Monthly Archives: November 2011

Sports as Proxy War

To my other brothers not mentioned in the following post: Chuck has always had a gun of an arm that I never came close to and an absurd lack of fear that led him to tear ACLs randomly and inexplicably hit home runs with a wood bat in a metal bat league. I will never know more about music esotera than Cashin, he could spend a day studying one genre and end up teaching a class on it the next week. 

 Sports as Proxy War

My oldest brother is eight years my chronological senior and six inches my vertical junior. When he was a teacher and I was in high school, summers were spent playing a lot of basketball in our driveway in California on a counterweighted hoop on a very shallow slope with the kind of rounded brick that could make dribble angles just awkward enough to screw with drives to the hoop or post moves, not that I was capable of the former or very good at the latter. Being tall got me through a couple years of competitive middle school ball and eventually landed me a marginal slot on the varsity squad at a small boarding school in a pretty uncompetitive league, but my brother had dealt with being relatively diminutive for his entire amateur career (and thrived in said uncompetitive league at said boarding school) and he figured out how to use that to his advantage; sleight of hand instead of pointless flash; angles instead of power; balance. I don’t think I’ve ever beaten him before.

While I’m sure this isn’t a concept reserved for American backyards and driveways, i.e. big brothers in Egypt probably beat their siblings in soccer, Australia in rugby, there is a bright nostalgic line drawn from the halcyon days of American masculinity (1945-1959) to modern athletic endeavors on a domestic and international scale, the latter being the second most important form of Yankee domination after unparalleled economic leveraging. We export sports in the same way we export McDonald’s: we convince foreign lands that their sports are somehow just different versions of our sports and that our sports are far more lucrative and rewarding and epiphanic and, most importantly, important.

What is sort of funny about that dreamy and benign export is that the other half of American sport is this amazing, testosterone-fueled bellicose endeavor; sports as proxy war. In domestic leagues (NBA/NHL/MLB/NFL) competition doesn’t begin to turn sincerely hawkish, the violence outside of rivalry games in American cities aren’t predicated on mutual hatred anymore than alcohol or masculine insecurity, sometimes people just want to fight. International competition is something completely different and alternately terrifying in its zealous patriotism and rapturous in its spiritual completeness, there is absolutely nothing like seeing your country beat the figurative shit out of a nation that you feel inappropriately antagonistic to—only in international sports is bald xenophobia acceptable across the viewing spectrum.

It’s in this really odd mix of magnanimity and artillery fire that I find something fascinating about the big brother/little brother mentality around international exhibitions and tournaments like the Davis/Ryder/President’s Cup, the NHL and MiLb all-star games, and any number of games between both grown men and 11-year old boys. It is constantly U.S. against regional bloc (U.S vs. Europe, U.S. vs. International) as if the only way for a region to challenge absolute American athletic dominance is to get all the little brothers in the neighborhood to play the Yanks, 4 -or-5-on-1, and see if there’s a fair fight when the demographic pool is considerably larger.

Example: When the Duke University men’s basketball team went to China in the summer of 2011 for an exhibition tour they didn’t end up playing the Shanghai Sharks or the Bayi Rockets (the Georgetown men’s team wasn’t as lucky: they played the Rockets, the Chinese equivalent or Army or Air Force, and got their asses kicked, literally, by the opposite squad. Just so we’re clear these are professional soldiers that happen to play basketball on a high level fighting a Georgetown team that has six freshmen on the roster) they played the Chinese men’s national team. They won 2-out-of-3.

Ostensibly these exhibitions are meant to expand a university’s brand in an emerging market like China where students desperately want to attend American universities for reasons economic as much as academic. The history of basketball as a spring of civic pride for the United States has a substantial mythology starting with in the Cold War and going through various incarnations of Dream Teams, ugly losses to Mediterranean and South American infiltrators, and the hilariously named Redeem Team, though that last squad’s play was sweating and physical poetry. It doesn’t take too much a cynical leap of faith to consider Duke’s manhandling of a national team as victory in spiritual skirmish; we don’t even need to send professionals to do our work for us.

