The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Breakfast links: Build, don't kill

Image from The Georgelas Group.
TOD proposed for Tysons: Tysons has its first proposal for an urban, mixed-use development, in this case adjacent to the planned Tysons West station. The Tysons planning committee hopes the project will illustrate what Tysons could be. (Post, Eric) ... Eric notes that there's another development planned nearby, which isn't as mixed-use.

DC office space pricier than NY?: DC office prices are declining much slower than elsewhere, and might soon become the nation's most expensive, beating out New York, at least according to one measuring firm (another disagrees). (WSJ, Joey)

Driver kills one of NYC's oldest: A driver killed 104-year-old Joe Rollino in Brooklyn. The driver faces no charges, just a ticket for a "defective horn," since she was not speeding or intoxicated. The Times reporters doesn't bat much of an eyelash about that, nor their persistent writing that "a minivan" killed Mr. Rollino. (NYT, Dan)

Speed while rich? Pay up: Several European countries are fining speeders in proportion to their income, to avoid wealthy drivers simply paying the tickets and not changing behavior. A Swiss court recently handed down a 203,180.83 euro ticket to a millionaire driver. (AP via Freakonomics)

Free bags at farmers' markets: Plastic bags are still free at area farmers' markets, and The Slow Cook wonders why. (ah) It's worth noting that the bags you put produce in at supermarkets are still free, too; are these more analogous to those than the bags at checkout?

Topping the hot list: Infrastructurist lists the four most wasteful east coast highway projects. Number one is Virginia's I-95/395 HOT lanes from the Pentagon to Spotsylvania County, whose purpose could be much better achieved by improving rail in the corridor.

Acela II: Amtrak's capital plan includes improvements to curves and tunnel approaches that will cut the trip between DC and NYC by up to 30 minutes, and interior improvements including WiFi on the Acela Express. (Railway Age, Wired, David C)

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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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The Swiss use the Swiss Franc - not the Euro. Switzerland is not even a member of the EU. Why would a Swiss court issue fines in Euros? I call foul on the story.

by andy on Jan 13, 2010 8:18 am • linkreport

The stories list the cost in American Dollars, so perhaps that was an attempt at localization. It's 336,815 SWF.

by Neil Flanagan on Jan 13, 2010 8:37 am • linkreport

I remember reading years ago about the Swedish doing the exact same thing with their speeding tickets.

by Reid on Jan 13, 2010 8:41 am • linkreport

I'm torn on the ticket cost issue. I do think it should be a deterrent to behavior but a million dollar ticket for a billionaire doesn't sound right. Don't these countries revoke your license if you get enough tickets? If you go down that road and drive w/o a license a number of times and go to jail and court repeatedly, paying for lawyers and dealing with the hassle, I'd think that would deter even some rich folks.

by Vik on Jan 13, 2010 9:14 am • linkreport

Wifi on the Acela? Welcome to 2003, Amtrak.

by Eric F. on Jan 13, 2010 9:28 am • linkreport

It's a shame that the 104 year old died, but the article says he was 40 feet from the crosswalk. How can you blame the driver when the pedestrian broke the law?

by mch on Jan 13, 2010 9:30 am • linkreport

I really hate the headline on that WSJ article. It's not as though DC is somehow beating New York at anything meaningful. The rest of the article was fine, but there's this obnoxious trend in the New York media about how they're losing because DC is doing a little better.

by Neil Flanagan on Jan 13, 2010 9:42 am • linkreport

@ mch: I am not sure it is illegal to be in a roadway as a pedestrian. Unwise, surely, but illegal? What law did the 104-year old man break? Secondly, someone else breaking the law does not give someone else the right to kill him. If so, I'll start bringing some justice to people who don't make a full stop at the stop-sign in front of my house. I'd love to sit on my front porch and mow down those bastards with my mini machine gun. Wohoo!

@andy: It's the level of the press these days. The copy probably came from a European agency that for convenience converted in euros, as most Europeans have no clue what the exchange is with the Swiss Franc, but do understand euros. BTW, did you know more people pay with euros than pay with dollars?

I'd love though for all financial penalties to be expressed as a part of taxable income. You'd have to find a smart trick though for those who don't pay taxes (the super poor and super rich).

by Jasper on Jan 13, 2010 9:45 am • linkreport

You know what would be really great amtrak??? If acela didn't stop at New Carroltan, BWI, Trenton, Newark, Metropark and I'm sure countless stops in Conn. Then it would actually be, ya know, an express...

by laur on Jan 13, 2010 10:04 am • linkreport

On the subject of the pedestrian, crosswalk or not, why is the driver being blamed here when the details are not known?

How do we know the man didn't step out from somewhere the driver couldn't see him? How do we know it wasn't dark out and the guy was wearing black clothing crossing the middle of a high speed street, etc.? All we know is that the driver was *not* speeding, and was *not* drunk. Obviously there are more potential factors, but nothing in the article indicates the driver should be blamed for this.

by J on Jan 13, 2010 10:04 am • linkreport

I'd love though for all financial penalties to be expressed as a part of taxable income. You'd have to find a smart trick though for those who don't pay taxes (the super poor and super rich).

Why? A rich guy speeding and a poor guy speeding have the same potential to cause harm.

The converse of your proposition is that poor people get to speed willy-nilly, and since there are a lot more poor people than rich people, that will only enhance road danger.

by ah on Jan 13, 2010 10:08 am • linkreport

@Jasper: "I am not sure it is illegal to be in a roadway as a pedestrian."

