Monday, April 06, 2015

Two chance encounters

I had two chance encounters with strangers, recently--one pleasant and one traumatic.

Around 10:00 pm one evening, I was walking to my car downtown, alone.  I heard footsteps behind me--a woman's footsteps--and she seemed to be purposely matching her pace to mine. I wondered if she felt safer, walking close to me and then I wondered if she was trying to protect me. Perhaps both.  She got to her car first and she called to me, asking if I was OK and did I need a ride to my car.  My car was only a little further on, so I thanked her and said I was fine.  I got to my car safely, but I appreciated her kind offer.

I was walking home from work last week and was in the crosswalk at an intersection.  At this particular intersection, cars approaching the crosswalk have a stop sign, but in order to be able to see well enough to proceed, they need to pull way forward of the crosswalk.  Anyway, I was in the crosswalk and a car was approaching, at a fairly high speed.  I was directly in the path of this car and he didn't slacken his speed at all, but did come to an abrupt stop, at the exact margin of the crosswalk--or about eight inches from me.  So I made a gesture.  Not the gesture you're thinking, but a frustrated, both arms extended, palms out, half shrugging sort of gesture as if to say, "What the hell, dude?"

I have to interject here and say that as a pedestrian, this is one of my pet peeves -- drivers who approach pedestrians in crosswalks at a high rate of speed without slowing down or acknowledging in any way the presence of a human being in their path.  Considerate drivers will slow down a bit.  It's a way of letting you know that they're paying attention, of acknowledging your existence, a reassurance that they're not going to flatten you three seconds hence.  Because drivers, here's the thing:  I CAN'T READ YOUR MIND.  I don't know if you see me in the crosswalk or if you're texting or daydreaming or homicidal.  I really can't fucking tell.  Therefore, it's not okay to speed at a crosswalk when there's a pedestrian in it, even if you fully intend to stop.  Also, I refuse to scurry out of the way of approaching cars, like a god-dammed rat.  I have absolutely as much of a right to cross the street as a motorist does to drive on it.

Back to my situation.  I had made my frustrated gesture, reached the sidewalk and the guy in the car rolled down his window and yelled something at me.  So I yelled back, calling him a fucking asshole. I had turned down the street he'd approached me on, and I didn't look to see which way he went.  I was shaken up.  I don't usually yell at strangers on the street, although maybe I can say in my defense that it had been an even shittier day than usual at work.

I walked a couple more blocks and turned down a different street, when all of a sudden the same car pulled up and honked at me.  This driver had actually looped around and had come looking for me.  I had considered this possibility, so I was ready for a fight.  I've said before that I have a lot of pent-up rage from my cumulative experience as a pedestrian on the streets of Charlottesville, and this was the moment when it exploded.  We had a big, loud, shouting match in the middle of Blenheim Avenue. He thought the fact that he stopped just short of hitting me meant that I had no right to be upset.  He simply could not understand why a person might have a problem with his car speeding at them with no indication that it was going to stop.  "BUT I STOPPED!" he kept shouting.  DO YOU WANT A MEDAL?

There I was, in my best go-to-meeting outfit, brawling in a public street with some guy.  He finally gave up and drove away and I walked the rest of the way home, too traumatized to even tell Jon or the kids what had happened.

I'm not sure if the point of writing about this incident is to illustrate my hyper-reactive state of mind lately, or to point out how much it sucks to be a pedestrian in Charlottesville.  I've heard it said that Charlottesville is a pedestrian-friendly town, and I guess it is if all you're doing is walking for leisure or strolling the downtown mall.  There is, however, a HUGE difference between walking for leisure and walking with a purpose.  I walk to get to and from work, which means I must cross  Avon St., Cherry Ave, Ridge St. and West Main St.  There is no way to avoid them and I frequently have difficulty crossing these streets.

