Road violence and the English language

Orwell, again

My previous post included a long quotation from George Orwell, and an explanation of how fully he grasped the importance of safe speeds and collision-resistant infrastructure. Here are some excerpts from that remarkable 1946 statement.

 If you really want to keep death off the roads, you would have to replan the whole road system in such a way as to make collisions impossible.

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"... while our roads remain as they are, and present speeds are kept up, the slaughter must continue."

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In the following brief post I will again quote Orwell at length. But today the subject is how we talk and write about traffic violence, and I’ll be quoting the opening section of his famous essay Politics and the English Language, also written in 1946.

Orwell writes:

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language—so the argument runs—must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes. Continue reading

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George Orwell on Traffic Safety

'Keep Death off the Road' campaign poster designed by William Little and issued by the Ministry of Transport, Great Britain, 1946.

William Little, ‘Keep Death off the Road’ poster issued by the Ministry of Transport, Great Britain, 1946.

Eric Arthur Blair (1903–1950), who used the pen name George Orwell, is one of the greatest English prose stylists and social justice critics of the 20th century. He is also an unsung hero of traffic safety advocacy.

After being declared unfit for passionately-desired military service during the Second World War, Orwell ultimately obtained war work with the BBC in 1941, supervising cultural broadcasts to India to counter Nazi propaganda.

Realizing that this well-meaning campaign was having little effect, he resigned in November 1943 to take up work as literary editor with the left-wing weekly Tribune. For the next three and a half years he would write a series of free-ranging columns under the title As I Please.

The 8 November 1946 column included reflections on a new propaganda effort—Britain’s Keep Death off the Roads campaign Continue reading

Edmonton Comes to its Senses around Pedestrian Hi-Viz Campaign

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Yesterday I joined Edmontonians in criticizing a proposed defensive walking campaign, admonishing pedestrians to wear high-visibility colthing and to make eye contact with drivers. Here (for as long as it’s up) is the description of the proposed campaign, and here is how I was quoted in Clare Clancy’s report on the scheme in yesterday’s Edmonton Journal & Edmonton Sun: Continue reading

A Plea for Vision Zero in Ottawa

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Today 23-year-old Nusrat Jahan was slain on the streets of Ottawa, where I live. She and her bike went under the wheels of a truck at the intersection of Laurier and Lyon. Both streets have nominally protected bike lanes. These days I cycle four days a week to a building on that same block, but I generally avoid the Laurier bike lanes. They are too narrow, they’re constantly overrun by pedestrians and cars, and the crossings are a free-for-all of motorists and vulnerable users. And downtown they’re about the best we’ve got.

I regularly take the Lyon street lane, “protected” by intermittent floppy plastic bollards, on my way home. Two weeks ago I was knocked from that lane onto the sidewalk by an SUV making a right turn from Lyon to Gladstone. After completing the turn the driver paused a good distance away after hearing me bang against the vehicle, and as I got up with the help of another cyclists the vehicle simply drove off. Why wait around after hitting a cyclist in front of a witness? Continue reading

Welcome to Vision Zero Canada

A New Vision for Canada
Vision Zero in a Nutshell
Vision Zero vs. ‘Towards Zero’
Success to Date
Next Steps
Help Me to Help You


A New Vision for Canada

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Welcome to the web site of Vision Zero Canada, a registered nonprofit devoted to the elimination of death and serious injury on Canada’s roads. At time of writing (11 July 2016) this campaign is being run entirely by Graham Larkin, as announced in a December 2015 post on my Slow Ottawa web site. Before today its public face was a Twitter feed with 1350 followers, along with the safe speeds campaign Love 30 Canada that I launched in June 2016. This post provides a run-down of the Vision Zero Canada activity to date.


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Vision Zero in a Nutshell

Vision Zero combines ethically-rigorous traffic safety principles, including a commitment to the timely achievement of zero traffic deaths and serious injuries, with a holistic “Safe Systems” approach dedicated to achieving that goal. When safe systems are in place, serious injury and fatal crashes have a hard time penetrating the multiple shields of safe vehicles, safe roads, safe speeds, and safe drivers. While there are educational and enforcement components to these systems, the focus us largely on design that protects road users, including cyclists and pedestrians. Safe speeds are also crucial, as you can see from the information at our sister site Love 30 Canada.

A superb video from the Swedish government claims that Vision Zero boils down to the following principle. Continue reading