As for America versus the world, the biennial Ryder Cup is concept-as-competition; from 1927 to 1979 the event was bilateral, U.S. vs. U.K only. For reasons too obvious and grave to go into here, the Americans dominated the field of play after World War II prompting what must have been a hilarious discussion between Jack Nicklaus and the Earl of Derby, who was serving as the president of the PGA for some reason. They decided that the U.S. was simply too good to be faced on a nation-to-nation basis and started to include upstart golf havens like Spain and Italy in the competition, intracontinental rivalries and language barriers be damned. The event evened out, and the pan-European squad rattled off a treble of victories from 2002-2006. The contest was redefined as an international test of American splendor (at least from this side of the Atlantic) and the ping of golf balls somehow took on the weight of international bragging rights.

Golf isn’t the first sport I’d pick to represent a brutal competition between nations. Sure, it has some tactical gamesmanship to it; it has the brutal deliberateness of multilateral diplomacy; and topographic supremacy ends up counting a lot more than one would think. The lack of agile and lithe competitors creates an odd population of golf fans, i.e. most people who watch golf on TV or on the lush greens of posh country clubs love the sport and know the laundry list of psychological shortcomings that dot the PGA Tour (Phil Mickelson’s [apparent] disingenuousness, Vijay Singh’s [explicit] colonialized chauvinism, Tiger’s [appropriate] megalomania). Golf is still competition, some one still wins and the rest of the field loses.

Americans hate losing. They even hate losing at sports like golf which is somewhere between bowling and pro-wrestling on the popularity scale stateside because there’s nothing more fragile than the American sense of athletic superiority. We are meant to be winners. You can turn on a TV any Saturday afternoon and see 19 year olds doubling as raptors and bulldozers for teams like Alabama and Louisiana State, schools with less than impressive records in academia (isn’t it funny then, that the literary tradition in the South runs so deep?) but bursting athletic budgets that turn eerily gifted adolescents into fully developed celebrities before they attend their first English seminar.

There are, of course, tournaments where challenges are plainly bilateral and the end game typically takes on the form of a battle among rather than between nations. When you watch the Olympic medal count (NB: in America [and in Russia and in China] the only tally that matters is gold, the powerful logic being that while being good at a lot of events [i.e. winning any color of medal] is satisfactory for less than perfect nations, being the best at a lot of events is considerably more badass) the competition is to get to the top, there are no meta-medals for coming in second or third (China’s quirky dedication to winning obscure events like canoeing, trampoline, and table tennis as well as its rigorous-cum-ridiculous training programs in popular competitions like gymnastics and diving yielded an Olympic ass kicking, winning 51 gold to America’s paltry 36 in 2008).

It doesn’t take any powerful marketing campaigns to convince Americans of the culture/conflict sports duality though, we end up looking at athletic success as a simulacrum of personal and, though this latter concept is waning quickly in the shadow of Penn State and fantastic financial ruin, moral superiority. Athletes are just better versions of us. Competitive sports are always seen through a censored prism so often we think of the best players as especially dexterous deities without further consideration of their acute humanity, i.e. the exact sacrifices they make to become lesser gods, something David Foster Wallace addresses in a 1996 Esquire piece, “String Theory”:

Americans revere athletic excellence, competitive success, and it’s more than lip service we pay; we vote with our wallets. We’ll pay large sums to watch a truly great athlete; we’ll reward him with celebrity and adulation and will even go so far as to buy products and services he endorses.

But it’s better for us not to know the kinds of sacrifices the professional-grade athlete has made to get so very good at one particular thing. Oh, we’ll invoke lush clichés about the lonely heroism of Olympic athletes, the pain and analgesia of football, the early rising and hours of practice and restricted diets, the preflight celibacy, et cetera. But the actual facts of the sacrifices repel us when we see them: basketball geniuses who cannot read, sprinters who dope themselves, defensive tackles who shoot up with bovine hormones until they collapse or explode. We prefer not to consider closely the shockingly vapid and primitive comments uttered by athletes in postcontest interviews or to consider what impoverishments in one’s mental life would allow people actually to think the way great athletes seem to think.

