“Mission n + 1”


Personally I applaud Boston Mayor Walsh’s March 24, 2015 announcement to commit to Vision Zero. It’s still early in the urban street livability movement, and so to commit to Vision Zero still takes guts and leadership. Sadly, there have been two tragic and highly preventable vehicular killings of Boston youths that occurred since that announcement. 18 year old Fritz Philogene and 8 year old Yadielys DeLeon were both killed in in the spring of 2015 by reckless unlicensed drivers. While the drivers are ultimately culpable, poor street design plays a major role in most urban vehicular violence.

These tragic deaths are not a sign that Vision Zero is a failure – Boston roads will be slow to change and Boston drivers near impossible to tame. Nay I say! These victims are further proof that we must act boldly and swiftly to implement proven safe street changes that will hopefully prevent the next tragedy. So I have my own vision…

My vision is to build a sculpture – a monument to these children and the many more people killed on our ruthless roads. People like the children mentioned above and 7 year old Brianna Rosales, Alexander MotsenigosJessica Campbell and and Jack Lanzillotti and others.

I want to go beyond the Ghost Bike. A ghost bike is a memorial, composed of an all white bicycle placed where a cyclist was killed. A ghost bike is a powerful memorial, but it is incomplete. There is not ghost bike equivalent for pedestrians and car occupants killed by bad roads and reckless drivers.

The motor vehicle is the top killer of Americans age 1 through 40. But only about 2% of those killed by drivers are cyclists. Most victims of vehicle violence are car occupants (about 84%), followed by pedestrians (about 14%). Concurrently – based on census and other measures of who does and does not cycle – only a small segment of society regularly bikes (so cyclists are a minority that society might not identify with). So ghost bikes are not enough. To get widespread support of safe streets initiatives, we need to show broad swaths of society (e.g., people who drive and walk) that members of their community are under fire, and that they themselves might be in danger. If we are to shine a bright light on the scourge that is vehicular violence, we need to let drivers and pedestrians know they have skin in the game: specifically, 98% of all the skin in the game.

In Memoriam

I am a safe streets geek. I read everything I can get my hands on regarding safe transportation infrastructure. Two things I’ve seen in all my study: Cycling advocates seem to be the vanguard of safe streets advocacy, and (2) safe streets design benefits all modes of transportation (car, foot, bike), not just cyclists. With that in mind, my mission – call it “Mission n + 1” – is to build a memorial to all victims of traffic violence, be they on foot, on a bicycle, or in a car, and to do so in a way that encourages adoption of safe streets best practices.

“Mission n + 1”

Why “Mission n + 1”? Well, first let’s look at Vision Zero. Zero roadway deaths cannot possibly be achieved. Vision Zero is aspirational.  There are concrete, proven ways to reduce deaths, but there will always be exceptions. We can slow the rate of roadway deaths year over year forever, but we will not actually reach zero.

In contrast, I’m on a mission. A mission is a purpose and can answer these questions:

  • WHAT it does;
  • WHO it does it for;
  • HOW it does what it does.

The most important of these questions is “WHO it does it for”. My memorial will represent “n”, those who have already been killed by vehicular violence, and “n + 1”, the next person killed by bad drivers and/or bad roads. Until we reach zero roadway deaths, we will always have to be ready to accommodate one more victim.

To answer the remaining questions:

  •  WHAT it does: Mission n + 1 will memorialize victims of traffic violence in an appropriate way. We shall provide a dignified tribute to the fallen, while attempting to educate the public about street safety and press policymakers to implement street safety improvements.
  • HOW it does what it does: This is open to suggestion. But I have some ideas:
    • My rough draft is a sculpture of plaques, one plaque per victim.
    • Each plaque will highlight something positive about the victim’s life, preferably with input from the victim’s family or loved ones.
    • Each plaque shall also objectively state facts about the circumstances of the victim’s death.
    • If appropriate, each plaque will list one or more street improvement that is likely to improve safety, either at the location of the victim’s death or broadly, citywide.
    • Finally, in the interest of brevity, comments on each plaque will be succinct. But each plaque should have an accompanying Wikipedia page with more detailed information. A QR Code will link each plaque to the corresponding Wikipedia Page. Families will be encouraged to fill the page with loving tributes. Facts about the circumstances of the tragedy will be included as appropriate, and facts about street safety improvements will also be included.

The Sculpture

Rough outline:

  • The sculpture should be transportable. Intent: take it to Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Quincy and other city halls. Take it to the State house, and tow it along the Ride of Silence.

    We will take it to car shows : )

  • It will need a strong, sturdy base.
  • The sculpture must be scalable. I imagine a stiff vertical pole in the center. Rings are placed over the pole (possibly even rings composed of large diameter bicycle wheels). Plaques will be attached to the radius of the rings. There will be a ring of plaques at eye level, chest level, waist level, knee level and growing upwards.
  • Every time a ring is filled another is added. Eventually, the sculpture will grow tall enough to exceed human scale.
  • The sculpture will be inclusive. All victims of traffic violence must be considered, against a pre-established and rational set of rules: Things to consider:
    • 16-year-old Jonathan Dos Santos was shot and killed riding his bike. This likely would not qualify; he was murdered deliberately and the fact he was on a bicycle is not germane to street design and driver safety.
    • Hypothetical example: a driver kills himself against a tree while speeding. While some might say the driver brought it upon himself, safer street design might have prevented the needless death.


