Sometimes pedestrians do stupid things for a reason

Near the end (or the beginning if I’m going home) of my regular 50-mile commute (by subway, rail and foot), I have to cross a 3 lane road in Providence, RI. The road falls along my walking route from the train station to my lab. This is the most direct route, and there are often several other people walking the same path along with me. This crossing has a crosswalk, but no light, and no light very close by.

This crossing is often very difficult. Cars on this busy road are not expecting pedestrians. They are moving quickly (I’d guess the average speed when traffic is moving well is 45 miles per hour). Even if one car sees you waiting to cross and stops, granting you right-of-way, cars coming behind will honk at that car and whip around in the next lane. I’ve gotten to the point in navigating this crossing, where I will stand on the sidewalk, 8-10 feet back from the intersection, avoiding eye contact with drivers so that none will be tempted to stop for me, because I know for certain other drivers will not stop. My safety, and likely the safety of the considerate driver who may be rear-ended, will be compromised if I too aggressively attempt to cross at this crosswalk.

So I stand there, averting my eyes, waiting for a clear gap in traffic across all three lanes. I’ve learned that that gap eventually comes, but at rush hour in the early evening, sometimes I have to wait a long time (multiple minutes, far longer than any vaguely reasonable light cycle). I’m often tempted to overestimate my ability to cross safely.

I do wait. I do cross safely. But I’ve seen multiple near misses. In these near misses, I’m certain that the driver was surprised and shocked by how “stupid” the pedestrian was who crossed in front of them. But every pedestrian I’ve seen in this situation (a) had the right of way (we were in a crosswalk!) and (b) had attempted to cross safely in an extremely difficult situation.

Driver awareness matters (it’s a crosswalk! Don’t pass a driver stopped there!). But so does street design. It’s like this intersection is designed hurt people. And sure, maybe I could work to find a way advocate for a pedestrian light there, but I’m just trying to get to work. It get’s tiring. People shouldn’t have to fight for the ability to cross a street on foot. On a reasonably heavily trafficked route near a major transportation hub. At a crosswalk.


About nathan

Nathan lives in North Cambridge, MA with his wife and two kids, and prefers never to be in cars if he can avoid it. Nathan thinks parenting is way more fun when you don't have to worry about car seats.
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