Streetsie Awards: The Worst of 2013

We’ve talked about some of the highlights of 2013, but truth be told, there were plenty of lowlights too. For example…

The "affluenza" defense got drunk-driving teen Ethan Couch a light sentence of 10 years' probation for killing four people. Photo: ##http://crimeblog.dallasnews.com/2013/12/teen-witnesses-at-fatal-wreck-scene-stunned-by-ethan-couchs-sentence.html/##WFAA.com##

The “affluenza” defense got drunk-driving teen Ethan Couch a light sentence of 10 years’ probation for killing four people. Photo: WFAA.com

Outrage of the Year: Our readers were pretty universally outraged by a Texas judge’s inexcusably light sentence of 10 years’ probation for a teenager who killed four people with his car while his blood alcohol content was three times the legal limit (as if there were a legal limit for underage drinking). According to the judge’s reasoning, the teen deserved leniency because, how on earth could he know that kind of hubris and recklessness was wrong? He’s too rich! It makes my blood boil all over again just thinking about it. Yours too, I guess — 403 of you voted Judge Jean Boyd’s sentence of Ethan Couch the outrage of the year.

Dumbest Move: Taking “move” literally, we’d have to vote for the Atlanta Braves’ decision to become the Atlanta Suburbs’ Braves with their relocation to Cobb County, beyond the reach of transit. One Republican party official indicated that might be exactly the point, since the kinds of people who ride transit aren’t the kinds they welcome in Cobb County. “It is absolutely necessary the (transportation) solution is all about moving cars in and around Cobb and surrounding counties from our north and east where most Braves fans travel from, and not moving people into Cobb by rail from Atlanta,” said Joe Dendy. The bigotry is appalling. While the move was bad news for access to baseball games (not to mention a huge public expense for Cobb County), it might actually work out well for the city of Atlanta, which can now build something more appropriate for its urban location.

1318089060_f404f1ee77_bMost Inept State: Readers, I have to admit I was a little surprised you let Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker off easy for all his decisions to prioritize highways over rail, dropping any semblance of fiscal discipline. But who could blame you for being horrified by Ohio’s new rule restricting pedestrians’ rights? Even as more cities use “leading pedestrian intervals,” giving people on foot a head start in the crosswalk before cars start turning right, Ohio is going in the other direction, requiring pedestrians to yield to cars turning right or left on red at the beginning of the green signal. And the state of Ohio allows for walk signals as short as four seconds. Way to buck the trend, Ohio. I guess you aren’t falling for that whole “walkability” fad everyone else seems to be going wild for.

Most Heartwrenching Love/Hate Relationship… is basically with the whole Pacific Northwest. Washington state DOT just adopted the NACTO urban design guide as its state standard — but it’s also letting transit die on the vine as it spends $12 billion on highways. And in Oregon — which just held the first statewide commuter challenge, preventing the release of 659,000 pounds of carbon dioxide — the state DOT just can’t help itself when it comes to highway boondoggles. Luckily, the state legislature thought better of the Columbia River Crossing and kept that disaster from taking place.

Grimmest Reminder That Americans Need to Change Our Transportation Habits: Last year, 33,561 people died in traffic crashes on U.S. streets. On top of that, there are 58,000 premature deaths every year due to air pollution from vehicles. And how many more people suffer from asthma, heart disease, cancer, and anxiety — all linked to car exhaust — because of our automobile addiction?

Biggest Bonehead of 2013: There were so many! But our voters didn’t have much trouble coming up with a decisive winner for this Streetsie: the United States Congress. This fall’s government shutdown ended up costing taxpayers $24 billion. That’s some deficit-reduction strategy, fellas. One-third of U.S. DOT staff were furloughed, including 91 percent of Federal Transit Administration employees. This was just one more indignity visited upon a hardworking agency that has already suffered through several rounds of budget cuts.

Speaking of Congress’s inability to get anything productive done…

Issue We’re Most Sick of Talking About: I, for one, would be happy to never write another story about the Infrastructure Bank (except about how well it’s working, and all the innovative transit and bike/ped projects it’s helped finance). But you all were clear — you’re really done with all the hand-wringing about the Highway Trust Fund, and with good reason. With any luck, we’ll be able to put this baby to bed — for the time being, at least — by September 30, when the current transportation authorization bill will expire with exactly diddly-squat in the Trust Fund. If they don’t figure out a way to raise the gas tax before that happens, we’ll have our Bonehead Streetsie all sewn up for next year.

Since we don’t like to end on a downer, we’ll wrap up Streetsie award coverage with one more post of 2013′s best moments, coming up.