I've been splashed head to toe with icy water by drivers who speed on without a glance.  I've stood in the pouring rain while driver after driver ignores me as I stand at the crosswalk.  I've been nearly killed by turning drivers more times than I can count.  I've had drivers pull into the shoulder to go around cars that have stopped for the crosswalk, and try to kill me that way.  Last year, I was in the crosswalk at the intersection of Ridge and Cherry and a car ran the red light--I estimate his speed was over 60 mph-- and came so close to hitting me, my life flashed before my eyes.  He lost control of his car, jumped the curb, finally stopping on the sidewalk by the tennis courts.  These are the things I've had to tolerate as a pedestrian in Charlottesville and I'm sick of it.  I know it's insane to gesture or call strangers fucking assholes, but it's time for pedestrians to start fighting back.



10 comments:

  1. This is definitely not a pedestrian friendly town. I've had a few screaming matches myself with assholes refusing to slow down for children in the road. Pat's pretty sure I'm going to get shot during one of them at some point. If you attempt to run over my child, I will scream at you. That's only fair.

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    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one, LOL. But seriously, cars don't own the road.

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  2. I'm a driver more than a pedestrian and I have no problem stopping for people in crosswalks. I do, however, feel impotent rage toward UVA students who stumble into the street randomly and pedestrians who talk on their cell phones while blithely stepping into the street without looking first.

    I don't think as a pedestrian I'd ever confront a driver. I'm too afraid of the consequences.

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    1. I agree that the pedestrian has some responsibilities as well, such as not jumping out in front of drivers who don't have time to stop. My issue is with drivers who have had a chance to see me and still choose to ignore me, or drivers who are so resentful of the fact that people need to cross the street that they are aggressive or menacing with their vehicles.

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  3. I grew up in Ann Arbor, MI, another college town. The pedestrians OWNED that town --we jaywalked, we never looked at the drivers, we just expected them to stop for us. Of course, so many of the pedestrians are high school and college students, and at that age we all feel fairly immortal. Still, it made it great for all pedestrians, including my parents who walked to teach at the University every day. When I go back to Ann Arbor to visit family, I drive very carefully, going on the assumption that a pedestrian could step out in front of my car at any point, and they have that right.

    There are two cross walks I drive through daily on my commute. One is in the small town I live in, it's a four-way stop, and I get so irritated at the drivers who just ignore pedestrians waiting to cross. Maybe this isn't the law, but I think pedestrians always have the right of way at four-way stops, even if they haven't stepped into the road yet. The second cross walk is on campus. If a pedestrian is in or close to the cross walk, I slow down, timing it so I don't actually have to stop, but giving them enough time to cross without feeling hurried.

    I am all for screaming matches with ignorant drivers. You go!

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    1. Ann Arbor sounds nice. I've been to other cities in the US (Madison, WI, for example) where conditions for pedestrians and cyclists are much better than they are in Charlotesville.

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  4. I'd be IRATE to be treated that way by a vehicle, too. I think you did the right thing and the fact that he circled back proves he knows he was an asshole.
    It's a small courtesy to slow down a little when others on foot or bike are sharing the pavement. Why don't people understand that?

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    1. The fact that he circled back and hunted me down scares me now that I'm not fueled by rage. I was SO angry.

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  5. My town is touted as being walkable, but it is actually not so great. Sidewalks end abruptly for no reason, and major intersections have really short walk signals, during which you still have to look out for turning cars unless you have a death wish. The problem is, when you have a lot of pedestrians and a lot of cars, there shouldn't be ANY cars moving while a walk signal is lit. I saw this in Amherst, MA - ALL the lights go red and pedestrians cross in any direction they like, including diagonally. It was heaven. I think DC has instituted a couple of these type of intersections (they call them Barnes Crossings), which probably save lives, as pedestrians are always getting hit by turning Metrobuses (there must be a blind spot). My goal is to get this type of crossing in our town, but I bet it will take years.

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    1. Those crossings would be great. Turning drivers are THE most dangerous thing for pedestrians. A journalist from Roanoke was killed by a turning driver in Charlottesville a few years ago. One of the saddest things about the incident was all the people who commented on the news story, trying to blame her for her own death. Someone on two feet trying to cross a street? The audacity!

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