It is. Most definitely. One can only legally cross at a cross-walk (either a signed one, or between two 'corners'). Not that most of us don't regularly break that law ... It's called 'jaywalking' ... and I still remember when Johnny Carson made headlines for being ticketed with jaywalking. Yeah, it's interesting that there was a time when kids could play kickball in the streets ... or people could legally just meanander down the middle of it. There's an argument to be made for not restricting pedestrians to just cross walks. (After all, look at how shopping center parking lots tend to be very safe AND have a natural mixing of pedestrians and motorists). BUT, that's not to say that a motorist who is operating within the law should be blamed for someone suddenly stepping out in front of them in an area where they're not even expected to be stepping out from. Yes, I know the argument that a 104 yr old (or a small child) might not know better than to walk right in front of traffic ... But I still wouldn't blame the motorist who was within their right. I'd blame the caretaker responsible for the 104 yr old (or the small child) for not keeping them safe.

by Lance on Jan 13, 2010 10:16 am • linkreport

Regardless of right-of-way, there is still the requirement to attempt to avoid collision. It's the responsibility of the person most able to prevent an accident, even if they shouldn't 'rightly' need to.

Defective horn? If there was enough time for a 104 year old to get out of the way of a horn-blaring minivan, then there was enough time for the driver to stop. It's driver's fault and she should be cited for far more than a defective horn. If there wasn't, then the woman should not have been cited for anything, as it wouldn't have mattered anyway - the pedestrian was most able to avoid the accident in that case.

by FN on Jan 13, 2010 10:18 am • linkreport


The idea is to make the penalty hurt the same amount for the rich person as for everyone else. If you're a millionaire, then $200 isn't really anything for you - there's little incentive not to speed (until you start racking up points). But if the ticket is $100,000, theoretically that might deter you from speeding as much since it's a real penalty to you.

As a bonus, the jurisdictions get more revenue from tickets.

by MLD on Jan 13, 2010 10:19 am • linkreport

laur - the Acela doesn't stop at New Carrolton. Some trains skip Trenton and Metropark too. And most Acelas only make two stops in Connecticut. They used to run a pure express train between DC and NYC that only stopped in Philly, but I don't think they do that anymore. There needs to be a balance between keeping the average speed up and making the train useful to people not coming or going to the major cities. As it is, even on an Acela with the most stops, it's still fewer than the Regional.

The only thing that annoys me about all the stops is the fact that it seems that people loading from stations between DC and NYC (and particularly Philly) are unaware or simply indifferent to quiet car rules.

by Reid on Jan 13, 2010 10:23 am • linkreport

@mch: "It's a shame that the 104 year old died, but the article says he was 40 feet from the crosswalk. How can you blame the driver when the pedestrian broke the law? "

What's the top speed of a 104 year old man? Certainly not high enough to catch anyone off guard, or dart in front of anyone's vehicle quickly enough that they don't have a darn good chance of reacting to it. I wouldn't say I would "blame" the driver alone, but it seems you should have some responsibility there.

by Brian S. on Jan 13, 2010 10:24 am • linkreport

Some posters here seem absolutely intent on blaming the driver without knowing the facts. There are any number of circumstances in which a pedestrian can place himself in an unavoidable accident, but every time someone mentions that, they are told it's still somehow the driver's fault.

by J on Jan 13, 2010 10:29 am • linkreport

@ J: Statistics say there are plenty more circumstances in which the driver could have prevented the death of the old man. Why do you absolutely intent on blaming the 104 year old for killing himself?

@ MLD: Thanks.
@ ah: As I said, you have to find a solution for the super-poor and rich. The solution for the super-poor is easy. Just legislate current fines to be the minimum fines. It's gonna be harder to figure something out for the ridiculous rich who stash their money in places where taxation can't find it. Perhaps it should be are a part of your combined taxable income and property. But I am no accountant. Anybody?

by Jasper on Jan 13, 2010 10:44 am • linkreport

While I find the idea of an income-dependent fine appealing, I think the more efficient way to make speeding tickets hurt is to lower the threshold for license restriction or revocation. Losing your license hurts everyone pretty equally (unless of course you live in a city!). Yes a rich person can afford a cab, but generally speaking the emotional deterrent of losing one's license for a much lesser offense would be stronger than a fine indexed to income, imho.

by Reid on Jan 13, 2010 10:54 am • linkreport

Once again, you have a problem with an incident in which a pedestrian is killed by a driver with very little knowledge of the circumstances involved.

1) The pedestrian was jawaylking.

2) The driver's horn didn't work --- which, likely, has nothing to do with the circumstances of the accident. Even if their horn had worked, and they tried to blow it, it seems unlikely that a 104 year old man would have reacted to this fast enough to change anything.

3) The driver lives in the neighborhood, which says to me they were unlikely to be driving recklessly and are familiar with typical road/traffic/foot traffic conditions. She did not flee the scene.

Given that he was 40 feet from a crosswalk, is it such a stretch to imagine that a 104 year old man could have stepped off a curb into traffic? Is it not possible that a 104 year old man could have impaired vision, hearing, judgment, and/or agility that might result in him putting himself in harm's way?

Is it not possible, even likely, that he stepped into the road from between two parked cars and could not be seen by the driver?

I can't believe that the contributors and readers of this group will rush to judge a driver with only the barest of facts, even in circumstances where the ped was clearly in violation of the law. This does not give your causes a lot of credibility.

by Jamie on Jan 13, 2010 11:25 am • linkreport

Not all of the vendors at the farmers market are selling produce. The plastic bags are somewhat analagous to those you would use for bulk produce in the supermarket, but a heavier guage. They are, in fact, the bags used at checkout at most stores. But the bigger point is, farmers markets are supposed to be leading us into a more sustainable world, meaning something a bit more engaged than the typical grocery store. So shouldn't they be among the first to ditch the plastic?

by Ed Bruske on Jan 13, 2010 11:35 am • linkreport

@ Jamie, you seem to value human life very little. No sympathy or sense of loss for the man killed in a horrible way, regardless of whose fault it is? At least (@) mch expressed that sentiment eventhough s/he disagreed with the effort to hold the driver to greater accountability.

by Bianchi on Jan 13, 2010 11:40 am • linkreport

I am very sympathetic for any tragic death regardless of the circumstances. But I commenting not on the tragedy, which is obvious, but on the rush to judgement by some.

