Theres a bridge over the Boardman River on the bike path in Traverse
City where teenagers enjoy jumping into the water nearly every day in
the summer. They climb eight feet or so up the framework and make the
leap of perhaps 20-25 feet into the river.
It looks like a lot of fun, but some kids report touching the bottom
of the riverbed in their leaps and Im always tempted to say, Kids,
remember, if you get killed doing that, youll be dead for a mighty
But that would be a buzz-kill, and like I say, it looks like a lot of
fun. Kind of like a 7-Up commercial with a lot of yahoo energy.
Still, you have to wonder: at what point does some teenager break his
neck diving, or slip and fall over backwards and crack her skull on
If we had a society that valued personal freedom above all else, wed
simply say that the loss of a life is a small price to pay for being
able to do your own thing.
But we dont really value personal freedom all that much in America --
we just give it lip service. In fact, we have a litigious society,
and one can imagine that any parent whose child dies on that bridge
wont be blaming their kid for his or her reckless behavior; theyll
be wondering why the City or TART Trails maintained such an obvious
public hazard, and what lawyer to call in the yellow pages.
Teenagers aren‘t the brightest bunch when it comes to personal safety.
Science tells us that an area of the brain that governs judgement is
not yet fully developed in teenagers, which accounts for why society
has an obligation to protect them.
I recall diving off a cliff overhanging a gravel pit lake in
Northville many years ago, which was a huge hit with all of the kids.
But there were steel rebar spikes embedded in concrete slabs deep
underwater which gave a friend a good gash in the head (lucky he
didnt poke his brains out); and one time I saw a young guy dive 20
feet through the donut of an inner tube. Amazing he didnt break his
neck -- a matter of inches.
The funny thing is, so many hazards are easily fixed long before
anyone gets hurt or theres a lawsuit. At the TART Trail bridge, for
instance, a simple overhanging buttress similar to those used to keep
squirrels out of bird feeders would keep the kids from climbing to the
top. Or, for a $20 bucket of tar and a crate of broken beer bottles,
one could create the kind of cheap fix that keeps people from climbing
walls in Central America.
Speaking of TART, several years of discussion and planning went into
fixing the disastrous intersection of the bike path at Division and
Grandview Parkway on West Bay in TC. Yet there are still daily
confrontations between motorists and cyclists at that intersection,
which remains a deadly hazard, despite all of the signs, walk
buttons and flags meant to catch the attention of irritated and
confused drivers, some of whom tend to shift into road-rage mode. And
you can bet there are plenty of pissed-off cyclists, runners and
roller bladers there too who are frustrated in their roles as moving
Again, theres an easy fix: Dig a pedestrian tunnel under the
highway. Use some of Obamas stimulus money and get er done. If
every member of TART Trails brought a shovel down to the bay, we could
dig it ourselves in an afternoon, just like immigrant laborers used to
dig basements years ago.
Easy fixes -- why are they so often ignored? Lack of imagination.
Consider the States ballyhooed law against texting while youre
driving. This has all of the efficacy of using a wet Kleenex for a
parachute. Why not require automakers and cell phone manufacturers to
create systems that would automatically shut down texting and
web-surfing whenever anyone enters a vehicle? In fact, this
technology already exists with parental controls to limit texting and
sexting on their kids phones.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, an estimated
812,000 persons are using a cell phone at any given moment while
driving. Cell phone distractions caused 600,000 accidents last year,
along with 330,000 injuries and 3,000 deaths.
That‘s more deaths than those killed in the collapse of the Twin
Towers in 9/11 -- 3,000 people dead as the result of texting every
year -- year after year.
All of those people would be alive today if we simply had the
imagination to require an easy fix for a serious problem.