Monday, December 31, 2012

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Deadly Weapons in the Hands of Loons, Part II

Actual Loon

William Spengler, Jr

Or, Yes, Dorothy, We Do Have A Double Standard Here

Well, the Bushmaster .223 caliber civilian assault rifle (i.e, a military spec rifle designed to deliver high rates of automatic fire in battlefield conditions, slightly modified to only fire semi-automatic but still capable of several rounds per second and often equipped with high capacity magazines) used to execute 20 elementary school students and six of their teachers made the news again this week, and this time much closer to (my) childhood home. As reported in the NY Times, 62 year old William Spengler set fire to his home in Webster, NY,  as a way to set up an ambush and murder two firemen and wound a second two, who are currently recovering from serious gunshot wounds in Strong Memorial Hospital. According to Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering, Spengler chose the 223 Bushmaster (note added later: as a convicted felon, Spengler obtained his rifle via a straw purchase.) It seems these military style rifles are becoming the weapon of choice of those wanting to go out in a blaze of blood and infamy. In a goodbye note to humanity, Mr. Spengler said he wanted to go out of this world doing what he likes to do best, "killing people".

“He was equipped to go to war to kill innocent people,” the Webster police chief, Gerald L. Pickering, said of Mr. Spengler. 

Elsewhere in the NY Times, we learn that those extremely violent video games that NRA honcho Wayne LaPierre complains about are actually used by gun manufacturers to market guns. Gee...I guess Wayne ought not to bite the hand that feeds him.

Finally, in the Albuquerque Journal today we learn from AP writers Suzanne Gamboa and Monika Mathur that 561 children 12 years old or younger were shot dead in the USA from 2006 to 2010.

Not to pick on the Bushmaster too much but I've had enough. We need to control weapons of mass destruction,  not to mention, control our dark side. No right is absolute, and although the Founders, as recorded in such places as the Federalist Papers, argued that "a well regulated militia" was inexorably tied into the people's individual right to bear arms, that doesn't mean they thought every farmer should have a twelve pounder double-shotted with grape and canister aimed at the front porch. Neither does it mean we should all be carrying around enough firepower to fight a land war in Afghanistan. One has to balance individual rights with the public safety. Yes, finding that balance is a real chore and requires trust, individual responsibility, and logic. The more freedom one has, the more responsibilities one shoulders for the public good.

But what about those gun death numbers? The elephant in the room is here: In those same five years that we killed 561 children with guns, or about 112 per year, we probably killed, on average, between 1400 and 2,000 children per year aged 14 and under with motor vehicles. Here's the most recent data I scraped up. That is a ratio of roughly between 14 and 20:1  Worldwide, the leading cause of death among children is car mishaps, not gun mishaps.

One might ask why both cars and guns are marketed so irresponsibly. For every awful gun ad I've seen in Guns and Ammo telling us that every home needs an assault rifle to protect us against a mythical Armegeddon, I can find you a few car ads that sell cars that will give us outlets for our aggression, that we can drive like maniacs ("professional driver on closed course, don't try this at home"), so we can get laid, or so we can revel in yet more meaningless horsepower. Citizens who will fight to the death to protect their right to keep and drive cars fight traffic cameras, speed limits, and cell phone laws. As cyclists, we see the results of that mentality and are four times more likely to die at the hands of a reckless, careless, or drunk motorist than by the hand of a gun-wielding criminal or lunatic.

The problem isn't guns, its us. We don't want any restrictions on our freedom to screw up, even if we take out others with us. Cars should be about transportation, and guns for sport shooting, hunting, and defense, both individual and national. Instead, guns and cars are tied into our silly and our dark sides, too. Its not just the individual's lacking self control, either. Its the manufacturers and advertisers who will take their money now and let us deal with the mortal consequences later.

We are not a few million horse riding and musket wielding farmers spread out thinly along the East Coast any more; when one of us screws up with our high tech contraptions, whether it be a Bushmaster in the hands of a lunatic or a Buick in the hands of a texting driver, we hurt others. Until we meet each other halfway with some sense of safety and civility, not to mention reasonable laws based on risk analysis rather than fear driven politics, we will continue to kill each other in higher than necessary or reasonable numbers. And please, unless you are a better driver than I am or are car-free, don't rant about the NRA until you rant about the National Motorists Association.

