Wednesday, November 06, 2002

Barcelona is so crowded that the average speed of cars is 16 kph on vertical streets and 23 kph on horizontal crosstown streets. That's kilometers, not miles, per hour. There are 12,000 accidents reported per year in Barcelona and about 60 traffic deaths; 42% of the deaths are motorbike riders, 30% are pedestrians, and 28% are in cars. Of the dead in cars, 90% were not wearing their seatbelts. 52% of people injured in Barcelona traffic accidents are also motorbike riders. We remember that several years ago the Economist ran a story in which they ranked forms of transportation by their safety records, calculated in deaths per traveler per kilometer traveled. By ship was the safest means of transport and planes were right behind. Then came trains and buses. Then cars. Then on foot. Then by bicycle. And by far the most dangerous was by motorcycle; you're something like 200 times more likely to be killed traveling a kilometer by motorbike than by ship or airplane. Of course, in Spain they can fix it so you can even die on a ship; the court case that derived from the 1998 sinking of a pleasure boat on the lake at Banyoles, north of Barcelona near the Pyrenees, has finally come around to trial. Typical Spanish speedy justice. 21 French retirees on a group tour died when the boat, which was overloaded and which had been illegally modified, went down just a few dozen feet from the dock. The tragedy would have been much greater if a high-school class of students from Barcelona on a field trip hadn't happened to be right there. The kids thought quickly and went into the water and started pulling people out, saving many lives as these were old people, most of whom probably couldn't swim, in a panic. We would say that counts as real heroism.

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