May 6, 2001


City Improvement

written by
Lynn Trenning

























For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

aired on WFAE, May 24, 2001

My heart felt sick when I read the front page of the local section early this May. A ten year old boy was hit by a car while riding his bicycle near his house. He is the fourth pedestrian to be killed by a car in Charlotte this year. Last year, 20 pedestrians were killed by cars in Charlotte.

On the same day, the American Lung Association reported that Charlotte ranks number 8 in the nation of cities with the worst air pollution. This means that on numerous summer days, Charlotteans may experience chest pains, wheezing and shortness of breath due to the amount of smog in our air.

These two tragedies, while seemingly unrelated, are the result of human error in general, and poor public policy in particular. We've let the convenience of cars dictate our city's infrastructure. As a result, pedestrians have become second class citizens. Through lack of political will and a reluctance to tackle difficult issues, we've let the agenda of a few undermine the quality of all of our lives.

Consider for a minute who the pedestrians are in Charlotte. People who live from paycheck to paycheck. People who live on minimum wage. Children on bicycles, scooters, rollerblades, and foot. The elderly who are either physically incapable of driving, or have been forced off the road by a citizenry that consistently speeds, doesn't use turn signals, weaves back and forth between lanes, and runs red lights. These are not small, special interest groups of people. All of us either were, or will become a person who can be categorized by these descriptions.

Charlotte is now a series of unconnected cul de sacs, neighborhoods without sidewalks, and streets wide enough for drag strips but unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians. Virtually all recent development in Charlotte is built for people in cars. In doing so, we have ignored the needs of people. Although various groups of theorists and thinkers have worked like dogs to provide long-term land use planning for Charlotte, such proposals always succumb to individual development projects with short-term profit motives.

The true tragedy lies in our tepid response to pedestrian deaths and ozone warnings. Rather than mandate that useable sidewalks be built next to every road, we hold safety workshops that teach kids to wear bike helmets. Rather than acknowledge how dangerous it is for children to walk anywhere in Charlotte, we talk about providing children with I.D.s so that when they are hit by cars, the doctor will know who to call.

Instead of investing in bike ways and walk ways and public transportation to cut our ozone emissions, we warn people not to exercise outside in the morning on hot days. We buy bigger SUVs with lower gas mileage, and join health clubs where we can exercise inside to avoid the pollution. We read about smart growth, but we cast aside bothersome solutions until the next tragedy, when these subjects are dissected in ink until we forget them again. It is a shame and a pity, and an embarrassment to this city that claims it can do anything. Where is the outrage?

~ Lynn Trenning

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