Quite the opposite, I think that those who would vilify the driver with incomplete knowledge of the circumstances have no sympathy or value for the lives of others.

Do you have any idea what kind of emotional strain is endured by someone who accidentally kills another? Do you have any idea what the driver, who may very well bear no blame for this accident, is going through right now?

Yet many here are quick to blame her in a court of public opinion with no regard for her. The pedestrian tragically has died, yet you would try to turn a tragedy into a witch hunt and destroy the life of the party that must live with this horrible accident.

Have you ever heard "two wrongs don't make a right?" Who benefits from judging the driver, particularly in the presence of evidence that she was in no way at fault? Only your sense of self-worth that seems to be be contingent upon drivers always being wrong.

by Jamie on Jan 13, 2010 11:46 am • linkreport

40 feet from a crosswalk is 13 yards. That ain't that much.

by NikolasM on Jan 13, 2010 11:56 am • linkreport

@NikolasM: I know, it's less than three rods. Not far at all.

In fact, my car could drive that far on about 1/10th of a hogshead.

by Michael Perkins on Jan 13, 2010 12:17 pm • linkreport

I like the income-based tickets. Obviously there should be a floor so that the poorest can't just speed with impunity. And like Reed I would like to see more licenses pulled. If 8 points has your license removed for a year, why not suspend someone's license for a month at 2 points, or a week at 1 point even - THAT would be a wake up call.

by David C on Jan 13, 2010 12:19 pm • linkreport

It would not be constitutional, but sometimes I wish the penalty for speeding included a "penalty box", where the cop takes your keys for an hour and you have to just sit there.

by Michael Perkins on Jan 13, 2010 12:22 pm • linkreport

WIth regards to the original link on the 104 year-old's death, read the article before making assumptions about the person. It's really unlikely that he was running across the street, but it was also unlikely that he was disoriented or doing something especially unexpected to drivers. I'm not of the always blame the driver philosophy and there are always different ways to look at what happened with hindsite, but the commenters here that are trying to find excuses to put all blame the pedestrian are sickening.

If you want to get more detail, the article both noted the intersection and the distance from the crosswalk (though not the side of the intersection). You can few it here or spin around to the other side.

View Larger Map

This is a single-lane in each direction with clear sight lines. Barring the pedestrian running into the road from behind a large parked car/truck, I don't see how this can be blamed solely on the pedestrian. I also strongly disagree with the article that "speed was not a factor." The driver might not have been speeding, but, if she was going slower, she would have stopped or at least hurt him less. The single lane is rather wide, which does encourage going fast even if someone has slower reaction times at 7:00AM.

by Dan on Jan 13, 2010 12:23 pm • linkreport

Yeah, I suggested that if people are worried about camera-tickets being about revenue we could make people do detention for an hour at the county courthouse.

by David C on Jan 13, 2010 12:24 pm • linkreport

Income-based tickets makes a lot of sense in Europe. After all it's a pretty socialist society over there. But if you favor income-based tickets here, why not favor income-based prices for any luxury?

Because speeding carries no criminal penalties except at the extreme, like parking tickets, vacations to Saint Lucia, and 23 year old bourbon, it is basically a luxury that people with more money can afford to do more often.

I don't really see that passing the laugh test in this country.

I think short-term suspensions for moving violations is an interesting idea though. That would be a much more significant threat that would affect most people equally, but at the same time wouldn't devastate anyone's life.

by Jamie on Jan 13, 2010 12:26 pm • linkreport

"but the commenters here that are trying to find excuses to put all blame the pedestrian are sickening"

I think the only one who's find excuses to blame someone, are those blaming the driver despite the fact that the article clearly says she was not at fault.

Without any personal knowledge of the circumstances of the accident, you decide that you'd rather believe that the driver's at fault, than believe what was reported.

On what basis would you come to this conclusion? The only one I can think of is that you are predisposed to assume guilt on the part of the driver.

"it was also unlikely that he was disoriented or doing something especially unexpected to drivers."

You can't imagine a 104 year old man being disoriented? Really?

"Barring the pedestrian running into the road from behind a large parked car/truck"

So it appears that you can, actually, imagine a scenario that would mean the driver wasn't at fault. But despite the fact that you weren't there, the article says the driver wasn't at fault, and he was 40 feet from a crosswalk, and 104 years old, you find any possible explanation that assigns blame to the pedestrian to be implausible.

Imagine if the article said that an investigation was ongoing, rather than saying the driver was not at fault. You would have convicted and hung her before anyone could say "innocent until proven guilty."

by Jamie on Jan 13, 2010 12:38 pm • linkreport

@Michael, isn't that essentially what being pulled over is? Not an hour, but also not so short that it's a "Cost of speeding".

As to income-based tickets, does that mean that we should also charge wealthy shoppers more for their plastic bags at Safeway?

And extending it further, should we sentence younger offenders to longer jail terms than old people because they're "life rich"?

by ah on Jan 13, 2010 12:43 pm • linkreport

Speeding isn't a luxury, it's a crime. The point of the penalty is not to price the violation on the market - like vacations to Saint Lucia, and 23 year old bourbon - but is instead a punitive/deterrent measure. A $100 ticket for a wealthy person is less of a punishment than it is for a poor person, and thus little to no deterrent. That's how it passes the laugh test.

I passed the laugh test in college by cheating, I'm ashamed to admit. But the thing is so biased...

by David C on Jan 13, 2010 12:44 pm • linkreport

We do sentence young offenders to longer jail terms, it's called a life sentence. And often when older people get convicted they'll get a shorter sentence than if they were younger because of poor health or the desire to not make it a life sentence.

