Mr. Ehrisman rightly dings his hometown for plopping a school in a neighborhood with no sidewalks and then banning students from walking. The absurdity of a pedestrian ban around George McGovern Middle School rankles on multiple levels:

  1. Cities should not build any public facility that can be accessed only by motor vehicle.
  2. Schools dedicated to teaching kids healthy lifestyles should never make a rule against walking.
  3. Local governments should spend less time bickering about jurisdiction (the city's "flagpole annexation" of 40 acres for the school and just a narrow strip to connect it to the city proper makes unclear who ought to lay footpath along the connecting road) and more time solving problems.
  4. Parents should not put up with the school's interference with their lifestyle choices. If George McGovern Middle School parents want their kids to walk home, then when the school calls to alert them that their children are walking, the parents should respond, "Yup, they sure are. What's it to ya?"

City Engineer Chad Huwe says a four-foot sidewalk in a developed urban area costs $25 per foot. A ten-foot-wide asphalt pedestrian path costs up to $140 per foot. Let's meet in the middle and say we could build some sort of walking path for George McGovern Middle Schoolers for $80 a foot. Let's say we need to build two miles of walking path around the school on Maple Street and Marion Road to the nearest housing developments. That's $844,800. If one bus route costs a school district $37,000 a year, the school district could pay for those two miles of sidewalk with the savings of eliminating four of its bus routes from McGovern over six years.

But if the city and county and school board can't find a way to make the kids safe, then it's up to us. I know it's asking a lot of Sioux Falls motorists who seem to think cars always have the right of way, but motorists, slow the heck down. Pay attention, share the road, and let those kids get to and from school.

7 comments

A driver in an SUV kills a woman on a bicycle, and a Sioux Falls police captain says this:

Sioux Falls Police haven't issued any tickets for the crash that pinned Adams under the SUV and as they continue to talk with witnesses they don't believe anyone was doing anything wrong.

"It's a terrible tragedy. A very unfortunate situation and a life was lost because of it," Sioux Falls Police Captain Greg VandeKamp said.

Police don't believe speed was a factor because the SUV was stopped just short of the sidewalk waiting for an opening in traffic and when it pulled out it hit the bicyclist who was riding down the sidewalk.

"You know how it is trying to get out on a busy road. You're paying attention to the traffic, traffic, traffic and you're waiting for that gap. A lot can change in 15 to 20 seconds from one time you look one direction and you look back the other way," VandeKamp said.

Whether it's in a car or on a bike, officers say the crash is a tragic reminder that everyone needs to be paying attention when they are on the streets and sidewalks.

"A cyclist or a pedestrian you never can assume that they see you, or have seen you, because about that time tragedy happens as was in this case," VandeKamp said [Ben Dunsmoor, "SF Police: Bike Fatality a 'Terrible Tragedy'," KELOLand.com, 2014.07.17].

The Sioux Falls police office spends more time giving cyclists advice on KELO Radio:

Adams was legally riding her bicycle on the sidewalk when she was struck yesterday. That raises the question...should cyclists be riding on sidewalks?

VandeKamp says one of the local cycling groups recommends that its members ride in the street in order to be seen more easily by motorists. However, he adds that it's not a good idea to send young children on bikes into traffic.

Police are also reminding those who cycle on sidewalks that they must stop at intersections and walk their bike across the street [Greg Belfrage, "Fatal Traffic Accident Is Painful Reminder," KELO Radio: The Daily Dose, 2014.07.17].

Officer VandeKamp spending an awful lot of time admonishing the folks on thirty pounds of steel and extending sympathy to the folks trying to push two tons of steel into traffic.

Yes, I'll watch where I'm riding. Yes, I'll wear bright pink and chartreuse and other wild colors. Yes, I'll avidly seek eye and voice contact with every driver I see at every intersection so we can verify each other's awareness and intentions. Yes, I'll take my two wheels out into the street and off the sidewalk whenever possible. Heck, I'll even brake and ring a bell or shout a gentle, "Bike left!" to pedestrians I'm overtaking so they don't jump at my swift and silent passing.

But who killed whom at 49th and Kiwanis? Who ultimately did not look, did not see the bicycle coming, and did not think, "Boy, that gal is an idiot, riding her bike during the noon rush hour, but she may have kids in that trailer, she may not want to take that trailer out on the street, and she doesn't look like she's stopping, so I guess it's up to me to avoid this accident and wait another ten seconds to get on my way"?

