You’re walking down the street, minding your own business on a pretty spring morning. When you reach an intersection where there are cars approaching that are getting ready to turn right into your path, so long as you’ve got the walk sign you can proceed directly into the intersection, knowing that you’ve got the right of way. Right?
Well, that’s what the law says, but this is one of those instances where the law doesn’t really match up well with the practical realities of life.
Commuters are our friends and neighbors, but things can change when they get behind the wheel, even in friendly Columbus, Ohio. In their cars they’re in their own little cocoon of leather and steel, with the radio playing and other thoughts on their mind. Many of the approaching drivers likely are stressed, potentially distracted, and eager to get to where they are going as fast as possible. They’re not bad people, but often they seem to be focused on just about anything other than the possibility of walkers entering that intersection.
So after a few instances where drivers have abruptly turned into the intersection while I am in the crosswalk and cut me off because they think they can squeeze through before I fully make it across the street — and it can be a pretty harrowing experience when a massive SUV or oversized pick-up truck rolls by a foot or so in front of you — I’ve taken a new approach. Now I try to look directly at the first approaching car in line, make eye contact with the driver, and give them a little wave to let them know that I’m there and I appreciate their forbearance while I walk through the intersection. It’s the same kind of wave, for example, that you traditionally give if you’re in your car trying to change lanes and a Good Samaritan eases off and lets you move over.
I think this “walker’s wave” serves two functions. First, it reveals you to be a human being, and the little “thank you” wave seems like a friendly gesture in the hurly burly of the modern world. Second, if you can get a return wave from the driver, you know for sure they’ve actually seen you and will let you pass — and maybe they will feel good about their forbearance and will keep an eye out for us walkers in the future.
These days, it can’t hurt to look for little opportunities to acknowledge our common humanity.