 I'm left thinking that here in BombTown, we are more likely under normal circumstances to kill each other with a motorized cell phone than with a gun, although neither, famous last words, is a high likelihood event. Given that the community is  concerned with active shooters, I suggest if we really want to save lives, we teach each other to be active safe drivers as well as worry about whether mass gun violence will arrive on The Hill.

Finally, of course, be careful and be civil out there, whether it be with your bike, your car, or your gun.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The deadliest "weapon", and its not an M4 Bushmaster

Kinetic energy of a 4,000 lb car at 35 mph: 164,000 ft-lbs
Kinetic energy at the muzzle of a .223 cal, 62 grain full metal jacketed bullet at 3200 ft/sec: 1410 ft-lbs

Gun homicides per day: 23
Traffic deaths per day:89
(from Mark Plotz' post below)

I've been mulling over this comparison, and Mark Plotz at the National Center for Bicycling and Walking beat me to posting it, when he put up the note appended below on the NCBW e-newsletter. Deaths are deaths, and there are too many preventable ones happening due to carelessness, recklessness, criminal intent, and the lack of society upholding the requirement that a nation of free people demands the best in citizenship, not the lowest common denominator. We tend to focus on the unusual big catastrophe when a gunman shoots up a school, and ignore the constant, low level violence going on around us as 89 people die in traffic crashes every day, most of them easily preventable.  --Khal

By Mark Plotz, Senior Associate / Program Manager
The National Center for Bicycling & Walking

Last week NHTSA released its injury/fatality numbers for 2011. The news is great... for those of us who travel ensconced in airbags, crumple zones, and fine Corinthian leather: there were 632 fewer deaths and 22k fewer injuries than in 2010. For the rest of us, the news isn't so good: 130 more pedestrians and 54 more bicyclists died on our roadways than in 2010. Our numbers amount to nearly 12 percent of all road deaths. Fewer drivers are dying and more pedestrians and cyclists are being killed.

"NHTSA's numbers:
32,367 killed and 2.2m injured for all modes
21,253 killed in passenger vehicles (cars and light trucks)
4,612 pedestrians killed and 69k injured
677 bicyclists killed and 48k injured"

What do these statistics mean? Those numbers work out to nearly 89 traffic deaths per day of which 14 are pedestrians or bicyclists. If that still seems too abstract, ask yourself whether a relative of yours has been injured or killed in/by a motor vehicle. Odds are the answer is yes.

As I did the math on the NHTSA numbers, I couldn't help but draw parallels with the shootings in Newtown, CT: firearm ownership and driving are treated as inalienable rights; because of the former characteristic, both are shockingly ease to access; and the carnage caused by each--23 gun homicides per day, and 89 road deaths per day--is thought of as the-cost-of-doing-business (with some exceptions). Yet, as I awoke this morning, the nation seems to be on the cusp of meaningful reform of gun laws and the NRA has gone dark.

I am left wondering: When will our Newtown reckoning arrive?

In the decade I have been in this business, I have watched the core mission of safety be subordinated to allegiance to funders, programs, and partners. It has happened to me; who can resist the seductive idea that more biking will save the world? As we grapple with how to ensure no more Newtowns happen, let us look at our work and remember that many of us became involved in advocacy because one too many #&%#@ drivers got too #&%#@ close when we were doing nothing more extraordinary than crossing the street or biking to work.

Walking and biking should be safe, convenient, and accessible for all.

Traffic Safety Resources
NHTSA's 2011 traffic safety statistics

FBI's violent crime statistics

Strong safety advocates [Ed. Note: click to close the donation page to see 'Vision Zero NYC: Zero deaths, zero injuries, zero fear of traffic' article]

America Walks resources

For enforcement ideas and resources (see right side)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

LA Bikes reminds cyclists of winter safety considerations

The County is reminding folks who drive cars to take proper precautions during winter driving. I saw a few folks out there who didn't take that advice on Friday morning and one abandoned car blocking the right lane of Diamond on Conoco Hill. .Proper tires, lights, and cleared windows are minimum. Some talent driving on snow and ice would not hurt.

