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.