DFW was known for completing a philosophical point to the brink of factual exhaustion, but I don’t think he took the concept of reverence far enough in String Theory. Competitive athletics in this country are gyroscopic, so unless sometimes comes along to fuck everything up (see: 2011 NBA Lockout) there is an amazing amount of illusory existentialism that goes into how the average fan sees their favorite team and, infinitely more important, their favorite player. They’re not heroes, exactly, because heroes represent something necessarily superhuman or at least prohibitively difficult which is why we don’t have heroes as adults in the same way as we did when we were children (e.g. at 8 my hero was Mike Piazza because it would be physically impossible for me to do what he did, while at 23 it is progressed to being infinitely improbable).

Wallace is correct, of course, in that Americans take one of two paths towards admiration of superb athletes: we see past the faked SATs and the botched Wonderlic tests and awkwardly circular answers to questions that college educated journalists ask “college educated” athletes because we would rather imagine athletes as the sinewy incarnation of true greatness, or we dismiss those same inconveniences with comedy and cute racism that on its best days pleads for a second look at the system of American sports from transformation of young, alternative deprived men (and yes, the politically incorrect truth is that economic athleticism is completely dominated by men, the spiritual/patriotic split is more even) into torpedoes painted with dollar signs.

The Geography of Potential Conflict: American Troop Stockpiles and Chinese Indignation

I’ve always felt like studying at the National War College would be this period of sublimely bellicose science fiction, reading up on the strategies of Patton and Hannibal and attempting to graft them to the comic book capabilities of the modern war machine. Or maybe even a really, really complicated game of Risk, but instead of calvary and cannons you have Predator Drones and Corner Shot equipped infantry. I may never get to peek behind the walls of Ft. McNair, but this week everyone with a marginal news connection got a glimpse at geopolitical conflict preparations when President Obama agreed to install 2,500 additional members of the U.S.M.C  in Australia as a defensive foil to China’s heaving presence in the Pacific.

American military bases aren’t exactly novel across the Int’l Dateline—we’ve been in Japan since the Emperor’s surrender and Korea since partition—but with Sino-American tensions tightening over economic issues bilateral and otherwise there is the perception that any deep breath anticipates a tsunami. Let’s take a look at a slightly annotated map of the Pacific Rim; the blue markers represent U.S. Military bases (thanks to Google Maps, boredom killer):

Screen Shot 2011 11 16 at 9.26.25 PM The Geography of Potential Conflict: American Troop Stockpiles and Chinese Indignation

Map of U.S. Military Bases in Pacific

It may not be the prettiest rendering of military omnipresence but this gets the simple point of American ubiquity in the Pacific. There are multiple bases in both Japan and Korea, two countries that feel equal queasiness towards what they see as an extension of American pugilism (Okinawa in particular has seen the synthesis of pacifism and sovereignty bound by searing memories) and Chinese territorial gluttony (China sees the South and Eat China Seas as sovereign property, the half a dozen other countries in the area beg to differ). Bases still dot a curve mirroring the Eastern coast of China from Guangzhou to Beijing with several bolted into geographic neighbors Japan and Korea.

It’s foolish to think that America would enter into any sort of armed conflict with China in the next five years, especially with the European economic situation needing every solution on the board; the concept of Chinese sovereign wealth funds flooding the European bond market may be politically and patriotically unpalatable (and has recently been tabled) but these are odd times. But the geographic formation of force is undeniably symbolic and the Chinese have taken notice of any perceived and real American incursions into regional spheres of influence. Potentially more important, though, is that the Chinese are now strong enough to bluntly challenge those moves with thinly veiled considerations of retaliation; 20 years ago they would have settled for shallow sabre rattling or simmering silence.

We are not on the precipice of Napoleonic pinpricks, but it’d be naive to think that conflict is an impossible hegemonic endgame between United States and China. The American flags raised around the Pacific Rim were not created with one eye towards the Middle Kingdom—its destruction at the hand of the Japanese durring WWII and subsequent starvation under Mao gave no indication of its future power—but now it seems like the presence of the Stars and Stripes may be a study in Clairvoyance 101 at the National War College.

