“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 DayGlo™ 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 DayGlo™ 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.
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-Glo™ 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.