The bag tax is not a penalty for a crime, but a tax. But yes we probably should scale it - as we do with property taxes, income taxes, vehicle registration taxes, sales taxes etc... Doing so would be a nightmare though. Unless you charged a 1% tax on groceries that are bagged, which would actually make it a tax you could deduct (unlike now).

by David C on Jan 13, 2010 12:50 pm • linkreport

I would like to pipe up and say that many countries are nowhere near as fond of jail time as a 'solution' to criminality as we are. Our law-and-order politics have resulted in greatly disproportionate imprisonment compared to some of the developed world - and exacerbated the human tendency to desire passing judgement on others to the point of pathology. We tend to hold extraordinary punishments over their head (and embellish them with unofficial ones like "cellmate rape") in order to compel cooperation with people who will become lifetime criminals, without resorting to trials - and then make it impossible for them to succeed in non-criminal enterprises when they get out.

Better justice systems rely on a high conviction rate, laws targetted at harmful activities, and rehabilitation to create a low crime rate. The type of places that fine based on personal income (which have replaced short jail sentences or license revocations with large proportional fines) can sometimes be difficult to even construct a theoretical crime in that results in more than 20 years' imprisonment... but that's not counting institutionalization for people who remain unstable at the end of their sentence.

by Squalish on Jan 13, 2010 12:51 pm • linkreport

The credible threat part of deterrence is not the penultimate goal of justice, and the only thing preventing us from making a better system is our own preconceptions & moralizing habits.

by Squalish on Jan 13, 2010 12:55 pm • linkreport

As I recall, deducting for sales tax is either impossible or a huge pain in the ass. Besides, allowing a tax deduction disproportionately rewards upper middle-class tax-payers because middle and lower income people normally don't itemize their taxes.

by Reid on Jan 13, 2010 12:55 pm • linkreport

@Reid, I've never tried the sales tax deduction so I'll take your word for it. But, I'm all for my neighbors reducing their federal tax as it increases their local tax and pumps more money into the local economy. Ideally, from a game theory perspective at least, DC residents would pay 0 federal tax, while the rest of the nation continues to pay. That isn't fair I know, but it would be best for DC (at the cost of everyone else).

This is what Oregon does by having no sales tax, but high tax deductible property/income taxes. They reduce their federal tax/true income ratio. Texas does the opposite by having a high sales tax and no income tax. Obviously I think the Oregon model is better.

by David C on Jan 13, 2010 1:04 pm • linkreport

Seriously, we're not a socialist country like Youurope, it's not like we tax people differently depending on income.

by Neil Flanagan on Jan 13, 2010 1:08 pm • linkreport

Here's my take on this blame-the-driver vs. blame-the-pedestrian thing. It's true that we don't know the details and the driver might not have been able to avoid the crash.

However, I'm not willing to take the NYPD's word for it. Police, including the NYPD, tend to assume the driver is blameless unless they were speeding (usually meaning speeding more than 10 mph) or intoxicated.

That's not the only reason a driver should be responsible for hitting a pedestrian, however. It just happens to be an easy to enforce, bright line that also is never unfair to the motorist, because for some reason we can't be unfair to the motorist but can be unfair to the pedestrian.

Streetsblog has documented many cases of the NYPD letting drivers off the hook, like the driver of a Hummer who killed some kids crossing the street in front of him because he was too high up and too close to the crosswalk to see them.

If you're driving, things might happen that you couldn't avoid, and we shouldn't execute people for it, but at the same time, you need to take due care not to hit people, and if you don't do that, you should be responsible even if you weren't intoxicated or breaking speeding laws even more than people generally do.

by David Alpert on Jan 13, 2010 1:13 pm • linkreport

In the UK, you lose points on your driving licence for any speeding, and if you go fast enough you can lose it all together. In the UK there is no such thing as Jaywalking, you can cross were ever you want. Though thats your risk as well on the busier roads. If they don't think you were driving with due care and attention then they will prosecute. The police in the UK don't let people off with it's an accident. There is no such thing.

It seems to me there that some regard pedestrians as playing a game of frogger. There is a reason the UK has one of lowest road death rates in the World.

by Rational Plan on Jan 13, 2010 1:20 pm • linkreport

I've been very careful not to put all the blame on the driver, but that's very different from saying the driver is blameless. Barring the one situation I mentioned, which is very unlikely for a 104 year-old man, it's impossible to argue that driving slower couldn't have prevented the death. Does the blame rise to the level of manslaughter? I have no clue and won't speculate, but there's still blame.

Also, have you read the article? It gave clear descriptions of the man's abilities even in old age. This wasn't a disoriented wanderer.

by dan on Jan 13, 2010 1:21 pm • linkreport

Damn right, David.

There's no question that every time you read a story like this one, you have sociopaths chiming in, "The driver has no culpability whatsoever: the victim was outside a crosswalk!" Like this is fucking DeathRace 2000.

Let's face it, in our society the police, the cops, and countless folks like Jamie upthread, there is never, ever a driver who should be held accountable for anything, so long as they're not either falling-down drunk, or going 15 mph over the speed limit.

I'm assuming all the folks arguing "he was outside the crosswalk, so he deserved whatever he got" would wholeheartedly agree that if the driver was exceeding the speed limit by any amount whatsoever, she should immediately be charged with involuntary manslaughter, right?

Gotta be consistent, after all.

by ibc on Jan 13, 2010 1:25 pm • linkreport


You seem to be mixing up a few issues. The police don't necessarily let people "off the hook" for hitting pedestrians - the police are there to enforce the laws as they are written. As it stands, simple negligence behind the wheel normally does not normally rise to the level of criminality because of the lack of Mens Rea (Guilty Mind). This of course changes for acts of gross negligence, but to prove that beyond a reasonable doubt is difficult even with documentary evidence. As it stands, a dead pedestrian alone does not prove negligence at any level, much less the standard for criminal liability.

The police write their reports and issue citations for any violations shown by the evidence - in this case a faulty horn. It is my understanding that the police usually don't determaine "fault" per se, and even if they did it would have a flimsy basis for admission in court. So it is unfair to say that the NYPD "let the drives off," rather they are simply doing the job that the law provides.

