By John P. Anderson
In case we need further proof that drivers and cars will continue to receive priority over every other mode of transit in San Diego, the San Diego Police Department has provided more clear evidence of the supremacy of the car, this time at the specific expense of pedestrians.
If there is a single clearly beneficial manner of transit we should be encouraging at every chance it is walking. Following jaywalking stings in recent years, now the police department is going out of its way to portray pedestrians as dangers to the community and themselves and explaining some steps pedestrians should take to further cater to cars and avoid inconveniencing motorists.
This comes at the same time as we continue to widen roads, raise speed limits, and remove painted crosswalks (recently at the busy and popular corner of 30th and Upas in North Park). Additionally, both the city and county continue to espouse policies regarding crosswalks that explicitly argue against installation of painted crosswalks due to the ‘false sense of safety’ that they provide to pedestrians.
The animosity towards pedestrians would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragically dangerous. Am I overstating the case? Pedestrians deaths across the city continue to roll in, although whenever possible they are painted as scofflaw jaywalkers that were essentially asking for it by breaking such a serious law. A law, by the way, that is another clear signal that cars dominate our priorities.
On a street like the one I live on, the block is 330 feet long and 53 feet across. Jaywalking ensures that this entire space is illegal for pedestrians to use in any manner and is reserved solely for vehicles. Policies against painted crosswalks at both the city and county levels further enhance the allocation of space to vehicles by not even marking out an inch for pedestrians.
In my experience most people don’t realize that any corner is a crosswalk – painted
and non-painted are different kinds of crosswalks. As a result, motorists will ignore pedestrians waiting to cross the road and fail to yield as required by state law. Given that an elementary school is one block from the unpainted intersections on my street it would seem obvious that painted crosswalks should be present. If we can’t provide even the most basic type of pedestrian facilities for small children who will we provide them for?
This will remain unlikely as long as the county and city maintain their stance that painting crosswalks actually increases the danger to pedestrians. Even if they painted crosswalks at both ends of a block like mine and made them 10 feet wide, the amount of space legally usable for pedestrians would be 6.06% (1,060 square feet / 17,490 square feet). The majority of the road, 93.94% would be reserved solely for the passage and storage of vehicles. Enough anecdotes about the incredible amount of land we dedicate to vehicles only, which is a constant and physical reminder of what we place value on. On to the seemingly well-intentioned note from the SDPD to help keep pedestrians safe which is shown in full below.
What are we keeping pedestrians safe from? Other pedestrians? I don’t recall the last pedestrian killed by another person walking. Of course the danger that is obliquely referred to is the motor vehicle. For some reason the onus is put on the pedestrian – the most vulnerable and least detrimental form of transport known to humankind. So what advice does the SDPD have for pedestrians to keep themselves out of harms way? Essentially to dress like a traffic cone and give vehicles priority whenever possible; this is also known as ‘defensive walking’. Pedestrians should dress in bright colors, carry a flashlight, look thrice before crossing the street and do so only at corners.
Pedestrians should also not assume a car will stop – aka wait on the curb until there are no cars in either direction. These sort of instructions make walking seem dangerous, inconvenient and unpleasurable. Walking is great exercise, safe, and healthy – we should be encouraging it as much as possible! Repeat after me: “Motorists are dangerous, pedestrians are not.”
Again, no one is being killed or injured by pedestrians. Our neighbors and friends are being maimed and killed by motorists every single day of the year. Pedestrians are not the problem, they are a key part of making where we live safer and more enjoyable. If we were serious about keeping our neighborhoods safe for pedestrians we would take effective action against the biggest danger, motorists, and not penalize and scare people that might otherwise walk. Lower speed limits would be a great start.
Another powerful tool would be penalizing drivers that kill people. Running over an old man crossing the street in an unmarked crosswalk should not be chalked up to ‘oops, my bad’. Running over an elderly woman walking on the sidewalk should not result in no ticket.
These are real tragedies happening right where we live. The same police department that is scolding pedestrians for their flippant and unsafe ways is letting motorists walk away from a dead body without even a basic traffic citation. There is no clearer example of how much we will prioritize the car over all, we don’t even take killing someone seriously when it is done with a car. Will the SDPD be posting safety tips for motorists to Nextdoor as well? I won’t be holding my breath but hope so. I would suggest posting safety tips for each mode of transport in proportion to the amount of people killed by that mode in the past year.
Obviously this would result in an incredibly high amount of safety tips for motorists as compared to pedestrians, bicyclists, and bus riders. This would be appropriate because motorists are the biggest danger by a very, very wide margin to others.
The safety tips below are like addressing secondhand smoking by advising non-smokers to wear masks, avoid areas where smokers may be, and at the same time granting the majority of public land to smokers. It’s farcical and yet, in regards to transport, it is exactly what we are doing over and over in nearly every facet of our society. It’s time to stop stigmatizing safe transport and giving dangerous transport a free pass. Motorists are dangerous, pedestrians are not.
Taking Steps for Pedestrian Safety
A reminder for pedestrians and drivers
• Cross streets at a corner, using traffic signals where available and crosswalks
• Always look left, right, and left again before crossing a street and keep watching as you cross. Be aware that drivers have differing levels of eyesight and skill in operating motor vehicles.
• Pedestrians should be especially careful at intersections, where drivers may fail to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians while turning onto another street
• Make sure you are seen: Make eye contact with drivers when crossing busy streets, wear bright colors or reflective clothing if you are walking near traffic at night, carry a flashlight when walking in the dark.
• Walk on the sidewalk
• Walk defensively and be ready for unexpected events. Know what is going on around you and don’t allow your vision to be blocked by clothing, hats or items you are carrying.
• Watch the pedestrian signals, not the traffic signal and follow the “walk/don’t walk” lights.
• Watch out for parked vehicles. Parking lots can be dangerous
• Avoid alcohol and drugs as they can impair your ability to walk safely
• When crossing, use all of your senses and don’t use your cell phone for calls and texting
• Use particular caution when crossing driveways and alley entrances. Drivers may not expect you to be there or see you
• Adults should supervise children when crossing streets or walking in parking lots. Smaller children may be difficult for drivers to see and young children may not be able to judge whether it is safe to cross
• Walk dogs on short leashes
• MOTORISTS NEED TO BE VIGILANT OF PEDESTRIANS AND PEDESTRIANS NEED TO BE VIGILANT OF MOTORISTS. Although motorists have more responsibility under the law when operating a motor vehicle on city streets, pedestrians have more at stake