Friday, March 20, 2009

Mixed Signals

A few thoughts regarding the proposed Illinois crosswalk/pedestrian law that would require cars to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk:

To be clear, I have no issue with a law on our books stating that for the crosswalk going with the flow of traffic, the pedestrians should have right-of-way vs. turning cars. That's common sense.

However, entering into law the notion that a driver would be legally responsible to stop (therefore in the wrong, in case of an accident) when a pedestrian uses the crosswalk that runs against the flow of traffic is more than just bad legislation. It's dangerous.

We have walk/don't walk signals at all stop-light controlled intersections. This lets pedestrians know when it is safe to freely cross (walk), when discretion is required (don't walk-flashing) or when it is unsafe and then can't/shouldn't walk (don't walk-solid). When traffic is flowing, say, east-west, the north-south crosswalk signals show a "don't walk" sign, the equivalent of a pedestrian's "red light." They know not to cross, as they would be going against the flow of traffic and, as such, in the wrong for any accident. It all has to do with respecting those with whom you share the road - cars, pedestrians, bicyclists, rickshaw drivers (Chinatown), etc.

If the law, as proposed, is passed, that "don't walk" signal becomes meaningless. Now, pedestrians no longer have any legal obligation (only mortal) to not cross against traffic. Why should they? The law says they are in the right and cars must yield to them. It's hazardous for their lives and the motorists and is bad form when held against the rules of the road and all the safety skills we had drilled into us at Safety Village.

In a perfect metropolis, the only big vehicles on the roads would electric street cars, with bike lanes and better sidewalks. But we don't live in this semi-science fiction world. We have cars, and must deal with their presence not with hostility but respect, as we want them to respect us, the pedestrians. Violating the crosswalk signals places us in mortal danger, as it does those cars headed towards us.

A new law on the books would also add undue mental distress to motorists who would face not only the physical and mental damage of hitting a dumb guy who saunters across the road in clear ignorance of the "don't walk" solid signal, but also new legal woes. Moving forward with what is presented, we're treating motorists as health advocates treat smokers - not deserving of equal treatment.

I'd urge you to push for a change to this crosswalk law, to contact your state congressmen and senators and see some positive amendments put in place. If not that, I would implore you to think through the ramifications of this law in all their forms.

More information can be obtained by talking to the
Active Transportation Alliance, a great non-profit promoting "better biking, walking and transit."


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