Keep in mind this is all in a criminal context. Negligence can (and is) brought to account in our civil system, where burdens of proof are much lower and recovery is available.

by Local on Jan 13, 2010 1:37 pm • linkreport

When I learned to drive a long time ago in New York, the speed limit on a local street was 20 mph. From the description of the injuries, it sounds like the car was moving faster than that. Surely, crossing the street 40 feet from a crosswalk is no more serious a violation than driving above the speed limit.

by Ben Ross on Jan 13, 2010 1:39 pm • linkreport

As it stands, a dead pedestrian alone does not prove negligence at any level, much less the standard for criminal liability.
That's the crux of the issue. Why doesn't it? Why isn't it even investigated often as not? Is it acceptable or desireable in a city that we currently approve of a near-total lack of responsibility at the expense of pedestrians?

by Squalish on Jan 13, 2010 2:17 pm • linkreport

Yes, Squalish gets to the crux of it. We don't even need to euphemize by calling the deceased and injured pedestrians. We can say "...a near-total lack of responsibility for one class of people(motorists) at the expense of another class of people (non-motorists)."

by Bianchi on Jan 13, 2010 2:29 pm • linkreport


"it's impossible to argue that driving slower couldn't have prevented the death."

Sure, but if he was not exceeding the speed limit as the article reports, then he broke no laws, and cannot be held responsible. We have a system of laws. This is what we use to determine responsibility. Where would we be if we just arbitrarily assigned fault with no system of guidance to do so?

"Also, have you read the article? It gave clear descriptions of the man's abilities even in old age. This wasn't a disoriented wanderer."

All it said was he walked five miles every morning and looked great for his age. How's his vision? His hearing? His mental acuity? We have no information whatsoever, but it seems likely that they are not as good as someone much younger.

I didn't say he was a disoriented wanderer, I only said that it is not a stretch to imagine that someone of that age could make an error in judgement. I mean, someone of any age whatsoever could do so.


"When you're driving, things might happen that you couldn't avoid, and we shouldn't execute people for it, but at the same time, you need to take due care not to hit people, and if you don't do that, you should be responsible even if you weren't intoxicated or breaking speeding laws even more than people generally do."

Of course drivers should take care not to hit people. But where in the story is there anything that implies she was not doing so?

The point of offense that I take is the inherent assumption, whenever this happens, that the driver must have been out of control, or negligent in some way, despite the preponderance of evidence. The assumption is that a driver could always have avoided the accident. Unless the driver is not moving, that's simply false.

Because there have been cases where police made the wrong call, that means we should assume the same here?

I can't think of a single conceivable situation involving a car/pedestrian accident that you, or some of the more anti-automobile commenters here, would not immediately crucify the driver, using arguments such as this.

"The police have let drivers off the hook in the past."

"Drivers should bear responsibility even if they broke no laws" (because they must have been at least partially responsible for not stopping their vehicle in time regardless of the situation?)

This is a pretty unfortunate mindset that is essentially similar to the sort that drives any kind of discrimination: applying your own beliefs about a class of individuals based on anecdotal observations and past experience with those individuals.

So, what value is there in reporting on something like this, as you have, and criticizing the Times for, actually, reporting what happened? Isn't the job of reporters to report the facts as they hear them? What would you think of The New York Times if it habitually made assumptions of guilt or innocence every time it reported on the facts of a situation?

by Jamie on Jan 13, 2010 2:36 pm • linkreport

Sure, but if he was not exceeding the speed limit as the article reports, then he broke no laws, and cannot be held responsible.

It's possible that there's a driver out there who actually drives at or below the speed limit. I haven't seen one yet.

I mean that quite literally. No driver obeys the speed limit. Period.

by oboe on Jan 13, 2010 3:07 pm • linkreport

@ Squalish and Bianchi:

It doesn't because our Constitution does not permit the assumption of guilt.

The police do in fact investigate instances of pedestrian/vehicle collisions. However, the police cannot charge a person with a crime unless there is evidence to support the charge. You can say all you want that the Police ignore evidence because it's a pedestrian, they have an "auto-centric" mentaility, or whatever. There are no facts to support that assertion. In fact the carte blanche suggestion that the police willfully ignore evidence demeans the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect us every day.

Accidents happen people - It sucks but it's true. Not every dead pedestrian means jail time. Even if they were run down by a tool of Satan (car).

by Local on Jan 13, 2010 3:40 pm • linkreport

@Local: That's in the real world. Here at GGW, "it's always the driver's fault!"

Because NO DRIVER OBEYS THE SPEED LIMIT. PERIOD. And all cyclists stop for red lights.

by Anonymous on Jan 13, 2010 3:49 pm • linkreport

@local, no one said "assumming guilt" besides you. You yourself pointed out the lack of laws that would require an investigation when a person is killed in this special set of circumstances. The problem is with the acceptance of this. There are nations with equivalent VMT and car ownership rates as the US but with much lower death rates for people struck while walking. One reason is because the system is pervasive in educating, starting at very early ages, that the onus of responsibility is on the person who can do the most harm - the driver. Its an attitude that saves lives and spares drivers the trauma of hitting others as they are out walking. Drivers become accustomed to a higher state of vigilance and therefore more crashes with people walking are avoided.

by Bianchi on Jan 13, 2010 3:51 pm • linkreport

In fact the carte blanche suggestion that the police willfully ignore evidence demeans the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect us every day.

Oh, please.

We live in a society in which auto-centrism is normative. The police are no different than anyone else in this respect.

Your shameless pandering in the form of wrapping yourself in FOP stickers is just sophistry. No one is accusing the police of willfully ignoring evidence; just of having the same blind-spot as 99% of the rest of our society.

by oboe on Jan 13, 2010 3:53 pm • linkreport

It's possible that there's a driver out there who actually drives at or below the speed limit. I haven't seen one yet.