New Transportation Budget Deal Cuts Out HSR Funding, but is it That Big of a Deal?

I’m not going to waste a lot of time rambling about finally getting a transportation funding bill through its final obstacles so the DOT knows what it can play with next year. We’re here, it’s settled (sort of), pop the champagne (if you want to get seriously into the weeds on this one please take a look at this monster of an appropriation proceeding):

  • TIGER Grants are back but there’s still a disconnect between supply and demand. States want Federal funding for adventurous and necessary infrastructure projects but it seems like there’s simply not enough cash to go around at this point so they’ll have to settle for $500 million overall.
  • High speed rail is out, completely. This may sound like a significant defeat when President Obama had originally requested $1 billion for HSR, but when you consider that $1 billion when get you about 200 miles worth of rail you can understand why my frustration is tepid at best. The sum may have gone a long way in funding economic and environmental impact studies but in many cases HSR corporations and individual states are happy to carry them on their state ledgers; it doesn’t single-handedly hamstring the burgeoning movement.
  • Amtrak is getting $466m for its operating budget and $952m for its capital budget (a ~25% cap is put on debt servicing from the capital funding). It’s a boost from last year’s appropriation but still only about 12.5% of what Pres. Obama requested for the country’s wildly successful rail program.

There’s a laundry list of other items included in the final copy of the appropriations committee meeting (FTA is getting increased funding, FHWA is still holding most of the paper) but I’ll let you wade through the rest of the document on your own.

Joe Lhota Takes the Wheel at MTA Today

Joe Lhota, former Giuliani budget director and Dolan/Cablevision VP, begins his tenure at the most complex transportation system in the country today. Here’s an excerpt from the MTA press release (via NY Observer and NYC Transit Forum):

The MTA is the engine that drives our economy and makes our way of life possible here in New York, and we have a responsibility to operate our service as efficiently and effectively as possible. The MTA is facing a number of difficult fiscal and operating challenges, including funding our vital capital program and continuing to improve service in tough economic times. My focus in the next couple of months is understanding this organization from top-to-bottom, and listening to our employees, customers, and community leaders as we work together to shape an agenda and improve this vital service for all New Yorkers.”

Well, we’re starting off well since Chairman Lhota acknowledges the paramount economic and social importance of a solvent and operable transit system and goes straight into admitting that the fiscal situation the MTA faces in the near and longterm may be solved with painful solutions. The biggest challenge to Mr. Lhota’s career at the MTA may be his inescapable battles with upstate lawmakers and constituents who see their rural tax dollars being funneled to that most urban of social services (the irony of course being that the majority of the tax revenue generated in the state of New York comes from the City and, subsequently, the bulk of the funding for projects initiated in Albany and the rest of Upstate). He also has to address the issues surrounding operations and, as his predecessor Jay Walder understood clearly, part of balancing the budget is cutting service and raising fares, an unpopular, unfair, but ultimately the only politically palatable move the MTA can make (of course raising tolls on bridges and installing a congestion charge could eliminate the need for either of those actions… but I digress).

Chairman Lhota’s first day on the job make be a lot of publicity and sound bites but I think that, combined with an already stalwart (and progressive) team installed at the DOT and Planning Department, Lhota may just be able to make good on his pragmatic promises. It may be naive to trust the words of what is an essentially political position, but faith has to start somewhere.

Smart Growth Federal Funds Coming to the Boston Suburbs; Do It Yourself Bike Lanes in Mexico

A couple of stories have been floating around the interweb that address at progressive urbanism from either end of the spectrum. First, the suburbs around Boston are receiving an influx of funding from the Federal government that are expressly dedicated to “smart growth.” While the terminology might be nebulous the projects are surprisingly well-targeted. Here’s a couple of examples from the Boston Globe (via Planetizen):

In Everett, $52,796 in federal funding will be used to develop specific goals for housing, transportation, economic development, and public services. Throughout the process, planners will employ innovative techniques to engage residents of diverse backgrounds.

