Editor’s Note: The post below is by Lee Ann Ratzlaff, community organizer involved in the effort to adopt a Vision Zero traffic safety policy here. Those interested are very much invited to attend a collaborative meeting this coming Monday, April 16th from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
I lived in Portland, Oregon for about 11 years before I moved to Albuquerque. I didn’t get a driver’s license until I was 29 years old, but, when I did, I learned from the other drivers around me in Portland.
What I learned was to follow the rules of the road: yield to pedestrians and bicyclists, use my turn signals, and drive the speed limit. Although I quickly grew to love Albuquerque – the culture, the food, the people – I was dismayed by the general lawlessness of our roads. I started riding my bicycle much more after I moved here than I did in the Pacific Northwest, partially because the sun shines 300 days or more a year, but, also because, despite the many challenges biking on the roadways, the multi-use paths are incredible and provided me with a feeling of safety that I didn’t experience driving.
I understand that Albuquerque has a strong history that includes the freedom of the car, but when people talk about our “car culture,” I don’t think they mean a culture where people don’t care about the lives of children walking down their neighborhood street, or where people feel unsafe or at risk of harm when crossing the road. I have a toddler, who started walking at nine months. He wants to walk to the park down the way by himself, but every time a car approaches, I feel my body stiffen and make sure I’m securely between him and the road.
Because I fear for his life. Because people speed and drive distracted, even on residential streets.
It’s easy to blame individuals and claim that traffic-related fatalities are unavoidable. It’s much harder to acknowledge that the transportation system is dangerous and that we must make meaningful change to the entire transportation system and culture of our city. It takes strong leadership grounded in the community’s desire to make our city safer for all road users, and a willingness to learn from other cities’ successes and failures. Vision Zero has effectively reduced traffic-related injuries and fatalities in diverse cities and nations around the globe, using strategies that address local problems.
Albuquerque has many strengths and we must work together to figure out how to stop these preventable deaths. The most recent fatality of 12-year-old Justine Almuina struck a chord with many who may have previously written off other pedestrian fatalities because it was dark, the victim was drunk, or they weren’t in a crosswalk, as none of those factors were in play in Justine’s death. But the reality is that drivers in our incredible city have a strong sense of entitlement and ownership of the roads, our infrastructure encourages speeding and reckless driving, and the lack of traffic law enforcement supports their dominion over all other road users.
We don’t have to tolerate drivers who drive 10, 20, or even 30 miles over the speed limit, who weave through traffic, and who refuse to acknowledge that every pedestrian or cyclist is a person who deserves the right to live and travel through our city, on and next to our roads.
We can demand that the police enforce traffic laws.
We can update our infrastructure to make it harder to drive dangerously and ensure that even when people make mistakes it doesn’t end in tragedy.
We can promote driver, pedestrian, and cyclist education and encourage everyone to use our shared spaces more safely.
We can do better.
We must do better.
Our children deserve better.
We all deserve better.