and you blame them for not magically making the world the smart-growth utopia you fantasize about.

Captcha: the law files

by MM on Jul 26, 2011 8:50 pm • linkreport

If a cyclist or pedestrian is killed, that means they weren't meant to be there. QED. If these people have ever read a magazine, or watched TV, they'd know that drunk people are careering around, driving 20+ miles over the speed limit. Why would anyone play with fire like that?

The one thing we must never ever do is disincentivize speeding or reckless driving in any way, because that would destroy America's competitive advantage. Any time lost on our roadways is lost productivity.

Also, you getting the Hell out of my way is the true meaning of freedom.

by Heading Lance Off At The Past on Jul 26, 2011 8:59 pm • linkreport

I think it's "heading them off at the pass", like a gap through mountains, fyi. [I was saying "for all intensive purposes" for years before someone corrected] Please return to internetting.

by David C on Jul 26, 2011 9:06 pm • linkreport

Of course, you're right, David C. My only excuse is the five beers I just finished drinking on H Street.

Oh, just so this comment isn't a complete waste--and apropos of nothing, possible excepting the slow death of reason--I thought I'd add this:

by oboe on Jul 26, 2011 9:14 pm • linkreport

possible -> possibly

by oboe on Jul 26, 2011 9:16 pm • linkreport

The whole transportation situation in this country need work, and will probably never have it. I don't think we'll ever see major cities that are truly pedestrian-safe, because the pedestrians will always be the sector of society that is "unwanted" and "undervalued." It's sad, but it's true. The people with power to change things are not the ones taking the bus.

by Bus Girl on Aug 1, 2011 3:36 pm • linkreport

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