A Pedestrian’s Humble Request

I’ve written about the dangers cyclists face while navigating through vehicular traffic in American cities.  Now I’d like to add an appeal about a constituency that is even nearer and dearer to my heart: pedestrians.

For the most part, drivers are courteous to pedestrians like me — when they see them.  And therein lies the problem.

The big safety issue with downtown walking, in my view, is right turn on red.  Consider the following scenario that you’ve likely encountered during your driving day.  You approach an intersection in a city and you want to turn right.  You move out into the crosswalk to get a better viewpoint and see past those tall buildings that come right out to the sidewalk and block your view.  You crane your neck, peering intently to the left to see any traffic that might be approaching from that direction.  If you don’t see any to the left, you hit the gas and move ahead into that right turn.

But consider — what if a luckless pedestrian is walking toward you from the right?  He knows he has the right of way if he crosses with the “walk” sign in the crosswalk.  He might not even have been visible as you drove up to the intersection because his approach was blocked by a building on the right.  If you turn right without first looking right to see if a walker is there and he crosses just as you make your turn, the results aren’t going to be happy for either of you — but at least you’ll survive the encounter.

In my walks to and from work, I’ve seen this circumstance again and again, and the driver almost never looks to the right to see me entering the intersection.  If I don’t see them looking at me, I’ll stop rather than taking a chance of getting crushed by tons of rolling metal — and often the drivers just make the right turn, completely unaware of my presence and the fact that their inattention risks a terrible and entirely preventable accident.

So do me a favor, motorists:  Before you move out into the crosswalk and block it in advance of that right turn on red, look both ways and make sure no pedestrians are coming.  If they are near, let them have the crosswalk, unimpeded, that is their legal right of way.  Once they’ve gone, you can make that right turn.

Feet Off The Dash, Already

Some time ago I wrote about seeing a car where the driver, inexplicably and implausibly, was tooling down the road with her left foot hanging out the driver’s side window.  That’s pretty darned weird.  The most common example of vehicular foot shenanigans, of course, is to see people in the passenger seat with their feet up on the dashboard, pressed against the windshield.  In fact, I know one of those people rather well.

Any time you’re not using a device as it is designed to be used, you’re running a risk, and that’s as true with cars as it is for lawn mowers, power boats, or any other mechanism that comes with multi-page instruction manuals that feature lots of cautionary language and warnings in bold-faced black capital letters.  Cars are designed for drivers and passengers to keep their feet on the floor, and not have them on the dash or hanging out the window.

I ran across this piece about the risks you run when you keep your feet on the dash.  If you’re in that position when your car is in an accident, the car’s airbags will inflate in a split-second with explosive force, as they are designed to do, and drive your legs and knees back into your jaw, face and head with tremendous power just as your head and torso are being carried forward by the car’s motion.  You can imagine the terrible damage that can be done in that scenario — and that’s just one of the many appalling injury possibilities.  If you want to see some truly horrific images of bodily trauma, Google “feet on the dash” and see what you find.  It might just give you nightmares.

Maybe it’s more relaxing to ride with your feet on the dash, and maybe it’s just a bit more fun in a break-the-minor-rules-of-conduct kind of way.  Do yourself a favor, though, and resist the temptation.