Roadway Safety and Pandemics: Good or Bad?

Apologies for their bracing and indelicate nature, but Better Burque has long urged a two-prong mantra toward greater roadway safety in our city:

  1. Drive Less
  2. Slow the fuck down

So far, the pandemic and resulting alterations to our daily life are proving quite helpful in at least temporarily achieving the former and performing horribly at achieving the latter goal.

Just like you, lengthy time at home and an internet connection has led to my alternating obsessive looks at number of cases, recoveries, deaths with pursuing data that reflects how our changed behavior is impacting the world, most specifically good ‘ol Burque.

Seemingly, everyone is most acutely concerned with how those changes are affecting the stock market and our ability to “buy the G.I. Joe with the kung-fu grip,” which says a great deal about our society, including the unfortunate reality that we have a profit-based health care system, but what about changes to things like roadway safety?

You might have already seen this Washington Post story about a company called Unacast that is detailing collected cell phone GPS data to paint something of a picture regarding “social distancing.” While the Post story focuses on the very real privacy dangers involved and the weakness of this approach in determining true six-feet apart social distancing, what such data is really great at is charting overall mobility, roadways included.

Via Unacast, here’s how the drop in BernCo mobility looks as of two days ago:

change in distance traveled
New Mexico’s overall grade of “C” does stand out a bit considering the level of governmental direction here, but lack of density and tons of other factors are involved here, too.

For those who don’t have >27-inch monitors (Note: BB is perhaps the least phone-friendly blog in history), BernCo shows a 29% drop in mobility and New Mexico overall a 22% drop, both lower than the national average of 32%. While far less perfect than the admittedly also not perfect method of putting rubber traffic counters on roadways every once in a while to establish changes in roadway usage, the data would seem to do a pretty good valid job of illustrating driving rates in our driving-obsesses city/county/state/country.

So we’re driving less.

Mantra component #1 at least temporarily achieved, or “achievement unlocked” for those who play a lot of sport simulation computer games, especially in times of self-isolation and social distancing.

The news is not nearly as mantrarrific in terms of slowing the fuck down. Anecdotal reports from everywhere on the social distancing globe report drivers paying less attention to things like laws and safety, and more attention to taking advantage of lighter traffic to drive as if they are in a new movie in the “Mad Max” franchise.

Given our shared extensive time at home with internet connections, you’ve probably also already read this excellent Streetsblog USA piece by Kea Wilson on the two subjects of this morning’s BB post. In addition to this info on reduction in driving in states/cities not named New Mexico/Albuquerque:

change in driving
NM/Burque never makes it on such exquisitely made graphs/tables/charts. One day we shall, one day…

Streetsblog USA also mentions this:

All around the world, walkers are observing that the drivers who are still out there on our newly uncongested roads are moving much faster — and posing a more deadly danger to road users, since driver speed is among the most reliable predictors of pedestrian mortality in a collision. In New York City, speed cameras are still spitting out roughly the same number of tickets, despite the falloff in driving; ditto England, which is also seeing an uptick in distracted and drunk driving; same deal in Los Angeles.

In other words, we are not slowing the fuck down.

Many BB readers have doubtlessly experienced this recent “Mad Max” behavior in their bike rides and walks/rolls of Burque roads and stroads. It’s always crazy out there, but both personal experience and accumulating data show the percentage of crazy is higher.

BB’s hypothesis about this is as indelicate as its mantra. Let’s put it into syllogistic form:

  1. All shitty drivers are still driving because they are also shitty people who are ignoring demands of self-isolation and social distancing.
  2. Many good drivers aren’t driving because they aren’t shitty people ignoring the demands.
  3. The ratio of shitty to good drivers has thus changed AND those shitty drivers have fewer impediments (i.e., good drivers) to stop them being even shittier.

If I had turned the attempted syllogism above into my Logic class back in college I would still be attending college 40 years later, because I would have flunked that class. Badly.  Nevertheless, I’m feeling pretty good about the hypothesis and resultingly somewhat heightened in my bike riding defensiveness as I venture out, six-feet from everyone, Mad Max included, these days.

Stay safe out there this weekend (what’s a “weekend”?). Happy searching for data and “unlocking achievements” in your self-isolation and social distancing.




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