Friday, July 12, 2013

"...Ours is not to reason why..."

Jo Ann and Jerry met their fate near the "Y" on NM502,
when an elderly motorist got confused and drove down the
wrong side of the divided highway and hit their motorcycle
"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred."

From "Charge of the Light Brigade", Alfred, Lord Tennyson

You may wonder what this has to do with bicycling or traffic. Tennyson, in his memorial to the Light Brigade's futile and ghastly charge in the Crimea, points out the senseless carnage imposed by the folly of war, and of the soldiers who, like soldiers everywhere, are not supposed to reason why or ask too many questions.

I think our society treats traffic with the same fatalism. Every day, we "do and die", following the same failed patterns that kill about 35,000 people a year, riding, walking, and driving into the Valley of Death, so to speak.  The public rarely asks whether the level of death and destruction on our roads is sensible or whether "someone" whether it be vehicle operator (including cyclists), traffic engineer, or politician, "has blundered". We go to the funerals and accept that "accidents will happen".

On 4 July, one of my colleagues, riding his motorcycle on the Interstate, was killed when, according to the three newspapers (Monitor, New Mexican, Journal), he tried to overtake a car by riding on the shoulder and lost control of his big bike.  I don't know much about the details, except the newspapers say speed and suddenly changing conditions were factors. I saw his picture in the obit and recognized him as someone I had met, probably through motorcycling. As I was writing an essay about this crash for the LANL Reader's Forum (in my capacity as LANL's Traffic Safety Committee Chair) someone reviewing it told me two local young people had just been killed on NM 68 north of Espanola when they careened off of a car and hit an oncoming flatbed, shearing off the top of their own car. Speed has been suggested to be a factor. I submitted that letter yesterday and on the way home, nearly t-boned a kid riding across Diamond Drive with his head down, not checking for traffic on that fast arterial. Luckily, I was on a bicycle and not in a car. His father saw the near miss and started hollering at the kid. Hope the message was constructive.

And, so it goes....

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