The way of the cross

Speaking as an automobile owner who many weeks logs more miles walking than he does driving, I can say with some authority – will do so right now, as a matter of fact – that pedestrian crosswalks, particularly those at intersections, are among the least safe places a Downtown Greenvillian not wrapped in several thousand pounds of sheet metal and airbags can be.

There are two reasons for this, the first being false assumptions. Drivers assume that pedestrians are governed in what they do by the will to live, and pedestrians assume that drivers are governed in what they do by the desire to commit as little manslaughter as possible. This just in, pedestrians: Drivers, by and large, are at greatest pains to avoid other cars, police scrutiny, large rocks, delay, long-horned sheep, insects and faeries. You’re not even on the list. Why? See first assumption.

The other reason is reaction time. Few if any crosswalks afford me as much buffer to discern and react to a driver’s intentions as I get when I cross the street mid-block. I also don’t enjoy staring down drivers to gain the right-of-way. Cars are much bigger, harder and faster than I am and I’d rather evade them, as non-aerobically as possible, than engage. So I move on down a ways and wait, not until the light says it’s safe for me to cross, not until my insurance company says it won’t consider what I’m doing an act of reckless self-endangerment, but until my depth perception and common sense tell me that even if that car coming around the corner is driven by someone who intends to kill me, he’ll fail.

According to a study released in April by the Alliance for Biking and Walking, South Carolina has the fourth highest pedestrian/cyclist fatality rate in the country, right behind our perennial confreres Mississippi and Alabama and The Octogenarian Projectile State, Florida. The study compared Charleston with four other mid-sized cities around the country and found that 32% of all traffic fatalities there involved pedestrians. Color me sky blue polyester surprised.

And while I’m happy to admit that there are, in ascending order of  insidiousness, lies, damned lies, and statistics, the ones I’ve just cited feel about right to me. So if you don’t mind, and even if you do, I’m going to bask in their validation until the light turns green and then, about 50 yards away from this cattle chute you call a “designated crosswalk”, I’m going to break the law.

See you in traffic court.