“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…

One thought on ““Mission n + 1”

  1. Having read this I thought it was extremely informative.

    I appreciate yoou taking the time and energy to put this short article
    together. I once agasin find myself spending a significant amojnt of time
    oth reading and posting comments. But soo what, it was still worth it!

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