Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Stay Sober, or Get in a Car

Photo courtesy of Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK
Alaska might be different from the rest of the country in a lot of ways, but when it comes to blaming problems with pedestrian safety on pedestrian behavior, it's just the same as everywhere else. Last week the small city of Bethel, AK made headlines for its proposal to amend its public decency ordinance to prohibit walking on public streets while intoxicated.

According to one city council member, "Public streets and roads, ice roads or highways, are very dangerous areas. They have a lot of fast-moving, big vehicles. A lot of foot traffic as well. To have an intoxicated person in those particular areas makes for an exponentially greater risk of harm not only to the person who’s intoxicated, but anyone who’s traveling on those roadways..."

We've heard this argument before, perhaps most memorably from the guys at Freakonomics, who raised a lot of eyebrows by suggesting, 

"Truly, if you're faced exactly with two choices, walking drunk or driving drunk, you absolutely should drive drunk."

Statistically, that's true (if you only care about your own safety, that is)--but that doesn't make it good policy. As I've explained, there are external costs associated with encouraging driving at the expense of walking. If walking while intoxicated is dangerous, it's probably also dangerous while sober. Making a law to forbid walking drunk might seem like the easy solution, but it neglects the true problems that pedestrians face. 

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