The $60,000 federal grant in Lynn will be used to develop the best ways to reach local immigrant entrepreneurs and help them increase their businesses so that the most successful initiatives can be replicated in other urban gateway communities.”

Just as a quick geography lesson for non-New Englanders: Everett is a predominantly white (~80%) working class (median income: $49, 830) north Boston suburb; Lynn is more mixed ethnically with a slightly lower comparative economic profile (median income: $41,993) up on the North Shore. The semantics of the Globe article are important as the money—minor on the Federal ledger but a decent influx to middle class communities—goes towards studies that are predicated on utilizing “innovative techniques [and] initiatives” and not the projects themselves necessarily. It might seem like a silly use of money, i.e. using small amounts of grant funding to initiate studies, but (and this is coming from some one who used to consult for a living so there’s a little bias alert here) analyzing the project before getting too far down the road can save millions in project delays and potential fines.

Overall, the study funding will be interesting to follow as shovel-ready projects emerge in several communities around Boston. Boston itself is beginning to progress on the urbanism front with a bicycle share program unveiled this summer and the expansion of food truck permitting following soon after (yes, food trucks are important to liberal metropolitanism). Here’s hoping that the entire urban area moves forward in the same vein.

On a completely different plane we see the construction of a do-it-yourself bike lane in Mexico (via Radials’ good friends over at This Big City, I encourage everyone to check out the excellent pictures on Mr. Peach’s blog, they are especially inspiring for velo-activists; StreetsBlogNet picked it up as well):

Mexico City’s government pledged in 2007 that it would build 300 km of bike lanes around the city by 2012. However, the city still only has 22.2 km because most money is allocated to car infrastructure, leaving aside non-motorized mobility. That’s why the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and the National Network for Urban Cycling (BiciRed) launched a campaign called ’5% for bicycles and pedestrians’, which asks national legislators to assign at least that percentage of the transportation budget to non-motorized infrastructure.

To promote that campaign and pressure legislators into action, several cycling and pedestrian organizations decided to paint their own bike lane in front of Congress on October 20th. This was our way of showing how little money and time is required to create quality infrastructure. We wanted to show that governments just need the will to promote non-motorized transport. However, that bike lane was efficiently erased just two days after it was painted, and no city official claimed responsibility.

We were all understandably angry, so we decided to do it all over again but better. We set a goal of painting a 5km bike lane that would end at Congress, the Wikicarril (wikilane). We funded our effort through Fondeadora, a crowd-sourcing site, and we managed to collect 13,500 pesos (about US$1,000) in just 4 days thanks to the collaboration of 37 generous supporters.”

The project title may not be the catchiest thing in the world (believe me, it’s not much smoother in Spanish) but the concept is pragmatic, achievable, and popular, a public policy trifecta. These are also exactly the brands of community development projects that Mexico’s neighbors to the North could stand to emulate: cheap, grassroots, and inherently beneficent. While the initial bike lane was erased by public officials the stalwart efforts of a few dozen activists, paired with even keeled interaction with police officers and city officials, put DIY-community development front and center for bicycle activists in D.F.

$100 Billion on High Speed Rail: A Matter of Transportation Budget Context or Absolutism?

As far as government projects go, $100 billion over the course of 22 years isn’t a prohibitive number, especially not for a state like California with an economy that rivals most medium-sized nations. So is this a question of contextual or absolute reservations about large scale public works spending, i.e. are people worried that this costs a lot by itself or that it costs a lot out of California’s overall budget? The Transport Politic’s Yonah Freemark offers his opinion (and a, shall we say simplified, graphic):

Between now and 2033, the rail project would cost between $65 and $75 billion (in 2010 dollars). Over the same period, Caltrans, California’s Department of Transportation, can be expected to spend at least $286 billion (also in 2010 dollars), mostly on roads projects, assuming that its current annual budget of about $13 billion (including federal and state outlays) stays intact. In truth, considering that there is considerable support for increasing infrastructure spending in general, that figure is likely to go up considerably.

