by Harrison Smith
At any given moment in Arcata, there is a game of frogger being played at a grand scale. Students who walk or ride their bikes to class are familiar with the everyday peril of crossing L.K. Wood Blvd where it meets Sunset Ave. Drivers rolling down the Sunset overpass towards campus regularly blow through the long, winding crosswalk, which is about as useful at protecting pedestrians as is a paper shield against a lance.
I have lost count of the times I have almost been hit by an unaware driver while riding my bike to campus. The three gauntlets which I run daily are the roundabout at Foster Ave, the intersections of Sunset and H St., and the aforementioned L.K. Wood crossing. At the Foster roundabout, I was nearly paved into the street by a lifted white (and squeaky-clean) F-150. I let out a perfunctory, “Fuck you!” to the prick whose $35,000 dealership-bought manhood nearly killed me. His response was to pull the truck to a screeching halt in the middle of the roundabout, hop down from the cab, and scream, “You got somethin’ to fuckin say?” I, who had a chemistry quiz that morning, did not have anything to say. I turned my happy ass around and rode away.
Last Wednesday, my boyfriend witnessed three separate screaming arguments in quick succession between drivers waiting their turn to cross the intersection of Sunset and H St. It even sucks to drive here, let alone walk here. Driving everywhere has made it impossible to walk anywhere. So why do we design our cities like this?
Because of Robert Moses, baby. The Biblical Moses may have parted the Red Sea, but Robert Moses did something far more impressive–part every street in the United States (and the world) with a stream of cars. Robert Moses was the municipal planner for the city of New York for over forty years, beginning in 1924. He was never elected to office, but nevertheless used his position in city planning to dramatically expand New York City’s automobile infrastructure, and thus structural racism.
Moses worked like a factory farmer, plowing up historically Black and low income neighborhoods to sew a crop of asphalt and steel. He connected the boroughs of New York with the ribbons of highway that would come to serve as a shining example of urban design to younger architects all around the country. He designed his infrastructure to exclude public transit—for example, Moses ordered the bridges over the Jones Beach Parkway be built too low for buses to access the beach, ensuring that it was only accessible to those (white) people prosperous enough to own their own automobiles.
Robert Moses shrugged away this mortal coil in 1981, but his legacy lives on in the 4.17 million miles of road that stretch across the United States and the 286 million cars that ply them. City planners in the latter half of the twentieth century followed the example set by New York, designing cities to be traveled by private car.
The only future for our planet and for our cities is one with streets designed for people, not cars. Ride your bike to class. If you’re unable, take the bus. If you can’t take the bus, carpool with your friends. Agitate with the city council for safer streets. Fight for a car-free future.