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The Captivating Stories Behind Our Everyday Transit Laws

From the controversy around right turn on red to how—and why—accidents are often inevitable.

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Mother Jones

In most American cities, getting around without a car is vexing at best and lethal at worst. But it wasn’t always this way. In fact, some positive signs of a potentially safer and more enjoyable road life loom ahead. Consider the Biden administration’s 2021 infrastructure law which includes funding to enhance public transit. Cities all over the country are starting to realize that walkability is actually an asset. And as the market for electric vehicles grows, the United States is at a critical turning point in its relationship with cars.

So how did we get here? How did we end up in a society that came to punish people who don’t drive—especially when those people are part of already marginalized communities? As an avid bike rider, I’m always thinking about this topic from a personal point of view. And as a reporter, I’ve long been focused on uncovering the stories behind our everyday transit rules—from “right turn on red, a surprising relic from the 1970s”—as well as understanding the everyday conditions that make “accidents” inevitable. Here, I’m exploring and sharing some of the ideas and infrastructures that have informed the traffic laws we often take for granted.

There Are No ‘Accidents’ — We Have Been Fooled Into Thinking There Are

Jessie Singer
Streetsblog NYC

Abigail Weinberg: “I’m not the first person to say that Jessie Singer’s 2022 book There Are No Accidents has made it impossible for me to hear the word ‘accident’ without wincing. Singer’s framework for understanding unintentional injury in death radically changed the way I think about preventable harms, from traffic deaths to mass shootings.”

From our partners

It’s Time to Ban “Right Turn on Red”

Abigail Weinberg
Mother Jones

AW: “It’s a relic of the 1970s oil crisis. It’s dangerous to pedestrians. And, if you drive a car in the United States, you likely do it every day. It’s time to get rid of right-turn-on-red.”

From our partners

Monsters: Cars, Which Are Killing Us and the Planet

Tim Murphy
Mother Jones

AW: “Every year, Mother Jones asks its writers to identify the biggest heroes and monsters of the last 12 months. My colleague Tim Murphy singled out cars as a monster for the age. He not only touches on all of the common sense arguments against car culture but identifies a particular moment that occurs in the life of everyone who gets radicalized against cars: ‘traffic-pilling.’”

The Deadliest Road in America

Marin Cogan

AW: “We all know a road that looks like US-19, a particularly deadly stretch in Florida lined with billboards, fast food restaurants, and crosses commemorating people who have died in car crashes. This piece shows how so many American streets got so bad—and how they can start to be fixed.”

Anger and Heartbreak on Bus No. 15

Eli Saslow
The Washington Post

AW: “Living in Denver, I have always wondered why Colfax Ave, a major thoroughfare, is not a bustling shopping center but instead, something of a skid row. This article doesn’t get into the entrenched car culture that made Colfax an unsafe place to walk, but it paints a stark picture of the effects through the eyes of one bus driver.”

The Cult of Bike Helmets

Marion Renault

AW: “A lot of bicyclists forgo helmets, and our instinct is to blame them for being irresponsible when they’re injured in a crash. But helmets aren’t very effective at protecting cyclists in collisions with cars. This piece challenges us to rethink our understanding of what a helmet can do.”

Abigail Weinberg

Abigail Weinberg is an assistant news and engagement writer at Mother Jones, where her beats include transportation and labor. Living in Denver by way of New York, she loves traveling by bicycle and wants to make it safer and easier for others to join her on two wheels.