They can't see you either. They're out there, driving to church on Sunday in their '76 Chevy.

by ah on Jan 13, 2010 3:55 pm • linkreport

This is getting repetitive, but I'll note that speed limits are context dependent. I've seen a driver get ticketed for speeding when he went into a slightly uncontrolled skid on a rainy day. He was going below the posted speed limit, but the ground conditions made the posted limit dangerous.

If a street has more visual obstructions than usual or if the ground is icy, then someone can legally be considered speeding even if going below the posted speed limit. This isn't to hypothesize what happened in this case, but to note that stating anything below the posted speed limit is legal is simply false.

Local, I don't think anyone here said every dead pedestrian means jail time, but it's a nice straw man. The general attitude here seems to be that dead pedestrians shouldn't be a default necessity of our roads and accidents should be examined in more detail both to assign legal guilt when appropriate and to figure out ways to make the roads safer for everyone.

As for police willfully ignoring evidence. Of course they do! They have a limited amount of time and can only focus on cases that they deem to be most important or most solvable. When my parked car was hit, I'd had a police office ignore a phone number I gave him of a witness who wrote down the license plate number. While this really annoys me, I know the officer has other cases he deems more important than finding out who should pay me a couple hundred dollars for car repairs.

What's going on here is that people are pushing back regarding pedestrian deaths. They are saying that it worth more of police officers time to give these cases a closer look.

by Dan on Jan 13, 2010 3:57 pm • linkreport

ditto what dan and oboe said.

by Bianchi on Jan 13, 2010 4:06 pm • linkreport

@ Bianchi

Squalish's response to my statement that a dead body does not neglegence prove was; "That's the crux of the issue. Why doesn't it?" You echoed that statement.

Frankly I don't see how you can read that as anything other then "It's a car hitting a pedestrian, therefore I should be able to imply guilt."

Now that we got that out of the way - On to your next statement. "You yourself pointed out the lack of laws that would require an investigation when a person is killed in this special set of circumstances." Actually what I said was that the police always investigate this type of situation. It doesn't change the fact that no evidence = no charge - Even if I'm standing over a dead body with a knife coming out of it, the police can't charge me with murder unless they have evidence that I actually killed him with some form of intent or malice (and the extent of that malice will dictate the severity of the charge).

As to the other countries that have a lower death rate per VMT, you associate that with a "higher state of vigilance" and that may be true (it also may not be), but it is also irrelevant - unless you are implying that in those countries people loose their presumption of innocence. In which case, I say they can keep their better statistics - I'd rather have my rights.

by Local on Jan 13, 2010 4:08 pm • linkreport

@Local, actually, you're thinking of common law, not the constitution (innocent until proven guilty is not in the constitution - in fact, "innocent", "guilt" and all of their forms aren't in there either). And you're also thinking of the presumption of innocence, not the assumption of innocence. In fact once you've been indicted for a crime, you're assumed guilty (that's why they can lock you up and such) but you retain your presumption of innocence, which merely means that the state has an assertion of guilt and must tie the evidence to its claim. This is then tested in a courtroom.

In the case of a traffic crash, we know someone is guilty (or negligent). Which person gets the "presumption" and wins in a tie? [It's like the reason that boxer claimed he doesn't pray to win - "If I pray to win and the other guy prays to win, what is God going to do?"]. If you presume the driver is innocent, then you are presuming the pedestrian is guilty and vice-versa.

In most cases the courts define who is presumed guilty (or negligent) and that person then has the burden of proof. For example, in many states, if you rear-end another driver you are presumed guilty and must prove that the other driver is at fault (they had inoperable brake lights for example). Louisiana is one:

Louisiana R.S. 32:81 imposes a duty on a motorist not to follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicle and the traffic upon and condition of the highway. A following motorist in a rear-end collision is presumed to
have breached this duty and is, therefore, presumed negligent. Mart v. Hill, 505 So. 2d 1120 (La. 1987); Boggs v. Voss, 31,965 (La. App. 2d Cir. 06/16/99), 741 So. 2d139.

In some countries in Europe, drivers who hit a pedestrian or cyclist are presumed guilty and they have the burden to prove their innocence. Some people here are arguing that the de facto rule in America is that pedestrians and cyclists are presumed guilty because they were on the road which belongs to cars. But that they would like to see the presumption moved to drivers. There is logic in this in that - as the only licensed road users - they have been given the most responsibility and thus they are most responsible in the event of a crash.

by David C on Jan 13, 2010 4:10 pm • linkreport

@Local, "...negligence AT ANY LEVEL". And yes indeed you will be invesitgated if you are found with a someone who died of anything other then natural causes. Intent is left to the prosecutor. Thats beside the point. The are nuances you and everyone here who thinks its okay for someone to kill another human being just because that person was a few feet out of a cross walk are overlooking. See oboe's and dan's posts above. Oh. I have rights too. Your rights end where mine begin. I have a right to walk across the street without fear of being hit by someone who will escape ANY LEVEL of culpability.

by Bianchi on Jan 13, 2010 4:18 pm • linkreport

Bianchi, can you provide references for the assertion that other nations with similar car ownership and VMT rates have much lower death rates for pedestrians? What I was able to find says exactly the opposite.

For example:

This places the U.S. VMT death rate at 9.4 (per billion kilometers). The lowest of any country is the UK at 7.5. Among countries with similar car ownership rates:

Germany - 9.7
Austria - 11.7
Switzerland - 8.8
Australia - 8.0
New Zealand - 12.4
France - 10.9
Canada - 8.9

We appear to be right in the middle overall. Of course these are all road deaths - so while these figures could look different if a much higher proportion of traffic deaths in the U.S. is pedestrians, compared to other countries.

