Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Memorial Bike Improves Safety, Awareness, & Livability

         The memorial is not only a representation of a mourning community but it’s also a real, authentic, and serious reminder of the fragility of our lives. It helps remind cyclists to ride safely and it helps remind motorists to slow down, especially in busy intersections, particularly Park & University, a public realm shared by a high volume of cyclists and pedestrians, including children, wheelchair-users, disabled, impaired, and/or senior pedestrians, respectfully.
       Located on the north-east corner of the Park Blvd. & University Ave. intersection, the memorial, a work of public art covered in brightly-colored flowers, is a highly noticeable feature of the intersection. The memorial, upon viewing, raises the level of awareness for cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians by reminding everyone that a collision with an automobile traveling at a high-speed has the power to end a human life. Through awareness people become more alert to their surroundings and actions; thereby, raising and improving the level of safety in the intersection.
       Kathy Keehan, Executive Director of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, and myself included, an urban planner and Sociology-alumni, agree that the bicycle has a traffic calming effect on the intersection; thus, making the neighborhood more livable.


        We’re not the only ones who think the memorial has a traffic calming effect.  On the Friday afternoon of October 3, I visited the site to gauge traffic and watch how people responded to the Memorial Bike. I also had the chance to gather some local input. One person I talked to was named David Slattery. Mr. Slattery, a daily user of the intersection, travels via wheelchair. When I asked Mr. Slattery what he thought about the memorial and if he noticed any effects on traffic, he responded, “People glance at it and look for people at the crosswalk; specifically bikers [cyclists], wheelchairs, or elderly people.” Mr. Slattery continued, “They’ll [motorists] slow down at the curb. Especially, this one---where people usually whip around,” he said while pointing towards the east-side of the curb near the memorial. The memorial, Mr. Slattery added, “reminds people that these things can happen, if you’re not careful. Heck, it reminds me to look for cars.” It should also be noted that Mr. Slattery added that Memorial Bike does not block his path to the sidewalk [as of Oct. 3, 2008].


        Cyclists I’ve spoken with who use this intersection agree that they, too, now ride through the dangerous Park Blvd. & University Ave. with an increased sense of safety. Since Atip’s death, concern for safety has become a more central-focus of discussion and dialogue in the San Diego city-area bike community.
       The Memorial Bike’s location on the north-east corner of the intersection has become a space and platform for cyclists to meet, network, and discuss. On the evening of Nov. 5, I was riding down Park Blvd. when I noticed a cyclist across the street at the memorial. So I decided to ride over there. When I rolled up to the corner, the cyclist was looking at the memorial. We made eye contact and gave a nod to acknowledge each other’s presence. Though the person was my age, we didn’t know each other. We both stood there for a few minutes taking in the memorial. He straddled his bike to leave and before he rode into the street he looked at me and he said ‘Be safe.’ And I responded, “You, too.” This is one example of the positive effect of the Memorial Bike. Not only does it calm automobile traffic, which makes the intersection safer for all pedestrians and cyclists, but it reminds us cyclists to be on the defensive when riding on the dangerous auto-centric streets of San Diego.  


      The Park Blvd. & University Ave. intersection should not be one of the most dangerous intersections in the county. This intersection--located near a high school, retirement homes, residences, places for shopping and living, and near our beloved Balboa Park--has an extremely high volume of pedestrian, wheelchair, children, disabled, public transit users, and cycling traffic. Park Blvd. & University Ave. should be made into one of the safest intersections in the County. There is no reason why this public space, the cultural hub and center of our city, should be a deadly battlezone where high-speed automobiles dominate and can end your life if someone (you or a motorist) makes a simple traffic mistake.  Mistakes happen, but the higher the automobile traffic speed is, the more likely it is that 
someone will die as a result.
      Driving fast should be done on freeways, not in the most popular social center of our city, used by children, disabled, elderly people, or by altruistic individuals who opt for sustainable, energy independent forms of transportation, i.e. walking, cycling, public-transport.
       We need to embrace and improve the livability of our neighborhoods by making them more
pesdestrian and bicycle friendly.  Preserving Atip's Memorial is an innovative form of traffic calming which has this effect.  It's not the "end all be all" of improving bicycling conditions, but it's a big step in the right direction. 

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