Trusting No One

“Is he turning he has to turn there are barricades why isn’t he signalling why isn’t he slowing down he’s going to crash into the barricades is he turning he has to turn he’s going to hit me I can’t stay here which way should I move is he turning HE HAS TO TURN!”

As the speeding pick-up truck bears down on me, what is going through my mind is a bona fide run-on paragraph, there being no time for even mental punctuation.

Finally, the truck’s trajectory indicates its driver is trying to turn, thereby avoiding a collision with the subtle DayGloâ„¢ orange, five-foot-high wooden barriers blocking his forward progress. And, not incidentally from my perspective, thereby avoiding a collision with me, caught flat-footed just halfway across this intersection that I had started to cross with only a casual glance around. After all, there could be no danger here. A simple T-shaped intersection had been temporarily transformed into an even simpler L-shaped intersection by those DayGloâ„¢ orange, five-foot-high wooden barriers. Walking parallel to them, I would not even be crossing any traffic. In theory.

Although my feet can’t move at all, my mind moves on, superficially calmly, to the next logical thought.

“I wonder if he’ll make it.”

He does make the corner — just — and accelerates away along the two-lane country road at the edge of this subdivision, swerving and kicking up dust and gravel from the shoulder. Regaining control of my feet and my breathing, I walk carefully over to the curb. Continuing my walk, I pass the subtle ten-foot-tall “Road Closed Ahead” sign, the one the truck driver evidently did not see.

A few weeks later, I’m standing at another corner, watching all the cars go by. The left-hand turning light turns red, the through light turns green, the pedestrian-crossing light that I have activated turns to the white stick figure, and I step into the crosswalk. Two or three steps in, I hear the screech of car brakes unnervingly close.

Startled, I glance left at a car still rocking from the sudden stop. The horrified driver shows no sign of moving to complete her right-hand turn, so I take a breath and complete my crossing. Now what’s going through my mind is more like, “Yikes. Is there no safe way to cross a road around here?”

A few days later, as I near the end of a five-mile walk, my feet are gently suggesting that I not take any more steps than I have to. The nearest controlled intersection is definitely off my direct path home. This straight stretch of road may have four lanes of traffic going 45 miles/hour but it has no parking lanes and I can see for two blocks in both directions. I decide to jaywalk. After all, I haven’t done too well at intersections lately.

I wait through a few cycles as a break in traffic on one side sees steady or inconveniently spaced traffic on the other. A few minutes later, the road now completely clear in both directions, I walk smartly across, watching carefully both ways. I’m not strolling, but neither am I running. Never once does my heart rate rise, or my breathing threaten to stop. Taking full responsibility for my own safety, I cross the road completely uneventfully.

“Jaywalking is illegal or reckless pedestrian crossing of a roadway.”

Well, it might be illegal, but it’s not necessarily reckless.

As a pedestrian, what’s reckless is trusting drivers to process everything going on at intersections with four lanes of traffic both ways, dedicated left-turning lanes, on-demand turning phases and pedestrian lights, and adjacent strip mall entrances and exits on three of four corners. What’s reckless is trusting drivers to notice ten-foot-tall traffic signs and Day-Gloâ„¢ orange, five-foot-high wooden barriers. What’s reckless is trusting drivers, under any circumstances, to see me. I don’t do it when I jaywalk: Why would I do it when I cross at a controlled intersection?

So I have a new safety code.

I will avoid complex intersections where I can, simplifying the scan for me and for drivers.

I will jaywalk with care, because I am no longer as quick to react as I like to think I once was.

And no matter where I cross a road or any driving surface, I will think like a jaywalker, taking full responsibility for my own safety.

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6 Responses to Trusting No One

  1. Good list. We want you back here in one (articulated) piece.

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    When I took a motorcycle-riding course, a few (more than a few!) years ago, the best instruction they gave was, “You are invisible.” Don’t expect drivers to see you; drivers are looking for cars and trucks, not for motorcycles. So they won’t see you, even with your headlight on and your Day-Glo fluorescent skid suit….
    Thinking of myself, even in a car, as invisible has saved me from several accidents since then. I have difficulty applying it (or your jaywalking advice) in human relations, but I’m sure it has some value there too.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – I like it – Think invisible! I drove a light-grey Mazda truck (think small pick-up) after driving a safety-orange Volvo station wagon for several years. I couldn’t believe how many more people pulled out in front of the truck as if it were, I don’t know, invisible maybe? A former colleague painted his horse trailer candy-apple red for the same reason – that darned gun-metal grey just merged with the horizon, somehow. So colour can help/hinder, but I think your driving instructors were right. We see what we expect to see, and motorcycles and bicycles move differently, in a different space, than do cars and trucks.

  3. Isabel, I think you are correct about auto colour and the manufacturer’s choices can be deadly. We bought a technically “green” car this fall that seemed to me too “sage grey.” It did cross my mind that it could disappear against some kinds of foliage. The second day we owned it, I was turning left at a busy intersection of many lanes and thought I had done so uneventfully when, just then, a car in the right lane that had completed a right turn simply turned into my passenger side front door. “I didn’t see you,” the unfortunate lady said over and over again. Although I was almost half a car’s length ahead of her, going slowly from having completed a left, right-angled turn, I believed her. And regretted buying the “green” car. I’m reasonably certain some colours disappear to the brain’s interpretation no matter what the background colour.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – I’m glad that (I assume) no one was hurt. There’s a reason all airside vehicles use a bright shade of orange or yellow – these have, apparently, been tested for visibility under all weather conditions. Likewise, many emergency vehicles use eye-catching colours. (And sirens . . . I’d consider carrying one myself, but don’t want to add to the sensory overload out there!)

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