But this does not seem to be the case. In the U.S, for example, it's about 13%, which seems to be lower than most European countries. For example, in England, it's 20%. That means that the rate of 7.5 overall in the UK would be 1.5 for only pedestrians, and the US would be 1.2 for only pedestrians. Better than the best.

Anyway, if you have references to support this assertion, I am very interested to see them. My research basically says exactly the opposite: that we have a relatively low VMT pedestrian death rate compared to other countries with similar car ownership rates.

This table shows car ownership rates by country:

by Jamie on Jan 13, 2010 4:20 pm • linkreport

as the only licensed road users - they have been given the most responsibility and thus they are most responsible in the event of a crash.

Perhaps pedestrians should be required to have a license to enter the road other than at crosswalks. Absent a license, they are deemed to be using the road improperly, and presumed negligent.

by ah on Jan 13, 2010 4:21 pm • linkreport

@ David C, thank you for your brain and ability to articulate. It doesn't even matter if you agree. You stated the argument in the clearest way.
@Local and all others-see DaviD C's comment.

by Bianchi on Jan 13, 2010 4:24 pm • linkreport

Perhaps pedestrians should be required to have a license

Even if you did that it wouldn't change anything. Most people would agree that driving a car requires much more responsibility, license or no. Would you let a 12 year old drive to school? Would you let a 12 year old walk to school?

by David C on Jan 13, 2010 4:25 pm • linkreport

@ Bianchi - I said three times that crashes of this nature are always investigated. I never said it was ok to kill someone, I just said you can't presume a crime based on the the fact that a pedestrian is dead.

@ John - you are correct I mistyped regarding assumption and presumption. The presumption though, has been read into the 5th, and 14th amendments along with other penumbral rights such as privacy. Also the statute you cited regards civil negligence, and not criminal liability.

by Local on Jan 13, 2010 4:26 pm • linkreport

@ Bianchi - I said three times that crashes of this nature are always investigated. I never said it was ok to kill someone, I just said you can't presume a crime based on the the fact that a pedestrian is dead.

@ John - you are correct I mistyped regarding assumption and presumption. The presumption though, has been read into the 5th, and 14th amendments, just as other penumbral rights such as privacy been read into the constitution. Also the statute you cited regards civil negligence, and not criminal liability. The burden of proof in a criminal case can never be shifted from the prosecution.

by Local on Jan 13, 2010 4:30 pm • linkreport

Here's more info:

Pedestrians represent 11.7% of U.S. traffic fatalities. Only Netherlands, New Zealand, Belgium, and Sweden have a lower overall percentage. The lowest is 8.5%.

Road deaths per billion kilometers traveled:

USA is right about in the middle.

Put together the two datasets (USA's average road death rate, and the very low percentage of road deaths that are pedestrians in the U.S.) and the conclusion is inescapable:

We have among the lowest pedestrian death rate per mile traveled in the world. I would say that only Norway and Sweden would come out ahead.

by Jamie on Jan 13, 2010 4:34 pm • linkreport

David -- testing for ability to authorize use shouldn't necessarily convey some increased "responsibility" with respect to negligence. There may be other reasons for it, but I don't see how imposing licensing requirements in itself does. I think you're conflating two meanings of responsibility (or just misusing it in one instance).

Drivers' licenses test for physical ability and knowledge of rules of the road (supposedly) in order to prevent people lacking in either from operating a vehicle. It's not like professional ethical standards imposed on lawyers or doctors.

Anyway, a lot of the comments seem to be mixing different forms of liability.

First there's criminal liability. As one poster above pointed out, there's no evidence the driver intended to strike the pedestrian or was operating so negligently as to ascribe criminal liability. There is a strong presumption in the US criminal system against strict liability for crimes, especially felonies.

Second, there's liability for violating certain motor vehicle laws. I assume these are generally civil in NYC, but also have fairly bright lines (e.g., horn didn't work, over the speed limit). There presumably isn't a motor vehicle code violation for striking a pedestrian outside of a crosswalk in the middle of the street, which is what occurred (regardless of fault). If there's no law against it, how can the police cite the driver for something?

Then there's plain civil liability. The estate can bring a suit for wrongful death and any number of other things. Obviously that's not going to be decided two days after the accident. But the driver, or his insurance co., may still be on the hook for loads of money, depending on the evidence of who was doing what when and where.

by ah on Jan 13, 2010 4:36 pm • linkreport

ah, I was only using the licensing (and other standards) to convey that society generally agrees that driving requires more responsibility than walking.

It's true that I cited a civil case, but there are other examples in some jurisdictions you're presumed guilty if you shoot someone in a hunting accident. Now that may sound unfair but here is how it actually works, simplified down:

1. Dead hunter is found. Other hunter presumed innocent.
2. "Did you shoot him?" Other hunter: "Yes, it was an accident." Shooter presumed guilty.

The presumption doesn't shift until it is known that the other hunter was the shooter. So in a traffic crash the driver would still be presumed innocent until it is proven that they hit the pedestrian. Then the burden shifts to the driver to explain why.

by David C on Jan 13, 2010 4:53 pm • linkreport

@ David.

That doesn't sound at all right and/or legal. I would love to see that statute. From past experience I would assume said rules don't apply to duck blinds that contain one former V.P....

by Local on Jan 13, 2010 5:07 pm • linkreport

The law requires hunters to wear gear that increases their visibility during hunting season. If someone's who's not wearing such gear is killed by a hunter, actually, the assumption is that it's their own damn fault.

The laws that govern how pedestrians conduct themselves in roads don't include wearing bright orange, but do include other statutes designed to ensure that they are as visible as possible to drivers, for the safety of all road users.

These statues include crossing the street at crosswalks.

The gun holder has a lethal weapon, as does the car driver. But if the party who's life is in danger, either the hunting victim or the pedestrian, is in violation of the laws designed to protect them, while the other party is not in violation of any laws, why on earth would you find the driver guilty any more than you would prosecute the hunter?

by Jamie on Jan 13, 2010 5:17 pm • linkreport

What an astounding number of comments based on no one knowing the facts and speculating worse than the old News of the World tabloid.

