City Smart / How to thrive in the urban environment of Southern California. : Walkers, Drivers Must Both Toe Line for Safety : Pedestrian fatalities can be prevented--if those on foot and in cars follow a few simple rules.
Legend has it that when William Faulkner was in town writing the film adaptation of “To Have and Have Not,” he took a stroll through Beverly Hills one night and was stopped by suspicious police.
Their question: Why was he not driving?
More than half a century later, Southern Californians are still not entirely sure what to make of pedestrians. Fewer than 1% of Los Angeles residents commute to work on foot. The reasons range from a development pattern that scorns walking to the fact that many people just plain don’t know how to walk in public properly.
A recent national survey by the American Automobile Assn. revealed that 25% to 50% of Americans don’t know when it’s legal to jog in the street, or how to use a signal-controlled crosswalk properly or even whether drivers need to stop for pedestrians about to cross.
For the record, it’s legal to continue across a crosswalk even after the “Don’t Walk” sign begins flashing, despite what 49% of survey respondents thought. But it’s illegal to jog in the street if adequate sidewalks are provided. If there are no sidewalks, walk on the shoulder facing oncoming traffic. And drivers are not required to stop at a crosswalk unless a pedestrian has already begun to cross.
(There are no laws against chewing gum and walking at the same time, but novices might want to take it one step at a time.)
All this confusion has a price. A pedestrian is killed by a vehicle every 93 minutes in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Murder, by comparison, occurs every 23 minutes, according to the FBI.
Unlike murder victims though, most pedestrian fatalities could easily be prevented simply by following the rules, said Arthur Anderson, director of the California Office of Traffic Safety.
“Most of us know the rules, but we refuse to adhere to them,” said Anderson, a former California Highway Patrol officer. “It’s a behavioral problem. These are some of the easiest traffic safety laws to comply with, but people still do things to get themselves injured.”
And it’s usually their own fault. More than 80% of the 850 pedestrians who died last year in California were doing things they should not have been doing--from trying to run across busy interstate highways to wandering drunk in the roadway or crossing the street in the middle of the block.
That still leaves 20% who were following the rules and ended up dead anyway. Even then, Anderson said, the burden of common sense is on the pedestrian. “There are laws that say if you are in the crosswalk then cars must stop. But don’t assume people are always going to see you and stop for you.”
Anderson said a quick study of the laws of physics--particularly the part about momentum equaling mass times velocity--should make it clear to pedestrians the risk in exercising one’s legal right of way over a ton or more of hurtling steel.
“They need to realize the difference between a person and a motor vehicle,” he said.
Stephanie Faul has another perspective. Faul, spokeswoman for the Auto Club’s Foundation for Traffic Safety in Washington, acknowledged that “pedestrians walk badly just as drivers drive badly.” But, she added, drivers and urban planners are the ones who really need to clean up their act.
“It’s simple courtesy,” she said, relating a story about a friend who was yelled at by a driver to get out of the crosswalk. “But the common attitude among drivers is that pedestrians are nuisances.”
Faul suggested that if motorists put themselves in the shoes of a pedestrian more often, they might be a little more forgiving. On rainy days, for instance, drivers--warm and dry--might do well to surrender their right of way to let wet and shivering walkers cross. Or drivers should slow down around schools, playgrounds or other places that attract lots of children.
Yet we barrel on. And what else can be expected? Most Southern California streets are designed with pedestrians almost as an afterthought. “In many parts of the country, it’s just very difficult to walk from one place to another,” Faul said. “Our general landscape is designed for cars, not for people.”
Try walking around the parking perimeter of almost any suburban mall.