Monday, October 08, 2012

Walk Safely and Carry a Big Stick

Friday, Grace was--very lightly, you must understand--hit by a car.  "Brushed" by a car is more accurate and she is not injured, thank God.  Still, it is very upsetting to get a phone call from your daughter telling you that a car actually came into contact with her person when she was in a crosswalk. I can feel my heart rate increase as I write this, two days later.

She had been crossing at a light at a small intersection in downtown Charlottesville (7th & Market, for interested locals).  She had a walk sign and she was in the crosswalk, when a car that was turning left from Market onto 7th sideswiped her.  Grace stumbled and just missed getting her foot run over. There was an instant of startled eye contact between the driver and Grace, then the driver continued driving and Grace continued walking.

I called the police because I had to do something.  I realize there is no chance the driver will be caught, but I felt that the incident should be reported, so at least the city can maintain accurate records of the number of pedestrians who are hit by cars.  We made arrangements to meet a police officer at the scene.

While we waited, we watched two women crossing Market St--they were in the crosswalk, they had a walk sign--and a turning car nearly plowed into them.  The driver's facial expression showed total perplexity.  You mean there might be people?  Crossing the street?  People who have the SAME GREEN LIGHT THAT YOU DO?

The police officer arrived, and as he walked to us, a driver who was backing up to parallel park nearly ran him over.  The upshot is that nothing is going to happen.  I explained to the officer my concern for statistics, and he rattled off a list of recent pedestrian vs car incidents, including one in which the driver was going 45 mph.  He said the report was likely to get "kicked out" because there was no injury, but we agreed that he would file the report, and that if Grace felt any delayed effects of the impact, we were to seek medical attention and call him.

I've been ranting about pedestrian issues for ages, and the turning-vehicle thing is a big problem.  A turning vehicle must yield to oncoming cars so why is it so hard to understand that they must also yield to pedestrians?  At some Charlottesville crosswalks, the actual walk sign is visible very briefly and then there's a countdown of seconds telling you how much time you have to get to the other side.  This is useful information for pedestrians, but some drivers seem to think that unless the sign actually says "WALK" they are justified to run you over.  The city has posted signs on traffic lights stating that turning vehicles must yield to pedestrians, and I see many drivers who respect this, but I see many others who don't.

One day, I was crossing Roosevelt Brown Blvd, at W. Main St.  The crosswalk was doing its flashing countdown and I had plenty of time.  I was nearly mowed down by a turning car and when I pointed at the walk sign, she indicated to me that I had no right to be in the crosswalk because it didn't actually say "walk."  She was wrong.  She was also a bitch.  Drivers, please disabuse yourselves of the notion that the only time a pedestrian may be in the crosswalk is when there is an active walk sign.  If you've ever actually crossed a street yourself, you would know that the walk signal doesn't last nearly long enough to get all the way across the street--not even for a fast walking person such as myself.

I also see a lot of stupid pedestrian behavior.  For a while--forgive me--I concluded that there are a lot of awfully stupid people in this town.  Then I realized that it's not stupidity but ignorance.  People no longer know how to cross the street.  We're so used to driving everywhere, that crossing the street has become a lost skill.  If pedestrians behave unpredictably, drivers will not know what to do.  So I realize that there is responsibility on both sides, but in a car/body collision, the car will always win, so the driver has the bigger responsibility.  Don't you remember being told in driver's ed to "look at the big picture"?  This means that when you are at a traffic light,  drivers are responsible for checking to see if there are pedestrians trying to cross before turning.

The most infuriating thing about a near miss with a car is the lack of acknowledgement.  You feel about as significant as a piece of litter.  On one day, I had two near-misses with cars.  In one instance, the driver sped on, apparently unaware or uncaring of the fact that he or she had nearly maimed a human.  In the other instance, the driver paused, waved, apologized.  That made all the difference.  That simple acknowledgement dissolved my rage and I saw a human who had made a mistake, rather than a faceless driver.

When Jon heard about Grace he was upset too, naturally, and suggested walking with a big stick to pound on cars that get too close.  I have to admit that I'm so upset that I think violence of this kind could be justified.  How much violence has been done to pedestrians by drivers?  You don't like the idea of a heavy stick cracking down on your hood?  Maybe I don't like it when your bumper barely misses my pelvis.


  1. I witnessed a hit & run on a pedestrian (a runner) by a car a few Saturdays ago. It was surreal the way the runner was thrown up over the hood of the car and then thrown off. Thankfully, he was shook up, but not hurt. There were a number of witnesses and the cops were called.

