rare bird visits u.s., gets killed by car

It sounds like it could be a headline from The Onion, except that it’s true.

This past week, an ultra-rare Corn Crake, a field-dwelling bird elusive even its usual Eurasian range, showed up on Long Island in New York State, where there have been only two records of this species in the past 129 years, the last one in 1963. Two days later the bird was found dead, having been hit by a car, with fractures in both hind limbs and pelvis.

In America, where we live by the car and die by the car, no one is safe on the roads, no matter how unusual or rare you are.

Last week, partly in response to the recent terrorist act in New York City where a man drove a truck onto a popular bike path, killing 8 people and injuring 12 others, BikeSnobNYC author Eben Weiss penned an editorial for The Washington Post. His primary point is that an act like this will not scare NYC cyclists off the road because they already risk their lives in the face of vehicular violence every single day. He then goes on to name-check several NYC cyclists who have died on the road in recent years. While Weiss is speaking in particular on behalf of NYC cyclists, his point applies across the country. In 2015 alone, 818 U.S. cyclists were killed by vehicular violence. And it’s worse for pedestrians: in that same year 5,376 pedestrians died in motor vehicle crashes.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a cyclist, a pedestrian, or a rare bird. When people get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, whether intentionally or not, they weaponize themselves. In the wake of this most recent terrorist attack, discussions have arisen in New York about whether to ban motor vehicles altogether in high pedestrian and cyclist traffic areas such as Central Park. And while it’s unfortunate that it takes extreme acts like the one that happened in NYC for civic leaders to sit up and consider taking steps toward better protecting pedestrians and cyclists from automotive danger, at least they are now paying better attention. Let’s hope that it moves beyond just talk.

pedestrian non grata

At the bottom of the hill there is a traffic light. If I push the button on the pole, the light will turn red, the white “Walk” signal will light up, and I can safely cross the street in the crosswalk. This is all in theory, of course. In actual practice, I push the button on the pole, the traffic light turns red, the “Walk” signal lights up, I step into the crosswalk, and at least one, if not two, cars promptly run the red light and narrowly avoid hitting me. This is not an occasional occurrence. This happens every single time I cross this street. Every time without fail. Frequently I watch people with determined looks on their faces punch the gas as the light turns yellow then red before they have even reached the white line. I then pause in the middle of the crosswalk as the force of their passing vehicle’s speed practically knocks me over. Other times the drivers wear blissful unconcerned expressions as they sail through the red light, very nearly running over my foot or striking my knee with their front bumper. Often one hand clamps a cell phone to a fleshy cheek like some vulgar plastic appendage, as vacant eyes either fail to notice the 6 foot 2 man in the middle of the street or simply choose to ignore him. This morning once again as I reached the middle of the crosswalk, a middle-aged woman in an SUV paused uncertainly at the red light for a split second before racing forward, eyes locked ahead with a crooked half-smile hung on her porcine visage. I stood so close I could see her pores. This light basically exists to serve the pedestrians, as there is no direct cross street that the light also controls. Drivers know this and so they know that they can run this light without the possibility of striking another car, which would thus put themselves and their vehicle in danger. But when the element of personal danger to one’s own self is removed, every driver morphs into a scofflaw on the roads. And who cares about the person walking in the street? They are merely obstacles in the way. As a pedestrian in a major U.S. city, I see the worst of this behavior exhibited in humanity every day and it makes me both sick to my stomach and sick in my heart.

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