Since the late 1800s, Geneseo New York’s “Bear Fountain” has been a fixture in the middle of the street in that small city’s downtown. Once a place where horses were invited to drink, the beloved historic monument now stands as sort of endearing traffic calming piece, subtly reminding cars that Main Street is not a place for speed.
A recent Democrat & Chronicle story in my home city of Rochester, NY stated that the monument has been damaged by cars and trucks hitting it at least 6 times since 2016. The story reports that in April of 2016, the basin piece of the monument was so badly damaged by a truck slamming into it that a new one needed to be made and put in place… but before this could happen, 2 more vehicles smashed the damaged basin in November 2016 and February 2017.
The article laughably finishes with the statement “Despite the recent rash of mishaps involving the fountain, there hasn’t been serious talk about relocating it.” If there was ever such a thing as “monument victim-shaming” this is a classic example.
Geneseo has a unique piece of history sitting in the middle of its downtown. The monument also serves as a traffic calming element, keeping speeds reasonable and reminding drivers that this is a place for people. Yet the article concludes with a question of whether to move the structure due to the fact that drivers simply can’t seem to avoid hitting it. To me, that’s sort of like removing a crosswalk if a pedestrian is struck by a car while traversing it. The problem lies with the automobile, not with the Bear Fountain.
Imagine if this structure was damaged by cyclists, skateboarders or electric scooters? Would we be asking whether or not the monument should be moved? No, we would most likely ban those vehicles from the street with a series of signs reinforced by regular patrols. But it would be a cold day in Hell before repeated car-vs.-fountain collisions led to the banning of automobiles from the streets of Geneseo.
In the grand scheme, this is a minor incident, but in a small way it’s representative of how much priority we give to the automobile. Without thought, we assume that the car should always have the right of way, and any object, design or individual that conflicts with this mindset must be changed or removed. It is this mindset that has led to the skyrocketing rates of pedestrian and cycling AND driver/passenger deaths in our country. It is a habit we must break, or at least diminish, before we further jeopardize the safety of our citizens and the fabric of our communities.