Little, then big. People on foot have the right of way. Always. Then bicycles. Cars come last. Last, last, last. When we are driving cars, we have the greatest power, and we thus have the greatest responsibility. That responsibility is a small price to pay for the luxury of internal combustion, satellite radio, and air conditioning.

Or you can just kill someone and tell yourself, "She should have been looking," every night.

47 comments

On Monday, Pat Powers bemoaned the loss of his "texting freedom" as South Dakota inched toward common sense in enacting its ban on texting while driving.

Christopher Weber of Madison shows us what "texting freedom" really means:

One minute Christopher Weber was checking his smartphone, trying to navigate mobile banking options as he guided his pickup truck along Highway 270. The next, according to a criminal complaint, he was attempting CPR on a young mother who was out for a bicycle ride with her two young children when she was hit by Weber's truck in southwestern Minnesota.

...Andrea Boeve, 33, of Steen, was biking with her young daughters along the shoulder of Highway 270 on Monday morning when Weber's pickup drifted over the white line, the State Patrol said. The pickup struck and killed Boeve about a quarter-mile from her home. There were no skid marks, the complaint said.

Weber told the investigator, "yes it would be fair to say, it could be," when asked if he was looking at his phone and not the road, the complaint said ["Madison Man Charged in Death of Minnesota Cyclist," AP via Madison Daily Leader, 2014.07.02].

While you're at it, Pat, how about bleating about how the BAC and sobriety checkpoints infringe on your "drinking freedom."

38 comments

U.C. Berkeley professor emeritus and welder (!) Robert Bea says a bad-weld rate of 0.1% on high-risk projects is cause for concern.

What's TransCanada's bad-weld rate on the Oklahoma-Texas leg of Keystone XL? Over 50%, according to warning letters the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration sent to TransCanada last year:

"From the start of welding, TransCanada experienced a high weld rejection rate," said one letter dated Sept. 26. Over 72 per cent of welds required repairs during one week. In another week, TransCanada stopped welding work after 205 of 425 welds required repair.

Inspections by the safety agency found TransCanada wasn't using approved welding procedures to connect pipes, the letter said. The company had hired welders who weren't qualified to work on the project because TransCanada used improper procedures to test them, the letter said ["U.S. Imposes New Conditions on Keystone XL Pipeline Construction," AP via Times-Colonist, 2014.05.26].

The PHMSA found TransCanada doing generally careless work:

Another letter, dated Sept. 10, said a government inspector witnessed TransCanada officials investigating dents in pipeline that had been laid without first sufficiently clearing rock from trenches or from soil used as backfill. The same letter said coating that protects pipeline from corrosion was damaged by weld splatter because a contractor hadn't followed the company's welding procedures. Eventually, pipeline was excavated in 98 places to make coating repairs [AP, 2014.05.26].

But hey, why be careful? It's not TransCanada's land. A few thousand barrels of oil spilled on some poor farmer's land or into an American aquifer isn't their problem. They've got millions more barrels to tap from their tar sands, Chinese who will happily pay them for it, and those crazy Americans who think government doesn't need to regulate business.

27 comments

The statewide texting-while-driving ban passed by our Legislature this year is inspiring Mitchell to repeal its local ordinance on electronically distracted driving. The new state law makes texting while driving a secondary offense, meaning troopers can't pull you over for thumb-screen absorption, but they can enhance your ticket if they stop you for something else and you don't hide your iPhone before they come to your window. Mitchell currently makes texting while driving a primary offense, meaning that's the only reason city cops need to stop you and take your contribution to city government.

Councilman Phil Carlson voted with the council majority last Monday in favor of first reading of the repeal. Carlson prefers uniformity in traffic laws. He also thinks repealing the local ban will save the city some legal bills:

Carlson says that Mitchell should repeal its ban because drivers could fight their tickets in court, which could cost the city money.

"There could potentially be some legal issues with it. For instance, somebody gets ticketed under our ban instead of the state ban, there could be a legal fight over that that could go potentially all the way to the South Dakota Supreme Court," Carlson said [Leland Steva, "Mitchell City Council Takes First Step in Repealing City's Texting Ban," KELO-TV, 2014.04.12].

Drivers can fight lots of tickets in court. There is debate on whether they would win the argument that the state's texting-while-driving ban supersedes any local ban. But how many drivers will litigate? The Mitchell fine is $120. Even the boldest pro se defendant will burn up that much money just in time off from work to go to court well before getting to the complicated and costly state Supreme Court stage.