Intent would be to bring the sculpture to events to educate the public and community leaders in a dignified way. I’m thinking “AIDS Quilt” type stuff. It will convey both appalling statistics in the number of plaques and deeply personal stories described in each plaque.

It will:

  • Raise awareness.
  • Raise outrage.
  • Educate decision makers.
  • Gain public empathy.

What are your thoughts?  Please speak up in the comments section…

Unlicensed to Kill


Unlicensed motorists driving recklessly have been killing kids on the streets of Boston lately. Fritz Philogene, who turned 18 the day before, was killed on May 19, 2015. Less than 3 weeks later, 8 year old Yadielys DeLeon was also killed by an unlicensed reckless driver. A drunk, speeding unlicensed driver killed Brianna Rosales, 7, while walking on a sidewalk in November 2013. She was walking home from school.

According to research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report Unlicensed To Kill series, unlicensed drivers are “significantly more likely to be involved in fatal crashes than are validly-licensed drivers”, and account for about 1 in every 5 driving related killing. There is an astoundingly large death toll due to unlicensed drivers: about 20 people a day, in the USA alone.

Technology is available today to begin addressing this pressing safety problem. This technology is mature, inexpensive and easy to implement. The solution I propose is to move to a smart-chip enabled “intelligent license”. Cars equipped to read an intelligent license would not allow vehicle operation unless presented a valid intelligent license.

A smart chip, bottom center, contains data that communicates via card reader

Here’s how the system would work. All new licenses would be equipped with a smart chip, like the Common Access Card used by the military for secure door and computer access. License holders would also choose a PIN code. New cars would be equipped with a card reader and PIN pad of some sort (already, many new cars have interactive touch panel interfaces on the dash board). The license would contain information that the car would read (e.g., license expiration date, revocation status, etc.). The car would require a current valid license before allowing the driver to start the car.

Once implemented, this would completely eliminate killings and serious injuries caused by unlicensed drivers, because there simply would be no more unlicensed drivers.

Note, this system would augment rather than replace the traditional ignition key. While the intelligent license represents permission from society to drive, the car key is still how we enforce permission from the owner to use the car.

Other benefits

Young drivers often have “probationary licenses” with restrictions. This is intended to mitigate difficult driving conditions for inexperienced drivers. Restrictions include things like allowed hours of operation, maximum number of passengers, cell phone restrictions, and more. An intelligent license can help enforce these restrictions and more. For starters, the car radio could be completely locked out and the GPS/navigation system could require the car to be in “park” for probationary drivers, reducing driver distraction. Nighttime driving restrictions could also be automatically enforced (GPS equipped cars can have an awareness of time that can’t be overridden by manually resetting a clock). This is a naive discussion of the issue, intended to explore the opportunities; real world implementation would require careful consideration.

What about emergencies?

A critic of this intelligent license idea might counter that in rare cases, an unlicensed driver might need to drive to save a life. Take for example an unlicensed driver visiting his elderly father who starts to exhibit heart attack symptoms (hopefully people can come up with better scenarios than this). Somehow calling 911 is not an option, so our unlicensed driver needs borrow his father’s car to save his life. I would suggest that a well-implemented intelligent licensing system would allow cars to be operated in “emergency mode”. Emergency mode would allow a car to operate, with restrictions. For the sake of argument, let’s assume turning on the hazard lights activates emergency mode.

So back to our example, our unlicensed driver is trying to help with a medical emergency. After buckling his father into the passenger seat, our friend, puts the key in the ignition, presses the “hazard” lights to activate emergency mode, and start’s the car. The combination of no valid license plus hazard light activation allows the car to operate. But much like the “valet mode” of some cars, there are restrictions. The radio is disabled. Maximum speed is governed to 60. Acceleration is tightly capped. Finally, since the hazards are active, a passing policeman can pull the car over to see if they can assist with the emergency (e.g., use police radio to summon an ambulance).

Implementation: timeline and Cost

So how much will this cost? Smart card readers cost as little as $10 and the cards no more than $2. Once integrated into a car’s design and the state’s licensing systems, the cost would undoubtedly drop even further.

Implementation would take some time. It would not ne economically feasible to retrofit existing cars. This would be something, just like air bags and automatic vehicle tire pressure monitoring, which has to be built in to new cars and be implemented as new cars replace older ones. The typical lifespan of a private motor vehicle is 11 years, meaning the vast majority of cars are off the road about 11 years after they are sold.

I suppose if we were to implement intelligent licensing right now, we’d see little change for several years (I don’t imagine many unlicensed drivers are buying new cars off the lot), followed by a steep decline in unlicensed driver related traffic violence, then at about the 11 year mark, we’d see grandfathered used cars selling at a premium until they are no longer available at all.

When 20 people a day (every day) are being killed, among them children walking on the sidewalk, I say it’s time to make the cultural, legal and simple technological changes necessary to bring this problem to an end.