Watch Out for Walkers
I almost hit a guy today with my car. This, only one day after I had explicit conversations with several people about how unsafe it sometimes feels to be a pedestrian or bicyclist, exposed on the streets to the nasty multi-ton behemoths careening around us.
I’m at the wheel, preoccupied as usual, headed east on Mission, intent on getting to where I’m going and not wanting to waste a moment, but also mindful of the consciousness raised the day prior, telling myself to slow down, pay attention. Almost as if on cue, a stooped and raggedy figure came out from the curb, from under the overhanging branches, into the faded paint lines of the crosswalk.
He was the color of the street – sort of gray and beaten down by sun and heavy traffic, a melded mass of weariness. And suddenly, there he was, emerging from his camouflage, stepping right in my lane. I startled from my thoughts and braked, heavily and awkwardly, obviously caught unawares. He turned sharply and quickly, met my eye, then bent his mottled head and shuttled safely across.
I gripped my steering wheel, and exclaimed out loud. Our lives could have been intertwined and radically altered in that moment. Instead, we both carried on, almost as if nothing had happened.
Between 2003 and 2012, 28 pedestrians were killed on Spokane city streets, according to Councilwoman Candace Mumm who proposed an ordinance that she hopes will make Spokane safer for walkers. The ordinance, which passed this week, will require marked crosswalks near schools, parks, hospitals, churches, trail crossings and other locations identified in the as-yet-unfinished Pedestrian Master Plan.
A crosswalk didn’t improve safety for a member of the Community Building who was recently struck by an SUV while in the crosswalk at Spokane Falls Boulevard and Stevens. Blueprints for Learning Training Manager, Patty Shastany, feels lucky she wasn’t more seriously hurt in the incident, which left her with chipped and cracked bones in her foot and numerous gashes and abrasions.
Patty reported that the instructor in a traffic safety class she ironically took a few months before being hit, told the class that crosswalks are actually especially dangerous for pedestrians because they give walkers a false sense of security.
In fact, Councilman Mike Fagin voted against Mumm’s ordinance, citing the startling statistic that between 2004 and 2014, more than 1,400 pedestrians were struck by cars in Spokane, and of those, 467 were hit while in the street in marked crosswalks.
In fact, many of Spokane’s existing crosswalks need re-tooling. Mumm pointed to the new Centennial Trail crosswalk on Post Street near City Hall as one example of a new-fangled walkway that can help make pedestrians safer. That crosswalk slopes down from the curb and into the street where steel hoops provide additional protection from traffic. The actual crossing is shortened to reduce the distance pedestrians are exposed to oncoming traffic.
One problem with much of existing crosswalk design in Spokane is that drivers are busily pointed where they are going, and looking the wrong direction for what’s most important – how to merge with other vehicles, not necessarily on the lookout for people.
In an article in the Spokesman Review, Mumm emphasized that the core issue behind the ordinance is safety, but it also touches on issues of livability and economic revitalization. The South Perry district saw a dramatic resurgence after crosswalks and other sidewalk amenities were improved, Mumm said.
Regardless of engineering improvements, pedestrians must remember those cardinal rules from yesteryear – stop, look and listen. Make eye contact with drivers before crossing an intersection, however safe it might feel.
For drivers, bottom line is – if you’re behind the wheel, you need to always be aware of the most vulnerable people sharing the streets with you, be they walkers or cyclists. As our city’s streets are teeming with people in these beautiful September days, be it kids back in school or guys venturing out from the underbrush, we need to always be mindful of the potential impact of our actions, and steer clear of painful encounters.