Multi-Part Story of an Epidemic: Pedestrian Injuries/Deaths in New Mexico

In the first three months of this year, nineteen pedestrians were hit and killed in New Mexico. This is up from thirteen in the first three months of 2015. The Land of Enchantment has long had one of the highest pedestrian fatality rates in the nation. 2015 showed a decrease, but the new year seems to indicate that 2015 drop was just an aberration.

Since 2016 began, Better Burque has been tracking local stories of pedestrians being struck. The bookmarking has been grimly repetitive. With one or two exceptions, the stories have looked largely identical to the report of a man hit at the corner of 12th N.W. and Rosemont this past Saturday. These stories are exceedingly short, generally sketching the pedestrian as the cause, stating medical status of the victim and noting whether alcohol was involved. That’s it. A list of links for some of these reported incidents appears below.

For some reason, what happened at 12th and Rosemont finally made it clear to your humble blog poster that some deeper examination of this epidemic needs to happen. Something beyond the exceedingly short and informatively scant. Helping this perception that a deeper look is needed has been a quote in March from Albuquerque Police Department spokesperson Tanner Tixier as part of a KRQE report on a study outlining the epidemic. He said:

“What we are seeing the most of in Albuquerque is the pedestrian being intoxicated crossing illegally, crossing outside of crosswalks, really at no fault of the drivers.”

And not wishing to denigrate Officer Tixier’s comment, for the level of complexity in his “analysis” of the problem displayed is the norm for this issue, it is notable that we generally respond to pedestrian injuries and deaths by not only blaming the victim for being hit, but for walking anywhere near a road in the first place.  The almost transparently veiled implication is that only somebody with something “wrong” with them would walk on our streets.

What results from this implication is a de facto transportation caste system in New Mexico. Everyone who has “made it” as formally acceptable members of society drives an automobile. Those who don’t drive haven’t “made it,” and are to be treated like second-class citizens, if like citizens at all. The complexity of this social hierarchy even extends between cyclists and pedestrians, with many bike riders feeling somehow superior to those walking the streets. Your humble blog poster, a dedicated cyclist, has seen evidence of this far too many times to count.

This intermittent series of blog posts will examine the social dynamic in action, focusing on the lowest caste, pedestrians. It could certainly also include cyclists and/or those who use mass transit, but we’ll stick to pedestrians for two big reasons: 1. The injury/death rate, which is actually far higher for pedestrians than for cyclists; 2. That while Albuquerque has formal advocacy groups for cyclists, transit and those who walk our fine system of off-road trails, there is no urban pedestrian advocacy group here.

Why is that? 

As Officer Tixier alludes to above, the issue of pedestrian carnage extends into a plethora of societal problems, as well as matters of transportation planning and engineering. This series will look into those issues, starting with this little fact regarding the incident at 12th and Rosemont. The exceedingly small story includes the following “damning” point:

According to police, the pedestrian tried to cross 12th Street between cars outside a designated crosswalk.

Here’s the Google Street view of the corner of 12th and Rosemont looking South, toward Mountain Rd.

rosemontsouth

and here we look North toward Sawmill Rd.

rosemontnorth

The distance, both South and North, requires a real good squint to make out the traffic signals at either Mountain or Sawmill. In between, including the corner of 12th and Rosemont, there are no crosswalks. It’s a residential area, with a posted speed limit of 30 mph. Why are there no crosswalks anywhere in this stretch?

Drunk or sober, regardless of whatever the victim has done in their life to deserve having to walk our streets, there is almost no fathomable reason a pedestrian should be hit at the corner of 12th and Rosemont. That this incident, unlike many, occurred during daylight makes it even more unfathomable.

Your humble blog poster knows little to nothing regarding details of this incident. Better Burque communicated with Officer Tixier, who was kind enough to respond with a few facts, such as that the victim is still in critical condition and that it happened closer to Rosemont than the originally reported Summer Avenue nearby. As for whether the victim performed the only fathomable action leading to such a result, running headlong into the street, we do not know. Looking at the Street Views, even stumbling from the sidewalk to the street would seem to require enough time for a motorist to stop, swerve or somehow adjust.

But we don’t get those kind of details. And having logged the exceedingly short news “stories” listed below, we have proven to not need this level of analysis. In fact, we seem to shun and avoid any such detail. What we seem to need is summed up by characters in one of the closing scenes of Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show.”

We don’t like to admit it, but we’re just like those guys surrounding the kid’s dead body. We’re okay saying “He was just a dumb ‘ol kid…” and get on with our lives. Having myself grown up in a two-street town not too far from the movie’s location of Archer City, Texas, I can report that such sentiments aren’t limited to movies and the Land of Enchantment. They’re everywhere in this automobile-crazed world.

But we’re here and it is New Mexico that is seeing some of the highest rates of this epidemic. So let’s find out more than is offered in these exceedingly small reports from the first few months of 2016:

It must be noted the list above is not inclusive, as the 19 pedestrian deaths in New Mexico this year illustrate. It includes only Albuquerque and is far from capturing every incident. Moreover, every case is different, including a skateboarder and tons of case-by-case details that surely differ in myriad ways.

But we wouldn’t know that from reading the news “stories,” would we? We just fill in informational blanks and logically bounce the very few facts provided around in our heads. We say to ourselves, “Oooh, that’s a dangerous intersection,” or, “walking at night there is insane.”

Stuff like that. Then we move on.

What this series will try to do is to avoid our very strong tendency to just “move on.” It will look a bit more deeply at the causes behind specific incidents and general societal and transportation planning/engineering conditions that help exacerbate this epidemic. In doing so, it will attempt to simply avoid another great human tendency, finding someone to blame, and instead will better try to understand what series of conditions are at work, that we might change and improve those conditions in order to mitigate this epidemic.

For now, we’ll close with another thought that also never seems to be explored in the exceedingly short news stories. What about the poor unfortunate souls who hit the pedestrian? What long-term psychological trauma exists for them, regardless of fault or blame? Our general unwillingness to examine even this aspect of the epidemic shows just how far we have to go in studying its effects. We good citizen drivers don’t even want to talk/think about other good citizen drivers involved in such matters.

Perhaps that’s mostly due to the fact we know it could happen to us. The driving part, anyway. Because we’re human. And that, on some level, we know pedestrians really are, as well, human. Revealing this quite obvious fact would appear to be a ridiculously easy accomplishment for this intermittent series, but truly bringing out the shared humanity in our pedestrian injury/fatality epidemic might be the single hardest job your humble blog poster has in crafting this series. And that’s no exaggeration.

More to come…

 

 

 

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