I sadly just learned of the passing of safe streets pioneer, Deb Hubsmith, who was responsible for saving countless lives and reminds us of the various forms that environmental leadership can take. I did not know Deb personally but had corresponded with her when writing Green Illusions. I covered her important work in articles and in Green Illusions, excerpted below. I wish her family and colleagues the best during this time.
…Many of the nation’s schools stand behind a barricade of rushed drivers–hardly a safe environment for students to bike or walk to class. A student environmental group at Bridgewater-Raritan High School raised money for a bike rack only to have their principal reject it, citing safety risks. Similarly, a principal at Island Park Elementary School in Mercer Island, Washington, an avid bicycler herself, vetoed a proposed bike route, pointing out that a fifth-grader had recently been killed while walking his bike through a street crossing.
Stories such as these are all too familiar to Deb Hubsmith, director of the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) National Partnership, which institutes programs across the country to make walking and biking to school safer and more practical for students and educators. Testifying to Congress about an SRTS pilot program, Hubsmith stated, “In only two years, we documented a 64 percent increase in the number of children walking, a 114 percent increase in the number of students biking, a 91 percent increase in the number of students carpooling, and a 39 percent decrease in the number of children arriving by private car carrying only one student.” Nevertheless, even though children represent over 12 percent of pedestrian fatalities, and bicycle-related injuries send over a quarter million children to hospitals annually, the SRTS won just 0.2 percent of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s safety budget. And even though safe routes are a far more effective challenge to fossil-fuel consumption than solar cells, legislators overwhelmingly direct more money into the solar pot. In California, for every dollar spent on safe routes, well over ten dollars has flowed to solar cells during every budget year from 2007 thru today.
Given the clear and far-ranging benefits of walking and biking to school, the fact that communities hold bake sales to finance bike racks and safe thruways for students while the fetishized solar-cell industry bathes itself in billions of public funds is an inglorious national embarrassment. There is no secret to designing safe and convenient bikeable and walkable communities. The strategies are flexible to a wide array of neighborhood layouts, simple to institute, and return rapid paybacks in terms of public safety, quality of life, energy footprints, and long-term infrastructure maintenance costs. Ultimately, the success of bikeable neighborhoods hinges on a community’s ability to establish a bicycling culture, where bicycling and walking stand as legitimate and esteemed modes of transportation…