    What got me about that situation was how the cops handled it. The young man that had been hit refused medical attention at the scene, but clearly was in shock. The cop that was talking to him used what I call 'copspeak', "I can't put these handcuffs on you and take you to the ER, but you need to get looked at". I could tell the young man was feeling threatened (as would anyone if they were spoken to that way). He did end up going to get looked at, but I think that was because of the mom-style lecture I gave him (and the cop) before I left the scene.

    I don't think they've found the driver, but at least the runner was okay. It is scary to witness anyone getting hit by a car, let alone your child. Glad she's okay.

  2. Becky, I wonder if this is one of the ones the cop told me about. He mentioned a hit and run with several witnesses on Preston Ave.

  3. Well we all know that even the police are running people down in crosswalks in this town. I haven't driven much anywhere else but my suspicion is that Charlottesville has the most ignorant drivers on the planet.

  4. I've been almost hit on numerous occasions, including one when I heard the car speeding up in order to take a right just in front of me. God forbid that I slow down that asshole for even a half second.

  5. When Lil and I take a walk, we've begun carrying a few small rocks just in case a driver forgets a rule or two--like, you can't shout sexual insults, you can't roll over my feet, and so on. A door ding or windshield chip is a good reminder to use one's driving manners. (We haven't used any yet, but we will if we need to!) Power to the pedestrian!

  6. Clubbing the hoods of the drivers who brush too close to pedestrians seems like an awfully satisfying idea.
    Slow the f*ck down, people! They actually did a thing in my town where they staged a "blind" person (with white cane, etc.) in a crosswalk to kind of entrap drivers not obeying the yield to pedestrians laws. Not sure of the details, but I remember it had a positive effect on things.

  7. I like that idea, Jenny!

    I grew up in a college town, and us pedestrians had the right of way --always. But I imagine things are different now, since that was 35 years ago.

    In the little town I live near, we have one four way stop. And it's obvious that both drivers and pedestrians have no idea how to handle it when both are at the intersection. I'm of the mind that the pedestrian always has the right of way, but sometimes it takes some hand-waving to convince them of that. With good reason, of course, they've probably been almost mowed down at that intersection previously!

    I'm glad Grace's accident was not any worse.

  8. NB, yes there was that one particularly shocking incident when the Albemarle police officer ran into a man on a wheelchair. This was another turning vehicle incident.

    Jen, people are such assholes!

    Jenny, stones are a good idea. And not as heavy as sticks.

    Green Girl, that's pretty cool about the experiment with the blind person.

    Cassi, don't get me started on four-way stops! Nobody here knows what to do either.

  9. Hey, I love this post and think it's such an important thing to talk about. As a walker, runner, occasional biker and a driver, I think about this all the time. I've scared myself more than once while driving with potential (but not even close) near-misses with either pedestrians or bicyclists. However, while I have worked out that equation in my head many times, saying "if it's a contest between car and pedestrian, the car will always win", I always come to a different conclusion, which is that the pedestrian should be hyper vigilant, knowing that often they are harder to see than a car sometimes is, especially at night.

    Sorry to hear about Grace's near miss. That is very scary.

  10. There is a simple solution to this problem, and it might be worth fighting City Hall for. One name for it is the "Denver Shuffle," although I think in DC (where they have instituted 2 of them) it was called a "Barnes Crossing." Essentially, ALL traffic stops and ALL pedestrians cross at once (even diagonally). A friend of mine and I are working on getting a few of these established in particular dangerous intersections in our town.

  11. I think that you're correct in that people are forgetting the basic rules of being a pedestrian.


  12. I actually wouldn't mind a big stick pounding on my car if it kept me from hitting a pedestrian. There should be no downside to this plan.

  13. oh how a pedestrian I have noticed now that about 1 in 3 times I use a zebra crossing without stop lights....... plentiful in UK...... a car will drive over while I'm crossing which is totally against the law and highly dangerous!!

  14. Amen and amen! On a different (but slightly related) note, bicyclists do the same thing around walking/running people on our city's fitness trails. It's one thing to ride your bike, but here everyone thinks he's Lance Armstrong qualifying for the Tour de France as they mow over small children and the elderly without so much as an "on your left" warning.

  15. What is amazingly upsetting is the fact that if someone runs you over and then stops and waits for the police, there are few if any dire consequences to them even if you die (as log as they are sober.