Of course, rational people would simply wait to see what the police report said about how the accident occurred. But, as David notes, even the cops are part of the car-centric conspiracy, so we know we can't believe anything their reports say. Unless, of course, the report blames the driver. In that case, and ONLY that case, can we believe the police report. In all other cases, we can't believe the police report and MUST assume that the driver was completely, totally (and probably remorselessly) at fault.

Seriously David, I respect the work you do on this blog. But you have no credibility when it comes to the issue of who's at fault in accidents between cars and pedestrians or cyclists. It's like tuning in to Fox News for an accurate accounting of the day's news. But, at least the reader knows what he/she is getting so can take it with a grain of salt.

by Fritz on Jan 13, 2010 5:32 pm • linkreport

David, understood, but you're suggesting that the responsibility should change legal burdens rather than simply be relevant to what constitutes due care. That's an important difference.

Anyway, in your burden shifting approach, what if the driver's response could be "I was traveling in compliance with the law and he was not in a crosswalk" and the burden shifts back? Okay with that? I think as a practical matter this is how civil liability would be determined anyway. The walker would show that the driver was going too fast, distracted, whatever, and the pedestrian was moving slowly. The driver would try to show the opposite. Someone would be judged to be at fault or more at fault, and depending on the law of the state they would share liability in some way (e.g., the driver is 51% responsible for the injuries/death) or one would bear all of it (the one less to blame escapes fully or is compensated fully).

by ah on Jan 13, 2010 5:33 pm • linkreport

If someone's who's not wearing such gear is killed by a hunter, actually, the assumption is that it's their own damn fault.

Really? Tell that to Kevin Kadamus.

Gregory, the game warden, said he refuses to call such cases accidents.

"There's three distinct actions that have to take place: You have to aim the firearm, take the safety off and you have to pull the trigger. None of those actions are ever accidental. The simplest way to avoid an accident is to identify your target.

"I've never seen a 17-year-old boy who looks anything like a turkey," he said.

by David C on Jan 13, 2010 6:26 pm • linkreport

Comparing countries by pedestrian fatalities per million miles of VMT mainly is wildly dependent on the relative rate of driving vs. walking. If few people walk, then the number of ped fatalities will be low, and the denominator of VMT will be high.

New York City has one of the highest ped fatality rates compared to VMT just because so many people walk and not as many drive, but any individual pedestrian is safer in NYC because there are so many pedestrians, making drivers more likely to be alert.

To really calculate pedestrian safety, you have to also factor in the total number of pedestrian miles traveled, which is hard to get but possible to estimate. CSG did this last year for counties in the region.

by David Alpert on Jan 13, 2010 7:45 pm • linkreport

If someone's who's not wearing such gear is killed by a hunter, actually, the assumption is that it's their own damn fault.

As David C touched on, most responsible hunters have nothing but contempt for the jackasses that shoot at anything that rustles. Good to see Jamie's got as good a grasp of the fundamentals of hunting as he does driving.

by oboe on Jan 13, 2010 10:00 pm • linkreport

@David A: I agree entirely with your assessment of the value of fatalities per VMT - that this is not a good an indicator overall of "safety."

My posts were a response to Bianchi's assertion that the U.S. has much higher rates of pedestrian accidents per VMT than other countries with similar car ownership rates. I was challenging this assertion. Whatever the value of this information, the assertion is not true.

The report that you reference is interesting and supports the fundamental point that I have frequently argued:

DC is a relatively safe place for pedestrians.

The only place in the region with a better safety index is Alexandria City and Arlington County, though Arlington is so close as to be statistically the same as DC. Suburban roads are far more dangerous to pedestrians than DC's 25 MPH city streets, despite the fact that DC has far more pedestrian traffic.

Additionally, pedestrian fatality rates in DC have varied wildly in the last ten years, from a low of 7 to a high of 25. This means that it is heavily influenced by random events rather than driven by sweeping policy (such as speed 5 mph difference in speed limits).

by Jamie on Jan 14, 2010 8:34 am • linkreport

"As David C touched on, most responsible hunters have nothing but contempt for the jackasses that shoot at anything that rustles. Good to see Jamie's got as good a grasp of the fundamentals of hunting as he does driving."

Okay, point taken. At the same time, consider this information from State of Vermont's hunting guide.

"A New York study found that 94% of hunters involved in
mistaken for game accidents were not wearing hunter orange.
This is even more startling when you consider that 81% of
New York hunters do wear hunter orange."

As it turns out, wearing orange is NOT required under Vermont law. But obviously it is pretty stupid not to do so.

On the other hand, crossing the street at crosswalks is required under the law. Unlike hunters, cars don't actively shoot at something. In an accident, the car becomes lethal not through an act that is directed at the wrong target, but through a target placing themselves in front of the car. This is already a fundamentally different situation than a hunter failing to identify their target before shooting.

But since there is actually a law in every state regarding where pedestrians are allowed to be, there is much less room for interpretation.

Would the shooter be prosecuted in a state with a hunter orange requirement?

by Jamie on Jan 14, 2010 8:54 am • linkreport

@ D Alpert, thanks. I forgot to include proportion of people travelling by foot, which is low in this country overall for all the obvious reasons.

by Bianchi on Jan 14, 2010 11:01 am • linkreport

I think at this point, Party A is making the argument that a given law should be altered, and Party B is arguing, "Hey! That's the law!"

Probably not going to be very a fruitful debate...

by oboe on Jan 14, 2010 11:10 am • linkreport

Tysons West is actually fairly mixed use, it is just phase one (which last time I checked, which was before the downturn) was scheduled to possibly open before the Silver Line opened. If you look at the phase two renderings you will see office and residential towers take up the surface parking from phase one of the project.

by Joshua Davis on Jan 16, 2010 10:04 am • linkreport

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