Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I must confess that I jaywalk with a frequency that would be alarming if it weren't for the fact that I am also ridiculously, perhaps needlessly, careful when I do it. Sometimes it's because there really aren't any cars. Sometimes it's because there's not a crosswalk in sight. Sometimes it's because the sidewalk has run out.

It is hard to be a pedestrian, no matter where you go. Even in the Netherlands, life is far easier for you if you have a set of wheels, even if they are powered by your own two feet. Pedestrians here not only have to look out for cars, but bicyclists, who are far less careful of walkers than drivers are. My theory is that, if you're driving, you're already looking out for cyclists, so a pedestrian isn't entirely a surprise. On the other hand, if you're a cyclist, you don't need to look out for pedestrians (even though you should), largely because it's harder to kill someone on a bike.

Another constant, no matter what city you're in, is that you're only as safe as how well you know the place. That is, which intersections to avoid at what hours (or completely)--the "tricks of the trade" for sliiiiding into a bike lane that's been interrupted by 4 lanes of traffic. The first time I rode up to Kelly Drive I was startled to find that there were no traffic lights--and indeed, not even a "YIELD" sign--between Kelly Drive and the Franklin Boulevard. Just a painted bike lane cutting across the aforementioned 4 lanes of traffic.

I've heard (from a friend in the US, incidently) that in the Netherlands they're in the process of taking down traffic lights to make things safer. You read that right--safer. The theory goes that, when drivers are called upon to stop or yield or go depending on their own judgment, they're usually much better about it than a traffic light is. And, perhaps more relevant, traffic moves faster. I don't know if any of it is true, but I do know that there are some intersections that would benefit from lights. Mostly because my heart is trying to crawl out of my throat when I go through them.

Really, the biggest problem with making streets safer (traffic-wise, not crime-wise) is cars. Yes, you can blame crazy cyclists for doing crazy shit like riding the wrong way down a one-way street, and stupid pedestrians for jaywalking, but when push comes to shove, cars do the worst damage, and as such, should be more tightly controlled. I don't care how you cut it--a man on a bike is not going to kill a pedestrian, barring a truly freaky accident--but a man in a car will probably kill the person he hits. Drivers complain about their "rights" being impinged upon, but they forget that they don't have to drive.

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