Walter Mencken 11 a.m., May 24
- Community Blog
- Earth, Fire, and Water
The ambulance beat me there, but not by much. I threw the keys to my car to a friend and crawled into the back and held her hand. She was conscious. What a relief! I kept her talking.
The bicyclist had been watching his speedometer instead of where he was going, and he was hidden from the pedestrian’s view by a large structural column. He was going over 30 mph, at least five miles per hour above the speed limit--on a bicycle yet! She had checked for traffic and it was clear to cross—except for the thin visual target of the bicycle obscured by the column. She survived, but with a concussion and several cuts, scrapes and contusions.
The law was on her side, but the bicyclist wasn’t. He swore that she stepped out right in front of him, inconsistent with his earlier statement. I don’t know whether or not the cops cited him; I wasn’t focused on revenge; I just didn’t want her to die. As we have done since and had done before, we figured the worst punishment would be levied through his own conscience. If not, the benighted sonofabitch was even worse off. We chose to live, to not waste a minute of our lives in court or trying to make him pay. If he wasn’t miserable about what he did, if he didn’t acknowledge his mistake, he was a MISERABLE benighted sonofabitch. Soon enough, his indifference to otherS would catch up with him, and he would die a thousand deaths, suffer a thousand cuts—or he wouldn’t and would be “successful.”
When I was a child, there were no pedestrian laws. PedestrianS were supposed to have enough sense to know when and where it was safe to cross a street or highway, and motorists were supposed to have enough common courtesy to stop when conditions warranted. The system (called “social mores”) worked well. We didn’t “need no stinkin’” laws or statutes, we just did right by each other. That’s the way it is in real communities.
But as the sense of community inevitably disintegrated along with group size, especially in cities so large that you are more and more stressed by the need to run faster and faster to stay in the same place, “time” begins to take over. We actually have “rush-hours” (with increasing emphasis on the plural). Anything that gets in our way, delays us in any way, becomes an adversary—let the pedestrian (also rushing) take the hindmost, they can damn well wait for the car behind us to stop, or better yet, wait for a break in traffic (that often never comes). We, those of us in vehicles, even bicycles, concentrate more and more on ourselves, oblivious to the fact that, when we are walking, we actually become someone else’s adversary—more obstacle to someone’s goal (hair appointment, tanning session, even ball game or TV program) than a person like us who just wants to cross the street safely.
We rationalize our actions--like most people in a “superior position,” we blame the victim. Some of us (most?) actually believe that we are not “required” (see what laws do?) to stop unless the pedestrian is in a MARKED crosswalk. Wrong. Every street-corner IS a crosswalk under the law. And we are certainly not required to stop for a jaywalker. Well, technically, both the pedestrian and the driver who failed to avoid the pedestrian could be cited, but in practice you can probably get away without even a citation if you kill or injure a jaywalker. Hold onto that thought.
While driving, I know that I should stop for any pedestrian who steps off the curb or otherwise enters an intersection, but most (all?) drivers have had the experience of fearing the consequences of being the only vehicle to stop for a pedestrian according to law because we have had experiences of traffic passing on the right (or left) and almost hitting the pedestrian for whom we stopped. We can get a citation (moving violation, so our insurance rates will go up, and if we get enough violations we could end up with a suspension or worse) for “failure to yield” to a pedestrian, or we can watch the pedestrian have a near-death experience if we do. At least we HOPE it will be only a near-death experience.
Then, when we have checked to see that no one is coming and dutifully stop for a pedestrian, we have observed that the pedestrian, wanting to signal us to keep moving so she or he can take advantage of the gap behind us (a safer move, they calculate, than having a stopped vehicle blocking their view of traffic and the traffic’s view of them), turns their head away rather than accept our gesture of courtesy or insistence on following the law. Many will wave us on, whilst standing in the street (after all, they sensibly want to minimize their exposure time while crossing behind us), not the sidewalk, which puts the law into effect, putting us into violation.
If you’ve concluded that this is some kind of idiotic “Catch-22,” you are not far off. While once people followed the law and pedestrians could rely on vehicular traffic stopping for them, and drivers followed the law by doing so, the “system” has broken down. Some of this is due to lack of sufficient enforcement and education, in addition to a decreased sensitivity of people to strangers and the rush-hour mentality, but the present situation is neither fish nor fowl, and confusion is so great that it may be safer to jay-walk in mid-block (especially if the closest intersection is far away) than at the intersection where the pedestrian must be a real swivel-neck, checking in four directions rather than two, or bluff out the drivers by walking straight ahead into traffic without looking, apparently confident that the approaching vehicles are being driven by those who never text, comb hair, slap the brat, or cast admiring glances at other pedestrians on the sidewalk, and a thousand other dumb stunts that "mind" is heir to . . .
If you think any of this is wrong, please post a correction. Then, when the discussion is through, everybody could send a link to the discussion to councilpersons, law enforcement, and other political LEADERS, as ask them politely whether or not action is required (e.g., should mid-block crossing by pedestrians be made legal?) and just what that action should be. After all THEY are the EXPERTS, not us, eh?