I was listening to a TED Radio Hour podcast on courage the other day. The speakers–among them a war journalist, a lawyer in Afghanistan representing abused women, and a doctor speaking out for transparency in medicine–highlighted the courage of those they covered, represented, and were related to. The lawyer in particular struck me because she doesn’t speak the language, uses no security measures, and insists on upholding the rule of law in a place where many egregious cases of child abuse are settled in informal courts, and yet she speaks of the courage of the children she represents. And some of the speakers said that what they felt wasn’t precisely courage, but more like determination. The young doctor is vilified by her peers yet continues her path because she is determined to bring more transparency to the profession.
I want to highlight the courage and determination of people who cross highways on foot.
While driving south on I-35, I was listening to this podcast on courage when I saw a courageous young black man run across the southbound lanes of the highway. I was scared out of my wits. “He’s going to die,” I thought. I watched him until I could no longer see him. He made it to the concrete median and waited there patiently for a break in the northbound traffic to run across the other lanes.
People who cross highways are a subject of debate in Austin. For example, police want to outlaw walking in the medians and in other places near highways, as if people are choosing to hang out in highway medians because it’s cool or fun.
This is about where I saw him running across:
And this is the aerial view of the spot:
Note the residential areas surrounding I-35 on both sides, and that it is approximately 0.8 miles in either direction to an overpass. Do you want to walk almost 2 miles just to get 100 yards ahead?
Obviously, I know nothing about this guy. I don’t know if he lives in the surrounding area, was late to work, or was visiting a friend. I don’t know why he wasn’t driving a car or riding with a friend or Capital Metro. I could guess any number of things, and they could all be wrong. However, I do know that he should be able to walk where he needs to go without risking his life. “Why he wasn’t driving a car or riding with a friend or Capital Metro” is completely irrelevant. This guy has the same right to mobility as any other person, no matter where or who they are, what type of vehicle they are traveling in, or how fast they are traveling.
Instead of vilifying people who attempt to cross highways on foot, I would rather celebrate their courage in the face of a hostile environment and interview them to find out why they do it (when they survive). I would like to study what’s going on around the highway. And, where the damage of the highway is already done, the neighborhood is already split, and the best short-term fix we can provide is a safe crossing, I would like to see pedestrian bridges built without hesitation. The long-term fix involves decisions that recognize the nexus between transportation and land use (i.e., not building highways through neighborhoods). Somewhere in between is a solution proposed by Reconnect Austin to cut and cap I-35 in downtown Austin, which could well save lives.
If we can provide pleasant crossings for animals over highways, are we willing to provide safe, pleasant crossings for people?