Let them eat bus transfers

Punishing people for not having a car. Prosecuting people for not driving. Teaching a lesson to pedestrians and bus-takers.

Nelson, 30 and African-American, was convicted on the charge this week by six jurors who were not her peers: All were middle-class whites, and none had ever taken a bus in metro Atlanta. In other words, none had ever been in Nelson’s shoes:

They had never taken two buses to go grocery shopping at Wal-Mart with three kids in tow. They had never missed a transfer on the way home that caused them to wait a full hour-and-a-half with tired and hungry kids for the next bus. They had never been let off at a bus stop on a five-lane speedway, with their apartment in sight across the road, and been asked to drag those three little ones an additional half-mile-plus down the road to the nearest traffic signal and back in order to get home at last.

They apparently operate on the assumption that responsible people have cars and people who don’t have cars are irresponsible and reckless.

Why is this familiar?

Because we saw the same damn thing just before and during and after Hurricane Katrina. I remember it vividly – that Sunday afternoon, the day before Katrina hit, the news was full of warnings about the hurricane and officials saying urgently, “Everyone get in your cars immediately and get out of New Orleans”…with no mention of what people who didn’t have cars were supposed to do. I remember fuming and ranting about that on Sunday; fuming and ranting that nobody in charge even seemed to have formed the idea that some people actually don’t own cars and that perhaps they should not just be abandoned to drown. I ranted and fumed a lot more in the days that followed, as lots of people fumed and ranted about the reckless irresponsible fools who stayed in New Orleans, overlooking the fact that most of them had no way to get out.

What about the highway designers, traffic engineers, transit planners and land use regulators who allowed a bus stop to be placed so far from a signal and made no other provision for a safe crossing; who allowed – even encouraged, with wide, straight lanes – prevailing speeds of 50-plus on a road flanked by houses and apartments; who carved a fifth lane out of a wider median that could have provided more of a safe refuge for pedestrians; who designed the entire landscape to be hostile to people trying to get to work and groceries despite having no access to a car?

What indeed.

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