TEMPE, Ariz. — The roadside memorial looks like thousands of others that appear on streets across America. Two small crosses, a balloon, faded flowers. A note that reads, "I love you, Mom."
I don't know why, but I expected more. A plaque that signifies the importance of the location, a larger bouquet of flowers, a road redesigned to be more pedestrian friendly. Something.
Alas, almost nothing has changed at the spot along North Mill Avenue where Elaine Herzberg was struck and killed by an Uber self-driving test vehicle last year. If her death has been a watershed moment for the fledgling autonomous vehicle industry, it appears to have sparked little action here in Tempe.
I wanted to see the place that has become etched in transportation history. On a trip to the Phoenix area last month, I spent an hour at the site where it was 109 degrees at sunset.
Putting aside the glaring failures of Uber's self-driving system for a moment, the roles other factors played in the crash were immediately apparent.
In the hour I was there, a dozen pedestrians followed the same path Herzberg did on the night of March 18, 2018: First crossing the southbound lanes to a wide median that's obscured by trees and shrubs, then proceeding across the northbound lanes.
Some came straight from a bus stop on the other side. One walked her bike across, just as Herzberg did. None used the crosswalk that's 360 feet to the north of the crash site.
Crossing at the median felt precarious. As they did on the day of the crash, signs that warn pedestrians to go to the crosswalk still face the road instead of people who might cross from the island.
Brick footpaths that crisscross the median encouraged pedestrians, but at a place the signs warn against. Since the crash, the city has covered those paths with rocks, but they do little to discourage foot traffic.
Most glaring: For those standing in the median, shrubs and trees partially obscure the view of northbound traffic emerging from beneath an overpass. There were all of three seconds between when I first spotted an approaching vehicle and the moment it passed me in the left-turn lanes. At sunset, it was difficult to assess oncoming traffic; at about 10 p.m., when Herzberg crossed, it would have been more arduous.
She made it across the two left-turn lanes, across the two through-lanes and to a spot just before a right-turn lane forms in the road.
Radar and lidar sensors in Uber's self-driving system spotted Herzberg six seconds before the crash, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, and at 1.3 seconds before impact, the system determined an emergency braking maneuver was needed to avert a collision.
For reasons yet to be explained, the self-driving system was not configured to initiate that emergency braking. Only the human safety driver could do that. Of course, anyone familiar with the Uber crash now knows that safety driver Rafaela Vasquez was watching "The Voice" on her phone, instead of the road.
Motorists haven't learned from her recklessness. I stood at the curb and watched cars go by for 20 minutes amid the sweltering heat.
Of the 124 vehicles I counted, 42 had drivers using handheld devices at the time they passed the site where Herzberg died. That's about a third.
It's a snapshot glance and not a thorough study, but troubling nonetheless in a state that is one of the most dangerous in the country for pedestrians, according to a February 2019 report from the Governors Highway Safety Association.
Arizona's rate of 1.74 pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 residents is almost the highest in the nation, second only to New Mexico.
Arizona had 125 pedestrian fatalities between January and June 2018, of which Herzberg was one, an increase of 12 percent from the same time period the previous year.
Given the middling response to the most infamous of the crashes — no infrastructure redesign at the site of Herzberg's death, no awareness from phone-addled drivers — the numbers should be unsurprising.
Members of a car-friendly culture shrug their collective shoulders. And North Mill Avenue sits unchanged, awaiting its next pedestrian victim.