Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Hard Truth From Orlando

JAYWALKING – there’s a reason it’s illegal.

Motorized vehicles go on the roads. Pedestrians go on the sidewalks. Pedestrians and motorized vehicles are not a good mix, but because pedestrians have to cross roads to get to the other side, we made crosswalks and put in lights and made laws to stop the motorized vehicles so pedestrians could cross safely…if they just would. But since we’re so iffy about enforcement of pedestrians’ behavior, we have a bumper-crop of busted up foot-traffic when the feet meet the same ground as the motorized traffic.

Good thing this woman wasn’t jaywalking in Germany . Because then she’d be paying the driver who killed her son for the damages to his car. Failure to use the crosswalk when there’s one around means that you are at fault if you (or your child) is hit by a car while crossing the street; it’s all your fault, twit. Jaywalking and getting hurt in Germany means you can’t sue the driver who hits you – no matter how poor his driving record. Germans believe pedestrians are equally responsible for their conduct – not just the drivers of vehicles. The street is for cars. The crosswalk is for pedestrians. If you’re where you’re supposed to be, doing what you’re supposed to be, you’re not the liable one.

Somehow, here in the States, we’ve gotten the message that everyone is responsible except the person pulling a bone-headed stunt.

This mother was not charged with crossing where there’s no crosswalk. She was charged with jaywalking. Do you remember the cop who stopped the pair of girls for jaywalking and they went belligerent and combative and he hit the one in the face? I wrote a blog on that incident. Jaywalking is not crossing the street without using the crosswalk, but crossing it at a diagonal, putting yourself in the line of traffic for longer than necessary to get across the street – and this woman was apparently crossing a four-lane highway with a median (didn’t say if it was grassy and upraised or just a double line type median).

She has a four-year-old and she’s apparently not holding his hand, doesn’t have him in a stroller, it’s after dark, she’s out buying supplies (?) for her birthday (per the article, not the kids’ birthdays but her own), and she has two other (one presumes older) children with her. It’s a dangerous highway but she’s in a hurry and doesn’t want to cross at the crosswalk, which means walking further down but she’d be able to cross with a light – and one presumes a well-lit crosswalk, so they can be seen. Did she even have enough sense to dress them all in light-colored clothing? Why wasn’t the four-year-old in a stroller? Why wasn’t she or one of the other children holding his hand? Why is she out after dark with small children? The article doesn’t say she worked all day and this was just the only time to go shopping, only that she was out shopping for her birthday and missed a bus and was an hour late which put her coming home on foot in the dark with three children.

So they crossed. And they apparently crossed at an angle, putting themselves in the road longer than they needed to be in order to save a few steps to the entrance of the apartment buildings. And so they all got hit by a guy with a really lousy driving record and the four-year-old was killed. Mom won’t get the max at sentencing. But I think a conviction for jaywalking is warranted. She put herself and her children in harm’s way. And it’s epidemic in the area of the accident of locals jaywalking that the authorities felt an example needs to be made. And a judge or jury found her guilty of jaywalking, despite the tragic outcome. That’s pretty telling all by itself.

Candidly, the disregard for law and safety are part-and-parcel of some urban cultures. It’s a way of life to choose the easy way, not the safe or smart way – just the easy way. And hey, everybody else does it, is the excuse. You can’t fix culture. But you can fix the environment to restructure habits within the culture.

A couple of things need to happen in designing urban traffic areas. Americans need to erect a lot more over-the-street crosswalks like they routinely use on the Vegas Strip and other heavily congested traffic areas. Then pedestrians with brains can cross safely without necessitating building ground-level crosswalks, traffic lights, etc., and relying on drivers to honor those crosswalks/signals (which is a whole other problem). Developers must start designing residential and business complexes with entrances near the end of the city block instead of the middle of the block to encourage pedestrian traffic flow at the street intersections and traffic signals. And all public bus stops need to be moved to the ends of the city blocks and not in the middle of the city block to further discourage middle-of-the-block foot traffic.

Almost every apartment complex in the Orlando Metro area has the main entrance squarely in the middle of the block – but the traffic signals and crosswalks are at both ends of the block. The bus stops are placed directly across from the entrance of the apartment complex (on both sides of the street – entrance-side and across the street from the entrance) for the convenience of the residents, instead of at the ends of the block for their safety. This means the people getting off the bus opposite the complex are naturally going to try to run across the street to the entrance, that being the shortest route home. But if the bus stops were only toward the end of the block by the crosswalks, any foot traffic would routinely cross in the crosswalk and walk on down to the entrance – reducing their risk. People have to walk to the bus stop anyway. There’s no rule that says it has to be right at your door.

Disabled persons using public transportation have the smaller Lynx buses available that can come into the complex to pick them up. Those whose disabilities are not so confining can also catch the bus at the end of the block. And if the complex entrances were toward the ends of the block, this would facilitate pedestrian access to the bus and the disabled (often in wheelchairs) would also not be hazarding a cross-over in the middle of the street, a common sight here in Orlando .

We need to re-think urban plans and enforce the codes/ordinances to encourage people to do the right and smart thing by environmental design, and not by solely by conscious adherence to the law, which requires intellectual capacity for good decision making. People just aren’t that bright and convenience always out-votes compliance.

I’m sorry for the woman. I’m sorrier for the four-year-old. But like so many, mom’s done the wrong thing so many times without consequence that it was a complete shock and a tragedy when her poor decisions came smashing home and cost her little fellow, a child whose life depended on mom making smart and safe choices. Yes, she’s being punished by the courts. She didn’t just make a mistake; she willfully broke a law that would have protected that child, her, her other children, and deliberately put them all at risk for the sake of convenience. And hopefully, a legal conviction will make an impression on her neighbors and save a few lives until we finally get smart about the physical design of our communities.

Florida Cracker

P.S. The driver – he should be permanently barred from driving and serve as a habitual traffic offender (felony).

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