Pedestrians…what are we going to do with them?

Stuck In Traffic by Ed Kant

In the Tuesday edition of the NDN there was a Letter to the Editor excoriating some pedestrians for their lack of thought regarding how they treat themselves and the roadway when they are walking or crossing. There were also several other letters continuing to excoriate the red-light cameras, but I’m done with that. Either the Board of Commissioners will get tired of hearing about them and remove or adjust them or they won’t and we will have to learn to live with them.

Let’s get back to peds (engineer-talk for pedestrians of all sorts – pedestrians on foot, bicyclists, skate-boarders, inline skaters, the wheelchair-bound, Mothers with perambulators (baby carriages for those not brought up in the dark ages of the 40s and 50s), etc.

In the letter to which I refer, a Mr. Kefauver singles out people who walk along the right side of the road with their backs to traffic. He is absolutely correct in his statement that peds with their backs to traffic are involved in many times more crashes than those who face traffic. This is true for almost all peds. The lone exception is for bicyclists. More on that later.

Many studies, not just a single study as stated by Mr. Kefauver, have pointed to lack of attention to traffic as one of the greatest hazards peds face in trying to negotiate their way across intersections, walking along roadways, or trying to cross “mid-block”, that is, where there is no marked crosswalk.

Along with the issue of peds not paying attention to traffic is the problem of motorists being “blind” to peds. Research has also shown that the unexpected appearance of peds or other hazards in or near the roadway are often apparently ignored by drivers since they do not expect to see or encounter these hazards. Here is yet another reason to drive defensively and to be continually on the alert.

Here in south Florida, we also must be attentive to cultural issues in concerning ourselves with peds and their apparent lack of respect for motor vehicles. No, I am not being xenophobic or, worse yet, “racist”; I am merely stating a fact. We have a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic population and many of our neighbors are not accustomed to the heavy flows of traffic or to the need for being watchful. I believe this apparent lack of concern is based more on cultural mores than on disrespect for law and order. If one is brought up in an area with little or no traffic and if one is not taught to be careful of traffic, then it is easy to understand that that lack of concern can be brought along when one moves from one’s homeland to another place and culture. Ours in America is the culture of the car (and the truck) and we teach our children from almost the time they begin to crawl that they must be mindful of cars, trucks, and playing in the street.

Peds have as much responsibility and as high a duty to remain in a safe location as do motorists. We expect motorists to be watchful for peds and we must, when we are peds, be mindful of motorists. When you walk against traffic, you at least have a chance to see if an errant motorist is bearing down on you. With your back to traffic, you have no chance at all.

A few paragraphs back, I mentioned that bicyclists are an exception to the “peds rule” (that is, walking against traffic). Bicyclists are treated differently by the motor vehicle code (and, therefore, by the law) than peds if they are traveling on the street. If they are traveling on a sidewalk or bike path or combination pathway, they are treated as a special case of peds.

If a bicyclist is traveling on the roadway, whether in a bike lane or along the side of a regular marked lane, the motor vehicle code treats them as a vehicle. They must obey all traffic laws, including STOP signs and traffic signals, just as cars and trucks must. In addition, they must travel WITH the flow of traffic rather than against it. This concept seems to me to be particularly difficult to get across to teenage boys of whatever ethnic or cultural background they may be.

If a bicyclist uses a sidewalk or pathway, then they are treated as a “pedestrian” in that they use crosswalks at intersections and cross with the ped signals. Bicyclists on the sidewalk, however, must give way to peds, just as cars on the road. This, too, seems to be a foreign concept to many bicyclists, young or older. I believe that many bicyclists forget or simply ignore the fact that peds are highest in the hierarchy of road users when it comes to who has the right-of-way off the roadway, just as motorists sometimes do with peds on the roadway.

If you are a motorist, you need to be mindful of peds everywhere, especially in rural areas.

If you are a ped, you need to be mindful of motorists everywhere, not just in urban areas.

If you are a bicyclist, you need to know the rules and be mindful of both peds and motorists in both urban and rural areas.

Do I think the foregoing admonishments will be helpful in driving down the carnage on our roadways? Not really, but one cannot stop trying and cannot stop being hopeful. Now tell me that they are not really going to even consider hearing a plea to allow golf carts to cross Airport Road…

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