I'm not saying people should not litigate when they have genuine grievances against improper laws and official actions (or inactions). I'm saying the cost of accessing our justice system, even to get a simple answer about whether state law supersedes local law, is so high that the test case Carlson fears won't materialize from most rational drivers.

Carlson also fails to include in his cost-benefit calculations the public-safety benefits Mitchell gets by more strictly encouraging drivers to keep their eyes on the road. If the tougher local ordinance makes a thousand Mitchellians decide not to pick up the phone and text while crossing town to Cabela's, and if just one of them manages not to crumple someone else's car or run over a pedestrian, the city comes out ahead, even if someday the lawyer Mitchell PD pulls over sues his way out of his $120 ticket.

5 comments

No good comes from this story: nine-year-old Freeman boy kills seven-year-old brother with handgun.

Hutchinson County State's Attorney Glenn Roth says the older boy told investigators he and his brother were playing with a handgun Tuesday when he pulled the trigger, thinking the gun was not loaded ["SD Boy Accidentally Shoots and Kills Brother," AP via KELOLand.com, 2014.03.26].

No law, blog post, or culture shift brings that boy back. No effort erases that horrible moment from the older brother's memory.

We can only lock up our guns, hold our little ones close and make sure they understand guns are designed to do harm and should never be carried casually for show or for play.

Strange: power tools are at least as prevalent in homes as pistols, but how often do we hear news stories about kids breaking into the tool cabinet and accidentally sawing each other in half?

7 comments

Jonathan Ellis shines a harsh light on the culture of secrecy with which state medical boards and hospitals shield doctors from facing the consequences of their malpractice. Focusing on the "trail of pain" left by surgeon Allen Sossan, Ellis shows that Nebraska and South Dakota boards that review doctors' performance seem more concerned about protecting doctors' privacy than protecting patients' lives.

Ellis's report includes stories of patients who were paralyzed or killed by Sossan's shoddy and unnecessary surgeries. Complaints to the Nebraska licensing board did not result in action against Sossan's license. When Sossan came to practice in Yankton, Avera Sacred Heart Hospital allowed him in, despite the grim stories that attached to his name:

They delayed granting him privileges, but after about a year, Sossan threatened to sue. Matt Michels, a lawyer for Avera Sacred Heart, told the executive committee that Sossan probably would prevail in court under laws that bar organizations from restraining trade. The problem for the executive committee was this: Nebraska’s licensing board had not taken action against Sossan’s license, and Faith Regional had not reported adverse activity, so Avera didn’t have grounds to reject his request for credentials [Jonathan Ellis, "Secrecy Protects Surgeon's Trail of Pain," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.03.23].

Yes, that Matt Michels. Now Lieutenant Governor Matt Michels.

But don't blame him; blame the licensing system and the medical culture that insulates doctors from punishment and bad press and ties the hands of administrators and institutions would try to protect patients from bad doctors.

* * *
By the way, one lawyer who successfully sued Sossan for killing a patient with unnecessary surgeries has managed to pierce the institutional veil of secrecy and discover that Sossan's entire career may be based on cheating on a test:

Tim James, a Yankton lawyer who represented Bockholt’s children and who is representing other clients against Sossan, uncovered records showing that Sossan — who then went by the name Alan Soosan — was arrested while in college in the early 1980s for felony grand theft and burglary. Sossan was arrested in Florida, according to a police report, for breaking into the biology department and stealing a test. “What made it really interesting was that it was a core requirement to get into medical school,” James said. “It’s not like he was stealing a French test” [Ellis, 2014.03.23].

As a French teacher, I object to the characterization of my work products as trivial.

17 comments

Now the House is just picking on Betty Olson. Last month, the good Representative from Prairie City proposed House Bill 1114 to yank all the reflector poles out from alongside South Dakota's state highways. The Department of Transportation and Department of Public Safety said no, Betty, that's a really bad idea. House Transportation agreed 10–3.

Apparently worried that Rep. Olson may try taking matters into her own hand, the House has pending before it Senate Bill 103, which drops a bigger hammer on folks who swipe highway signs. Right now, stealing or messing with highway signs and markers is a Class 1 misdemeanor (see SDCL 31-28-23). SB 103 tacks on up to a $2,000 civil penalty, at the discretion of the court. This additional punishment has cleared the full Senate and the House Transportation committee; we'll see if the House acts today to raise the stakes on Rep. Olson or anyone else who tries to... raze the roadside stakes.

But remember, Betty and all you party people in the House: it's just a reflector....

29 comments

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