Compare those figures to the state’s GDP, which is estimated at about $1.9 trillion a year. Over the course of twenty-two years, the state will produce $42 trillion in output (again, in 2010 dollars) — assuming no growth in the economy, despite the fact that California’s population is expected to grow by seven to seventeen million people by 2040.”

Unfortunately (and to Freemark’s credit he does admit that these this is very back-of-the-envelope qualitative arithmetic) this isn’t really political economies decide on public spending projects. GDP output may represent a decent picture of the quality of a given region’s economy but the realities of California fiduciary decisions are based on competing values on either side of the state house and, crucially, that states are inextricably bound to their financial obligations, i.e. they cannot go bankrupt like municipalities, corporations, or individuals can.

Freemark also attempts to present CAHSR through the prism of international parallels, highlighting Paris’ $40 billion suburban-to-core rail network as a decent mirror for California’s plan. There are two issues with this comparison: first, Paris’ role as the economic, political, and cultural center of a country with the 5th highest GDP in the world (a difference of $700 billion) allows them greater flexibility when pushing for large-scale public works projects like this. There are significant benefits to projects like these for peripheral economies (a better example would have been the we’re-going-all-in strategy seen in Spain which saw non-urban economies benefit greatly from HSR) and Paris’ project is presumably being designed as a commuter rail network along the lines of MetroNorth or NJTransit , rather than as a replacement for air and long-haul car travel like CAHSR. I have to give dap to Freemark here because he broaches the subject in his closing remarks, but Paris’ project is essentially intra-urban and serves as a local economic incubator, not as a mode share shifter.

Secondly, the peculiarity of human and physical geography in California begs the question: are people ready for rail? Now the most readily available domestic comparison in terms of cultural acceptance of rail as a viable alternative would be the BosWash corridor where Amtrak service between large metropolitan areas has shifted heavily towards rail at the expense of air (especially on the two main routes of Boston-New York and New York-DC).  However, and I admit there may be a patina of heuristics in this analysis, the makeup of California’s spacial distribution makes it a significantly different beast than the Northeast Coast. Building a link between two metropolitan areas 380 miles apart from each other with combined populations of nearly 20 million (just NB: New York City has a metro-area population of 22 million) seems like a practical idea until you consider that the only viable domestic comparison has three times the population and only 100 more miles separating them.

I really loathe being the wet blanket on the HSR debate. I would love to take the train from Los Angeles to San Francisco and finally see the Central Valley in all its agricultural glory, but the oddities of geography and politics in this country are going to make that prospect laborious beyond imagination. HSR is in our future, but the price tag may be prohibitively offending, especially when you consider California’s current economic troubles and the sorry state of intracity public infrastructure in major metropolitan areas.

The Most Ambitious Transportation Project in Decades?

Gizmodo has some absolutely stunning renderings of the Thames Hub, a Foster + Partners proposed transportation center that would connect Southern England to the continent and the  by means of high-speed rail and would presumably become the gold standard of wildly grand infrastructure projects. From Gizmodo’s Jesus Diaz:

This thing is crazy. It aims to be a central hub for absolutely everything, with multi-level underground railroads and highways that will connect it with London, the rest of Britain and to Europe through the Channel Tunnel. It will also include a new Thames Barrier that will extend the protection of riverside lands against floods, further expanding the surface available for construction.” 

estuary aerial credit foster   partners The Most Ambitious Transportation Project in Decades?

All Photos Copyright of Foster + Partners

I really don’t want to go into the details of the project because the pictures alone either make you queasy or rapturous, any amount of detailed description would border on redundant. It’s huge, it’s ambitious on par with Caesar, it would change the complexion of England’s signature waterway, and the effects on the surrounding environment would presumably be negative. Nevertheless, I really like this project, not only for its attempt to transform the transportation vernacular in England. While it may be the id-driven Cro-Magnon in me, there is something beautiful about grandiosity when it’s paired with pragmatism and adventure, something whimsically human about it.

medium highspeedrail section credit foster   partners The Most Ambitious Transportation Project in Decades?

