Monday, Dec 22, 2014

Look both ways before crossing

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When a national report came out the other day naming the Tampa Bay area the second most dangerous for pedestrians (Orlando was first) from 2003-12, I was shocked. More hazardous than a congested place like New York City, where walking across the street is a way of life? Or San Francisco?

Then it suddenly dawned on me that it had been years since I walked across a busy intersection. The last time I even crossed a street was when I went over to talk to a neighbor who lives opposite my house. So the odds of me being one of those statistics are very slim.

When I go to the supermarket, I drive, park in the lot and walk inside. The same goes for my favorite watering hole, the restaurants I dine in and all the places I shop.

Not that I don’t do any walking. I try to walk at least a half-hour every day. It’s on a treadmill at the health club near home, however, and I drive to it. Seeing how dangerous local streets are, I’ll probably confine my aerobic activities to the gym.

I’ve seen plenty of potential pedestrian casualties during my daily drives who could easily add to the area’s reputation. There’s the homeless guy I see at least once a week walking around with all of his worldly possessions in a shopping cart, wearing a Florida Gator jacket no matter the temperature, crossing the street whenever and wherever while talking to himself. I’ve never seen him look one way, much less both ways.

Then there’s the lady who uses her walker to cross Gandy Boulevard. Even though the light is long, she barely makes it in time. Drivers give her a break, but I worry that someday one will be in too much of a hurry to wait.

A few years ago I came close to hitting a guy on a bicycle. I was turning into a parking ramp when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw him on the sidewalk. He never saw me until he passed the entrance. I didn’t hit him because I still drive by the rules of the road given to me by my high school driver’s education instructor years ago: Assume that everybody else out there is a fool.

In each of these pedestrian deaths, I wonder what the victim and driver were thinking at the time. Last Sunday, for instance, a woman was killed in St. Petersburg when she tried to cross at 66th Street North at 42nd Avenue North. According to news reports, she was pushing a shopping cart when she was struck by a car, hurled into the center lane and then hit by a pickup truck. No charges were filed, but I can’t help but wonder who was really at fault.

So what can we do about this?

The Florida Department of Transportation has listed actions it thinks can improve the situation. It recommends people: always use the crosswalk, stop before turning right on a red light, look before crossing, yield to pedestrians and pay attention to the road, every time, every trip.

Well, there’s nothing new there, just the things I learned in driver’s ed.

The only way these statistics will go down is for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists to be more aware of each other. I know, that sounds so simple, but that’s all it takes.

For instance, when I spent a few months in Los Angeles years ago, my uncle informed me that one of most strictly enforced traffic laws there was the one that required drivers to stop for pedestrians, no matter where they crossed the street. This was in a city where the car is king. It emboldened a lot of people out walking, but it kept them safe, and made drivers more aware.

In the meantime, I’ll confine my walking to the gym or local park.

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