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To the Wind


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[A]fter eight months of investigation and much poking and prodding of Justice’s life, authorities have revealed that a surveillance camera caught every second of what happened, and based on the videotape they believe Griffith’s death to have been the result of a tragic and complicated accident.

Any time there is a cyclist/vehicle accident, it’s heart-wrenching. When there is a death involved, it is soul crushing.

The cyclist seems to always get the short end of the deal. It seems far too often that drivers get a pass in this justice system when hitting a cyclists or pedestrian. We’ve seen drivers get off with not much more than a slap on the wrist for killing those who decide to walk or bike instead of drive.

And the municipal traffic laws tend to engender pedestrian endangerment. From speed limits on main roadways within earshot of residential neighborhoods of 45 to 55 mph to the fact that a pedestrian is not required to cross at a crosswalk, but if hit by a vehicle outside of a crosswalk, the vehicle is not liable – generally speaking. See Anchorage Municipal Code 9.20.040 where it states:

A. Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.

Anchorage is car-centric. There is no denying this fact. And many would argue that by placing the onus on the pedestrian, it forces accountability on the pedestrian’s part.

Okay. I grant that we each need to take responsibility for our actions.

Let’s look at it this way: Northern Lights between East High and Boniface. There is a nice section there where there are no intersections and it is more than 150 feet to the next nearest crossing feature. The road is four lanes with a marked limit of 45mph. There is a curve in the road that prevents a pedestrian from seeing oncoming traffic and traffic from seeing a pedestrian. Pedestrian decides to cross because the road appears clear and gets hit. The law states that it is on the ped, not the driver. Seems back-assward to me. It’s like blaming a person who got shot for being in the wrong place when the gun goes off. In most places laws are written in such a way to protect the more vulnerable party, not the more powerful. Well, in an ideal world anyway.

I’m not sure that I can disagree with APD not making a charge in the case of Eldridge Griffith. Maybe the mistake was his. What I can disagree with is that it took nine months to the day to announce that no charges would be pursued.

Nine months.

If the tape shows that TJ Justice wouldn’t have been able to see Griffith when he pulled into traffic, then how come it takes nine months to figure this out? I realize the warrant process to gain access to the taped material takes time, but isn’t this a travesty of justice to leave this hanging for so long?  (Then again, isn’t it a travesty that so many investigations in this city seem to take ages to come to closure?)

I personally disagree with the assessment that driving between 38 and 46 miles per hour in January  in a 35 mph zone is not a gross deviation of standard care and reasonable prudence, but that’s just me — I always figured that going over the speed limit, a crime, is in and of itself a sign of not being reasonably prudent when coupled with an accident, especially one that takes a life. It’s kind of like when I choose to not wear a seat belt, get into an accident and end up dead, and the insurance provider decides to not pay my claims because I was acting in an unlawful manner at the time of said accident. But I’m not a lawyer. I generally detest lawyers — sorry, but it’s the truth — so my assessment may be way off base.

Maybe I’ve finally thrown my Alaska romanticism to the wind. Maybe I’ve finally opened my eyes to see just how inhospitable the people who live here can be to one another. We are a small town trying to be big city and, in doing so, we’re crushing our neighbors.  Maybe my emotions are just raw right now and I haven’t fully processed how I feel about this.

And I certainly don’t have any suggestions for resolution. Which is the hardest part for me. I want to have some idea about how to fix the problem, about how to make the streets safer for all users. But I don’t. I don’t know how to first break through the “us vs. them” mentality that exists on both sides. I don’t know how to adequately address the root causes. I don’t even know what the root causes are or how to really affect change from where I sit in my tower of concrete and glass and oil profits.

I’m really shelled right now about this and don’t know why.


  1. You think APD cares about traffic laws? Ha! If police chiefs cared about enforcing traffic laws, cyclists and pedestrians would be infinitely safer, and the tickets in the initial years would easily pay for the cost of the additional officers to get to that point. Not to mention that we’d have a much cleaner city without all the cigarette butts at intersections ($1,000 fine, not that it’s ever enforced), far fewer dead moose from people speeding, and so on.

    It’s dangerous to drive around Anchorage if you’re so crazy as to drive near the speed limit. Driving the limit for a stretch of road guarantees that every vehicle within sight will pass you. Test it out for yourself; some good testing locations include Minnesota between International and Dimond and Dimond between Arctic and Minnesota. It’s all over. APD’s blind eye has encouraged anarchy on Anchorage roads.

    In deciding whether to charge people for crimes, speeding, driving recklessly, etc. are without question cases of breaking the law and they should absolutely be a factor. Law enforcement implicitly supports criminal activity on our roadways, though, so until APD changes the rest of us are at risk.