Friday, December 22, 2006

"Arrogant drivers best look both ways"

The front page of the Chicago Tribune the other day featured a very interesting article about efforts to keep pedestrians safe in the city. These include

  • Having city officials pose as pedestrians to catch reckless drivers.
  • Installing "bulb-outs" to reduce the distance pedestrians have to go to cross the street.
  • Raising crosswalks to make pedestrians more visible and to act as a speed bump.
  • Installing more cameras to catch people who run red lights.

I'm glad to see this take place. One of the proper roles of government is to make it difficult for the powerful to bully, intimidate or harm the weak. This is why government comes down hard on things like child abuse. The pedestrian/driver relationship has a major power imbalance: no matter how big and strong someone might be, a car will "win" a collision every single time, with no exceptions. Drivers should not be allowed to use this power to knowingly break the law. Over 3600 pedestrians were involved in automobile accidents in Chicago in 2004, and that is simply not acceptable.

I've been on both sides of the often contentious relationship between pedestrians and drivers. While Bloomington does not have the death rate that Chicago does, there are far too many close calls that could result in serious injury or death. I've personally had several incidents, including one where I was actually hit by a car.

A lot of problems between walkers and drivers could be eliminated if both sides were to follow three simple concepts: know the law, obey the law, and respect others. The responsibility to respect others is greater for drivers because, as Spider-Man would say, with great power comes great responsibility.

At a four way stop, pedestrians have the right of way to cross within the crosswalk. Despite what some drivers think, pedestrians are not required to wait at the intersection until it is completely clear of motorized traffic before they cross the street. If you are turning and the pedestrians have a "walk" signal, they have right of way. Period. End of discussion.

When pedestrians don't have the right of way is when they attempt to cross the street in the middle of the block. This is called jaywalking. I've seen too many people get caught between two lanes of speeding traffic because they are too lazy or selfish to cross at the corner or other designated crosswalk.

Pedestrians should also be courteous. If you are crossing the street, especially at a four-way stop, don't dawdle. Move. There are few things more annoying for a driver than to sit and wait because a pedestrian is moving extra slowly while crossing the street. The exception to this rule, of course, is if a driver attempts to go through the intersection out of turn. In that case it is permissible to make him or her wait for 15-20 minutes. (Just kidding about that part. Mostly.)

On a related topic, Troubleshooter has posted several articles on MLPD about bicycles and how bike riders are to behave in traffic. See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here.