Margaret and Dick   


July '04: Attack of the killer platanes

Midi Libre, 24 June 2004:


The Aude region distinguishes itself by a number of "killed-on-trees" auto fatalities that is higher than the national average.

The statistics of 2002 reveal a typical situation in the Aude.  Among the statistics of the national interministerial observatory of road safety is the percentage of auto deaths where people are “killed on trees.”  The ratio, 10.6% in France overall, is 16.9% in the Aude region.

A number 1.5 times the national average justifies the attention accorded by the prefecture:  barriers, signs, as well as the trees themselves are the object of studies to lessen their murderous effect.

The road safety agency plans to treat the problem of the platane trees subject to this finger-pointing:  isolate the trees with security barriers, displace the road, or cut down the trees, replacing them with new trees at a sufficient distance from the road.  [This program] is funded by the government (60,000 euros), motorcycle safety funds (10,000 euros), and bond money (1.5 million euros) included in the 2002-2006 program for the improvement of road safety.

No kidding. 

No mention of many relevant details, such as: 
Are there more roadside trees in the Aude than elsewhere in France? (yes)
Are the roads designed to handle the high traffic density, particularly in summer? (no)
Why do the roadside platane trees attack cars? 
Are newly-planted trees more or less aggressive than their elders?
At what time of day do the attacks occur?  (Newspaper evidence suggests a peak between 4am and 5am, shortly after the discos close.)

The proposed alternatives are not too pleasant.  These old roadside platane trees are a national treasure.  It is said that they were originally planted by Napoleon, to protect soldiers from the hot sun.

The rigid metal barriers, called glissieres (sliders) to suggest that the cars just slide safely off them, are called something else by motorcyclists:  guillotines.  If you slam up against one of these sharp-edged glissieres on your motorcycle, you’re going to end up with something missing.  Plus, with the barriers, cars rebound into oncoming traffic rather than just having a one-car accident. 

And cyclists, of course, live in fear of being pinned between traffic and rigid roadside barriers that prevent a life-saving escape onto a soft shoulder or into a handy ditch in the event a car comes too close. 

But the motorists will indeed have greater protection from the killer platanes.

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