All Photos Copyright of Foster + Partners

medium estuary airport section credit foster   partners The Most Ambitious Transportation Project in Decades?

All Photos Copyright of Foster + Partners

medium p06770 fp439165 The Most Ambitious Transportation Project in Decades?

All Photos Copyright of Foster + Partners

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All Photos Copyright of Foster + Partners

Lowering Speed Limits Will Save Lives if Everyone is Perfectly Moral


If you’re going to get hit by a car, you’d obviously want to be hit by one traveling 20 MPH instead of 50 MPH because you’d have a better chance of living according to brutal laws of physics. But how big is that difference, really? Is there a better chance of living if the car is traveling 40 MPH instead of 50? 20 MPH instead of 25? Well, according to Sightline Daily’s Eric de Place, the answer is categorically yes.

De Place’s chart refers to studies conducted in the UK and Australia on the probability of an automotive-related fatality when a pedestrian is hit by a car traveling at a given speed, in these cases 20, 30, and 40 MPH. Put shortly: you don’t want to be hit by a car traveling 40 MPH because you will likely not make it, 30 MPH is a coin flip, and at 20 MPH you would be a deceased outlier. The range of speeds implies a rather specific scenario, i.e. these are pedestrians being hit in cities and suburbs on arterial and side streets, not subjects crossing Pacific Coast Highway or U.S. 1 in Florida where cars are often going 20-30 MPH faster than these experiments’ upper range. The conclusions, then, are even more obvious: allow cities to reduce their speed limits and you will save lives.

It’s apparently a popular conclusion, with de Place’s linear logic finding homes with The Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan, Crosscut’s Douglas McDonald, and the Sunbreak’s Michael van Baker all agreeing with the reduction theory. We here at Radials agree as well, at least with the premise.

 Lowering Speed Limits Will Save Lives if Everyone is Perfectly Moral

Pedestrian Walkway, Washington, D.C. (Photo: flickr/mulad)

Reducing speeds in predominantly residential areas would reduce the amount of fatalities from cars if the laws were enforced to an unprecedented degree. With budgets for law enforcement dropping nationally and municipalities facing increasingly dire economic situations there may just not be enough manpower and administrative will to complete an alteration of the automotive landscape, even if it’s a public safety concern. . A friend in the transportation world who I will leave anonymous even brought up the heuristic argument which has significant merit: “It seems like you’re much more likely to be nabbed for speeding in a non-felonious way (i.e. 10-15 mph over the limit) on  arterial roads than on side streets,” but it’s much more likely that “you get busted for felonious speeding on side streets” i.e. going 30+ MPH over the posted limit. I’ve never been cited once for driving 10-15 MPH over the speed limit in my years navigating the California suburbs and doubt that strained city budgets would be any better at enforcing those laws during an economic crisis.

There’s two competing logics here. One is that reducing speeds will help save pedestrians from fatal collisions. That is patently inarguable. The other is more cynically social: lowered speed limits won’t help people if no one pays attention to them, and with less cops on the road that is a completely understandable conclusion. Van Baker admits this second line at the end of his article:

It’s not clear how much a 20-mph speed limit on certain residential streets would affect accident rates. There is always the question of whether people would obey the limit in the first place. But it doesn’t seem like a terrible thing, does it, if people want to request a lower speed limit where they live?”

It’s a rather innocuous comment, but offers a little bit too strong of a hedge that relies on moralistic pandering and American-brand libertarianism. Of course people should be able to change their local speed limits without paying for terribly expensive engineering impact studies, but that won’t necessarily solve any problems other than changing the signs. A better decision for these communities would be speed calming strategies on residential and arterial streets where drivers wouldn’t have to depend on the better angels of their operative natures, they’d have to decide between speeding and sending their car to the shop and your wallet can speak a lot louder than your lawful loyalty. Speed calming isn’t an inexpensive venture but they are categorically effective and would go a longer way towards reducing the amount of pedestrian fatalities because they are physical manifestations of a community’s desire to reduce residential speeds, rather than just psychic ones.