- Erin Hafkenschiel is the Executive Director for Mobility and Transportation at Vanderbilt University.
On June 16, Ruonan Yao, a Vanderbilt graduate student, stepped into the crosswalk on West End Avenue. She had the green light. A dump truck turned into the crosswalk, hit her, and ran her over. She died the next morning. No additional safety measures have been installed at the intersection. Ruonan’s death has been treated as inevitable.
After decades of treating traffic fatalities as unavoidable, we need to invest in safer, more equitable streets. Joe Biden will invest in transportation infrastructure for us all.
In 2019, 38,800 people lost their lives in traffic crashes. Nationally crashes are trending down, but the decline is being driven by a handful of states. Tennessee is not one of them. Tennessee is one of six states with annual percentage increases over 5%. Metro Nashville also has grim statistics. In 2019, a record-breaking 30 pedestrians died.
Our transportation system prioritizes cars and the people who can afford them. However, nearly 30% of Americans don’t own a car or can’t drive. Many of them are low-income and people of color. When they cross the street, we blame them for getting in the way. Streets designed for cars impose unacceptable obstacles on pedestrians and limits their access to safe, affordable transportation.
Nashville was built and developed for the automobile
It is no accident that corridors like West End Avenue maximize vehicle volume at the expense of other modes. In the 1920s and 1930s, automakers promoted laws that encouraged driving and eliminated their competition.
Most notably, an automotive industry association invented the term “jaywalking,” funded efforts to criminalize it, and then launched compliance campaigns.
Post-war federal policy, including housing programs and the Interstate Highway Act (1965), cemented a national agenda to prioritize car-oriented infrastructure. The standardized appraisal process, created by the federal government, led to ubiquitous redlining (classifying neighborhoods as poor investments based on race), leaving a legacy of underinvestment.
Hear more Tennessee Voices:Get the weekly opinion newsletter for insightful and thought provoking columns.
Here in Nashville, sidewalks have largely been forgotten. Developers were not required to build sidewalks until 1991.
The damage has been immense. Nashville only has one-third of the sidewalks it needs, an estimated $10 billion deficit.
Trump administration failed to deliver promised infrastructure plan
Vice President Biden is a traffic violence widower. His wife and daughter were killed in a traffic crash at a two-way stop sign, which are correlated with higher collision rates. The Biden crash was not just a tragedy, but the result of dangerous street design.
Joe Biden knows that investing in transportation infrastructure is also an investment in safer streets and social equity. He is committed to investing $2 trillion in modern, sustainable infrastructure. This investment will create new jobs, rebuild failing bridges and roads, and fund multimodal urban transportation systems.
Biden will provide cities with 100,000 residents or more, including Nashville, with high-quality transportation options by 2030. This includes public transit, but also an unprecedented federal investment in pedestrian infrastructure. These investments will be prioritized in long neglected neighborhoods.
The Trump administration promised a massive infrastructure investment. It has not only failed to fulfill that promise, it also reprioritized existing grant programs to favor the same-old car infrastructure that lead to increased traffic deaths, inequitable access to transportation options, and growing greenhouse gases.
A vote for Biden is a vote for safer, more equitable transportation options. Whether you choose to drive or walk or bike, we can agree safer streets are good for us all.
Join me in voting for Joe Biden on Nov. 3. .
If you haven’t voted early or by mail, make a plan to vote, vote with confidence, and make your voice heard.
Erin Hafkenschiel is the Executive Director for Mobility and Transportation at Vanderbilt University. She served as the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Sustainability for Nashville Mayors David Briley and Megan Barry. The views expressed by the author are personal in nature and are not intended to represent the views of Vanderbilt University.