Tuesday, November 17, 2009

a pedestrian's manifesto


Some months ago I updated my status on the old facebook to say something like, "april is a bold pedestrian" (third person updates are nigh obsolete now, but my fb pals should understand what i'm referring to, yes?) and what did that even mean, anyhow?

Well, here's the thing. I believe in walking. A lot. I believe that there are too many cars on the road and if every person who, technically, *could* drive didn't. . . as often as possible, that would only be better for everyone. We have lived in very walkable places and in a metropolitan area where the only walking most people (including ourselves) did was from the front door to the car. Which is to say, I am familiar with undue conditions and constraints upon ideals. But I still think most people (including myself) do not walk enough. We are a lazy people. Anybody reading this right now grew up in an era of cheap fossil fuels and so, of course, we default to that machine power to move us. It's fast. It's convenient. I get it.

We picked this house of ours because it was within walking distance of a lot of places we would frequent (library, park, natural foods store, book store, etc.) and we really do walk to those places frequently. Sometimes we just walk to buy a newspaper or sometimes we walk just to walk (and look in houses at dusk, because no one's jumped up and closed curtains yet, wait. is that just me?) but always, we walk. We walk in the rain and the wind and the sun and the snow. Do we ever push the leaving envelope too late and have to take the car instead? Absolutely. Am I ever cold and crabby and don't want to switch my comfy clogs for rain boots and opt, then, to drive? Yes. The car is a safety net and I sure depend on it. But our goal is to walk often and we really, really do.

The problem is, unsurprisingly, drivers. We live in a car culture. In a little automotive bubble, drivers can pretend not to notice that walkers are trying to cross the street. But, see, per Oregon law (what are the rules in your state?) EVERY INTERSECTION IS A CROSS-WALK, marked or not marked. (Go ahead, look it up. I found our driver's manual online.) And you know what pedestrian's have in a cross walk? The fricking right of way. And you know what this pedestrian does with that right? She fucking embraces it. (so much for obsolete third person usage and, also, any attempt to quell any sailor language).

This is one of my hot buttons, can you tell? And I didn't really move here to become some kind of champion for Pedestrian Rights, but every single damn time I walk anywhere, I see such knuckleheaded stuff on the road, it's a role I've taken on, by default.

This is what I believe about walking:

I believe pedestrians should NOT wait for cars to stop
. Say what? I am watchful, aware. I step out into the street and, if traffic is approaching, I raise my hand in a STOP! motion. Do I step directly in front of fast moving vehicles? No way. But, keep in mind, all of the streets I frequent have a speed limit of 25. Twenty-five! Any car going 25 should have no trouble stopping for a crossing pedestrian. (do most cars drive 25? nope.) If a car is in the intersection as I approach, I pause, wait. I am not stupid. I don't expect appropriate, rule-following vehicles to have to slam on their brakes for me. I don't move my body fully into the street until any oncoming car has stopped. But I do step out with purpose.

I believe a pedestrian should never, ever apologize for walking. I can't tell you how it pains me to see walkers give cars that little wave of apology as they cross the street. You know that embarrassed little "I'll be out of your way in just a second, hold on, I'm sorry" waving shrug? There's no place for that! I don't care if the Car still reigns supreme. It's NOT SUPREME! See, the law on my side, above. And also, the writing on the walls. I am not advocating a bird flip toward every motorist, no. But, don't apologize! If you're behind the wheel do you wave a thanks for stopping! wave when a car in the opposite lane stops at a four-way? No. If I'm walking and a car stops (correctly, appropriately) for me *without* me having to step first into the street and raise my hand and employ my menacing "i've got my eyes on you" gesture (ok, so maybe more hilarious than menacing, but since i'm not going to marry into the mob anytime soon, i don't have a lot of chances to look like i mean business and mean it), I will give a quick wave of acknowledgment. But this is not an apologetic wave. This is not a thank you wave. Wait. Let's stop here a second. NO THANKS ARE REQUIRED! Pedestrians HAVE the right of way, rememeber? Thanking motorists for stopping is like thanking, when you're behind the wheel, other cars at red lights. So I give a wave of acknowledgment. I see you stopped there, I'm proceeding ahead, ok. I might even make eye contact and smile! (A topic for another day: how I make a lot of eye contact and smile a lot and how, it seems, most people in the world do not.) But I WILL NOT apologize. I will not thank you for pausing (for what? three fucking seconds?!) for me. I will not hasten my step and run across the street. let's make another paragraph for that one, shall we?

I believe pedestrians should never run across the street. I tell this one to my children, often. Not so much the big one anymore, but the little one, yeah. He holds my hand as we walk all over town and our whole erroneous Bigger! Better! Faster! More! society penetrates his self conscious and he understands, despite my indoctrination, that it's all about the car here. He can't help but feel spooked in the middle of the road. And I understand the urge to start running. Don't run! I tell him. Keep walking at your regular pace. Don't stop for pebbles, don't rearrange the bag on your shoulder, don't scratch your ankle, keep walking. But don't, don't, don't run. For one, how long does it take a person to walk across the street? Even crossing 4 lanes, it would be, what? Seven seconds? Trivial. Cars can wait. And for two, the last thing you need to do in the middle of an intersection is trip and fall and running is more likely to result in falling. Don't run. Just keep walking. And don't ever, ever swing your arms and bounce a little in that "look-at-me-hustling-out-of-your-way-so-fast" fake walking run thing. It's your intersection. Walk across it like you're supposed to be there.

So if you're a pedestrian, too (and if you're not, why not? if your destination is within a couple of miles, I encourage you to use your feet before your fossil fuel), you should also be so bold. And if we all were so bold, pretty soon, it wouldn't be bold at all. It would be common and understood, "this is how we share the road." And that would be beautiful.


Anonymous said...

As someone who didn't even bother learning to drive until I was nearly 40, I say "AMEN!"


Anonymous said...

as someone who doesn't drive, another AMEN! it makes me smile to think of you throwing looks at drivers in your little town...if they make it over my way, they're seeing the same look!

L. said...

I absolutely agree with you. I am so sick of people's attitudes -- that because they are in a big machine, their right to be in a space takes priority. It's just another form of bullying, which just happens to be not only jerky, but very dangerous.

I much, much prefer to walk. I believe without a doubt that more people would, if our urban spaces were designed better and were more accessible. One of the only things I'm unhappy with about our current living situation is that we have to drive to get to anything. We can't afford to live close to services, in town, here -- real estate is crazy. We're on an active hunt for a place that we can afford.

Deb said...

Every time I walk across a parking lot or the street now I think of what you wrote.