I had this morbid, strange thought the other night as I walked across the street to work out at my neighborhood fitness center.
Wouldn’t it be ironic if I were run over by a vehicle the day after our newspapers began publishing a series of stories on pedestrian safety?
Safe and sound. But I share many of the sentiments expressed by pedestrians who TBN correspondent Brian Goff interviewed a few weeks ago. Here’s a quote from a person who spoke to him: “I nearly got hit twice recently. I walk this way every day and I have to be constantly on my guard for cars that don’t stop even when I have the right of way.”
That’s troubling, but true. Governments are up against a powerful force despite their best efforts to make our streets safer for pedestrians; it’s called human nature.
As an avid walker and jogger, I’ve seen the dangers of trying to cross an intersection where numerous vehicles are converging, particularly at rush hour when drivers are tense, tired and in a hurry.
I’ve seen the listless faces of drivers looking straight ahead, oblivious to pedestrians approaching the crosswalk. Some don’t even bother to stop at the intersection while they make their turns. Others are making love to their cell phones. Dueling horns. Stereos blaring. Vehicles blocking the crosswalks.
Can anybody out there see me?
The show goes on almost any evening I try to cross the street near the fitness center, which is only a minute’s walk from my condominium.
Bright yellow yield-to-pedestrian signs greet motorists, but the intersection is devoid of traffic signals. Should it be? Can’t say. I’m not a traffic engineer or a law enforcement officer. All I know is that I’ve become scared to cross the intersection at dark because I can’t see the eyes of the drivers whose paths I intend to cross.
Since I interviewed a St. Petersburg transportation planner, Mike Frederick, for our series on pedestrian safety, I’ve tried to take his advice while I’m walking or jogging.
“Be predictable,” he said. “Be where you are supposed to be so the motorists at least have a chance of seeing you. Don’t cross on red lights. Cross at the intersections. Cross at crosswalks. Wear bright clothes at night. This is the typical stuff that causes 70 percent of our crashes. Be predictable.”
I get it, I think. But I hate being the invisible pedestrian.
Recently, a yellow walk signal at an intersection directed me to cross Indian Rocks Road.
I took one step onto the street and a motorist started to accelerate. I stopped, noticing that he was looking straight ahead. Then he hit the brakes, half-heartedly lifting a hand in an attempt at an apology.
A week later, I approached a crosswalk at nearly the same time a motorist did. He blocked the crosswalk for several seconds, even though there were no vehicles crossing the intersection. As I waited for him to get out of the way, he cleaned his sunglasses.
Any time now, I thought. Oh, I forgot. I’m invisible.
A few days ago, I was attempting to use a marked crosswalk in Dunedin on Alt. U.S. 19 near Edgewater Park. Six to eight vehicles whizzed by me before a motorcyclist stopped and let me cross.
As we’ve reported in the last two weeks, local governments in Pinellas are taking steps to address pedestrian safety. St. Petersburg has installed more than 40 rapid flashing beacons at crosswalks and has plans for more. As they operate, they resemble a police strobe.
The Florida Department of Transportation also believes the beacons are effective and plan to install more of them in the county, such as along Gulf Boulevard. Agency officials caution, though, that if the beacons are used at too many intersections, they will be taken for granted. Nevertheless, I’m all for seeing more of the flashing beacons, including the intersection I cross to go work out. I won’t walk to the fitness center at dusk anymore.
My new plan is to drive there, silly as it may seem to ride in a car for one-tenth of a mile to avoid walking.
As I let my Hyundai run interference for me, I’ll be ever mindful of pedestrians approaching the intersections.
I know how it feels to be invisible.
Tom Germond is executive editor of Tampa Bay Newspapers.