A few months back I wrote about how my young daughter was nearly flattened on a downtown sidewalk when a criminal cyclist blew a stop sign at full speed and made a right turn directly into her path.
This within-an-inch-of-her-life experience, which I witnessed while crossing the same sidewalk a step or two behind her, convinced us that Davis sidewalks are unsafe at any speed. They may, in fact, be even more dangerous than crossing the street where there is no sidewalk because they give the user the illusion of safety.
I have always told my kids that a sidewalk offers no guarantees. That it is not a protected bubble that no vehicle can penetrate. That once they’re out in the street where cars and bikes travel much faster than they do, they need to be ever-cautious.
Unfortunately, there was no way to see this particular bicyclist or to anticipate his unkindly, flat-out selfish and near-fatal actions. The intersection provides a four-way stop, seemingly as safe as safe can be. The cyclist was traveling in the same direction we were, but apparently far behind us and moving much faster. He ran through his stop sign at breakneck speed, hung a sharp right and came directly into my daughter’s path, seemingly out of nowhere.
It was one of those situations where all precautions were meaningless.
Since that time, we’ve become keenly aware that in this otherwise pleasant town, many people seem to be in a hurry for no particular reason. We get in and out of intersections much more quickly now, which presumably cuts down on the number of seconds we have a target on our backs.
Not surprisingly, since I first wrote about this incident, I’ve heard from many people with similar harrowing experiences, several that resulted in serious and long-lasting injury.
Which brings me to my friend Beulah, who was seriously injured in a crosswalk, but not by a bicycle.
“I am changed after being hit by an SUV,” Beulah writes. “I was relaxed and felt safe crossing Davis streets, and assumed I was visible to any driver approaching a sidewalk. Now vulnerable and vigilant, I feel invisible to cars.”
Beulah agrees that “even extreme vigilance doesn’t totally ensure my safety. Crosswalks are not protection for pedestrians. Instead, they are especially dangerous because people still believe they have the right of way and the mistaken assumption that drivers see them. The crosswalk myth needs to be exposed.”
Even attentive drivers rarely wait until the pedestrian has entirely cleared the crosswalk, as the law requires. No, once you have moved out of their path, they feel free to come through behind you, which is always dangerous for young children who sometimes drop something — a rock, a stick, a favorite toy — as they’re crossing a street and turn around in the crosswalk to retrieve it. Years ago, that very scenario cost a young Davis child his life.
The other day, while walking to the post office, I attempted to cross Pole Line Road at Lehigh Drive. I suspect because motorists don’t like to slow down at this spot, the city has installed a small “island” of sorts halfway through the crosswalk, where the weary – and wary – pedestrian can take refuge before crossing the rest of the street.
I made it safely to the island, then stood there as car after car after car whizzed by. Apparently they thought I had set up housekeeping on my tiny haven. Or maybe selling lemonade in the noonday sun. No doubt several East Davis children have been conceived at this very spot as their parents spent night and day trying to complete their journey across Pole Line Road.
Next time I need to mail a letter and find myself stuck in the middle of the street, I’ll be sure to bring a lawn chair, a cooler, a bag of briquets and a big, fat ribeye.
If that doesn’t stop traffic, nothing will.
— Reach Bob Dunning at firstname.lastname@example.org