Sunday night on the way home from the swimming pool my 8 year old daughter and I were almost run over by a car turning left into the crosswalk where we were (legally!) crossing the street.
Unfortunately we experience similar situations several times a week, since traffic enforcement in Bremen is dying out, and frustrated car drivers take their aggression out on the “weak.” This incident occurred at the intersection of Kirchweg and Kornstrasse in the Neustadt, just seconds away from our front door.
What was new, and extremely frightening about this incident, was that we were almost hit by a driver after he looked me directly in the eyes, after he saw my child, crossing right in front of his car – he saw us, and then decided to step on the gas.
Even more shocking was that his car was from the ADAC, Germany’s auto “club” and powerful automobile lobby organization; the driver was working for a large, widely respected organization when he chose to aim his vehicle straight at my child.
I yelled, my daughter hopped forward, and the car sped off, missing her by less than a meter.
Fruitless visit to the police station
Because the police in Bremen are chronically understaffed, my visit to the police station (a 3 km bike ride away from my house) was fruitless, but the friendly female police officer apologetically asked me to come back “during regular business hours.”
Although I am a working mother whose time is precious, I arranged last minute play dates for my 8 and 4 year olds so I could go back to the police station after work the next day, Monday, and file an official complaint. If I am lucky, the driver may have to pay a fine of €120 for dangerous behaviour behind the wheel.
Car Club ADAC: “Please don’t file a complaint”
I also phoned and emailed the local branch of the ADAC and registered my great displeasure at the behavior of their employee. Although I had to phone three different numbers to find “the right office”, the employee I got on the phone was understanding – until I told him I intended to file an official complaint with the police. His reaction: “is there anything we can do to prevent you from filing a complaint?” My answer: “not a chance. I’ve had enough with this behaviour from drivers.”
I am sick of certain segments of the population
Yes, I want to make an example of the ADAC driver who intentionally almost hit my child with his car.
Why? Because I am sick and tired of certain segments of the population – mostly male, mostly those individuals whose cars are central to their sense of self-worth – insisting on their right of way, narrowly missing me, forcing me off the road, yelling at me from their vehicles, and most terrifyingly of all, making our family’s daily routines – getting to and from preschool, school, and work – nerve wracking, stressful, and dangerous.
And: more stress
Yesterday – three days after the “ADAC incident”, I was once again crossing “our” intersection, Kirchweg/Kornstrasse, to pick up my son from preschool.
In order to turn left, I have to cross an unmarked part of the intersection and wait for the light to change again. Car drivers regularly “push” into the crossing when
pedestrians, bicyclists, even parents with baby carriages and senior citizens with walkers are trying to cross. This creates a stressful and aggressive atmosphere at our intersection,
which I suspect many neighbors just accept as the price of living in or near a busy street.
It is my habit, after many years of cycling in places like Seattle and Manhattan, to indicate my intentions to drivers using hand gestures (the universal “palm up” for stop), eye contact, as well as friendly smiles and waves thanking them for seeing me.
As usual I held up my hand to the driver of an older Mercedes, who reacted as if he were confused that I was crossing the intersection. He rolled down his window as I neared his vehicle and I explained, smiling, that I planned to turn left, and that that was legal. At that point he called me a “dumb pussy” and sped off. Unfortunately, and is too often the case, I was too shocked by his sexist and abusive language to react – in retrospect I should have asked him if he speaks that way to his own mother. However, his demeanor was so filled with hate that it is probably better that I let him have the last word.
Afterwards, I debated whether to take the time to visit the police station again; this time I decided against doing so with my 4 year old in tow.
But when I researched the criminal code online, I found that this kind of insult is actually a serious crime in Germany and that I would be fully in my right to – once again – file an official complaint with the police.
Yet once again I let it slide, try not to let it “get to me”, tell myself that the driver has mental problems, chalk it up to a “crazy world.” Breathe deeply (insofar as the car exhaust permits – my son and I both have asthma, exacerbated by particulate matter from diesel emissions), “let it go” and count ourselves lucky that we were not hurt.
When are “those responsible” going to protect human beings?
But I ask myself when will it be enough for “those responsible for making decisions” (who this is, I have yet to discover!) to act to enforce laws, to calm traffic, and to protect human beings. Bremen needs to prioritize: should transportation planning be carried out for the convenience of car drivers? Or should – as in other European cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Oslo – those most in need of protection – parents, with babies, blind people, senior citizens, other slow and vulnerable members of the population – be at the very core of transportation planning, and should Bremen commit itself to a “Vision Zero” (zero road casualties) goal?
I think Bremen should, and must, radically change its approach to transportation planning. The time for talking is past; the time for action is now!