Likewise, cyclists who are out on the road owe the public some consideration, since some poor fellow will have to answer to your loved ones as to why you and your bike are under his car or you might have to answer to a pedestrian why you knocked her down.  Please equip your bicycle with lights and reflective surfaces if out at night or during inclement weather. Especially the Stealth Cyclist who rides past the CMR every night at about six and others like him.  In the event the roads are covered with snow or ice, please have tires that will give you some control and remember that being on two wheels requires more talent than on four when the roads turn white.
The Long Haul Trucker fit with an HID lamp 
and winter rubber
Studs optional

Note: REI used for reference only.

Motorists likewise should remember to allow that full five feet when passing. I was once passed by a motorist who waited to the last minute to move left on snow and then proceeded to do a full donut, putting both of us in a bad situation.

As Sgt. Phil Esterhaus says, "let's be careful out there".

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

In other news from the roadway battlefront.....

Carol Clark reports that a second NM-4 rollover crash in two weeks has put a Los Alamos resident in the hospital and with a citation from the Santa Fe Sheriff to boot. A previous head on crash and resulting rollover killed a thirteen year old boy riding in one of the vehicles. I'm still waiting to hear if anyone was cited on that one. Finally, a cyclist riding on NM4 said a Government vehicle recently ran an oncoming car off the road on NM-4 while unsafely passing the bicyclist. Sheesh.

Many of us have complained about the sorry state of the pavement on NM-4 (narrow broken surface, zilch for paved shoulders, steep drop-offs from recent chipseal application) and the sorry driving of many of the motorists using it, but until the political issues of land ownership, funding, and roadway responsibility are resolved (the land is a state route set on a narrow San Ildefonso Pueblo easement and the state is broke), permission given to widen the road with decent shoulders, and money found to fund it, all of us have to be extra careful out there. That message seems to be ignored by a lot of people, at least based on my own observations and those of other cyclists who write to local email and blog forums. We can't always have great roads, so our only other choice is great operators--both "us" and "them".

For the long term, an improved NM4 will help not only cyclists but help all of us on the hill in the event of an evacuation, and help all of the commuters coming on and off the hill to go to work each day. I therefore suggest we all write the transportation board, the county council, and the Governor to keep them aware that we need to solve this problem.   Think about that, and meanwhile....

"In the interests of justice....charges dismissed with prejudice"

This morning in Los Alamos Municipal Court, "in the interests of justice" (the county's words, not mine) the charges against Joe Wermer were dismissed with prejudice by Judge Alan Kirk during the initial hearing.

Thanks to all who supported Joe in this, especially Diane Albert, Esq, who prepared the Motion to Dismiss, to Joe for his perseverance. and to Los Alamos County for realizing that justice had not been served with this citation. Thanks too to Steve, the motorist involved with the collision, who showed up in moral support of Joe (note added later--Steve was apparently there because he was subpoenaed by the county, but it worked out well anyway). I've often said that in a small place like Los Alamos there is only 1.5 degrees of separation, and indeed, Steve is the neighbor of one of the cyclists who showed up to support Joe's case.

Actually, it was interesting. As soon as the court was in session, the County's own attorney, standing next to the investigating police officer, immediately introduced the County's own motion to dismiss "in the interests of justice". Judge Kirk, after asking Joe if he was OK with this, dismissed the charge with prejudice, meaning it cannot be re-instituted.

I did offer to the county's attorney, A.J. Salazar, to continue to work with the P.D. and community on this stuff, and it was taken with interest.The best outcome of this case is that we all (motorists, bicyclists, police, road designers) understand the law and traffic and create in us better, safer riders and drivers. I'd rather we not be going to court after crashes have happened because even if an investigation is done technically to perfection, its after we are scraping people off the ground and that's a little too late. Been there myself and can't say I enjoyed it much.

More later as I think on this. Sometimes silence is better than shooting from the lip.