Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What safety means

One way to reduce pedestrian-related incidents is to discourage pedestrians from, well, pedestrian-ing.

From this Boston.com article, it appears that the conditions on a stretch of Perkins St. near Jamaica Pond are so pedestrian-unfriendly that people are no longer crossing. While this reluctance to cross undoubtedly reduces the potential for car/pedestrian conflicts, it's hardly a good safety outcome.


dr2chase said...

Your link is borked, you might want to fix that.

Draconian enforcement of traffic laws might help. On the MM trail this morning, I dismounted at a known-problematic crosswalk intending to walk my bike across.

If I take the trouble to hop off my bike at a crosswalk, that means, I intend to use the crosswalk, NOW. Law says cars stop, if they cannot, they must be driving too fast for conditions, if they cannot see me approach (visibility is not good there) they must be driving too fast for conditions. There's no technicality that lets a driver blow through, the law says stop for pedestrians. So of course, what do we get, but a guy in a car, hoping he can avoid stopping. We had a little discussion about the law.

So, easy, get some plainclothes pedestrians, get a video camera, start crossing streets and handing out tickets for every little pedestrian-unfriendly infraction. Drivers don't want to stop for crosswalks, they can dismount, just like I did, and walk their vehicle across. ("Same roads, same rules", right?)

Sean Roche said...

Linked fixed. Thanks.

Enjoying visualizing drivers walking their cars across crosswalks.

Anonymous said...

Well, they shouldn't be crossing the road just past a blind curve any way. Perhaps if they walk the 100-200 yards to the existing crosswalk (with light) this wouldn't be an issue.

But entitlement is such a wonderful thing, isn't it? :)

dr2chase said...

That "entitlement" of which you speak is legally mandated. If there is no nearby crosswalk, pedestrians have a right to cross the street, and cars are required to stop. If the curve is blind, then cars are required to reduce their speed to correspond to the reduced visibility, otherwise it is unsafe for conditions.

A shopping cart might help. First push cart into road, wait for cars to see it and stop, then walk out and take it the rest of the way across the road. If the car doesn't stop, the pedestrian is safe. If the car hits the cart, clearly, good thing it was a cart, not a person, right? And yes, a pedestrian might be a little bit more aggressive about putting a cart into the street, than their own fragile selves. That's the whole point -- they have the right, and rude drivers in cars are not allowing them to use it.

As far as "too expensive" goes, why don't they ask the woman with the broken bones about the expense?

Anonymous said...

Nice. So the law says, as a pedestrian, you can do something really dumb and step out into a street when you know that most, if not all drivers won't be able to stop in time. But it has to be that fine sense of entitlement that makes people dumb enough to want to test it out. It's certainly a strong sense of conviction to want to lay on the ground with broken bones so you can point to a driver and say "I didn't have to walk to the crosswalk, you should have been going slower" So, how come we tell kids to cross only at the crosswalks? - a different anonymous.

dr2chase said...

We tell kids to cross only at crosswalks, because they do a very poor job of judging traffic speed, etc. This makes street-crossing less safe for them. Adults are supposed to be better at it.

In theory, there is defense-in-depth going on here. The pedestrians are supposed to use a crosswalk, if there is not one, then they should look carefully before crossing. The impaired visibility reduces their ability to do this.

Drivers, in turn, are supposed to moderate their speed so that they can stop in the event that someone steps into the road. If they cannot see, they are supposed to reduce their speed accordingly. I watch other people drive, I watch people pile up behind me when I drive the speed limit on residential streets, it is a safe bet that if there is a crash, the driver was speeding (because it is a good bet that drivers are speeding -- just look around you, look at any "your speed" sign and watch cars go by. Combine that good bet with the knowledge that they failed to stop for a pedestrian, they were very likely speeding.)

The bogus "sense of entitlement", if any, is on the part of drivers who think they can fudge the speed limit and conditions, with little regard to anyone else's safety. Given that they are piloting dangerous heavy equipment, they bring the danger to others, and bear a heavier responsibility. Nobody was ever killed by a runaway pedestrian. Hardly anyone is killed by careless cyclists. "Accidents" in cars kill other people all the time. Car drivers need to be much more careful -- why aren't they as safe for other people as cyclists, or pedestrians?

Anonymous said...

The sense of entitlement comes from those complaining they can't cross right there, in an unsafe place, as opposed to walking to the crosswalk 100 or so yards away which has its own stop light.

But any article that says cars are evil is OK by you, eh?

Sean Roche said...


Couldn't it just as easily be said that it is driver entitlement to think that drivers can drive at a speed that's unsafe to pedestrians across a patch of pavement that pedestrians want to use to cross?

dr2chase said...

@anon, objectively, cars are more dangerous for others. We can count dead bodies, scale by ride share, it looks like about 30x the deadliness of bicycles. This is unsurprising, given their greater size, weight, momentum, and energy, and reduced ability to see and hear around them. Drivers fail to compensate enough for this increased hazard to others -- and they drive anyway. That, to me, is "entitlement".

"Evil" is a moral judgement, but I think it is safe to say that cars are much less safe for other people, and hence, in an objective sense, much more antisocial.

Steve R said...

In general the criticisms of pedestrians all come down to the assumption that they don't have any pressing business: they're just out for a stroll, and therefore all of their assessments of risk v. convenience should always weigh risk more heavily. The concomitant assumption is that drivers must be hurrying to important business, and must weigh convenience (expressed as urgency) more heavily than risk.

A parallel assumption is that the burden of risk assessment is (and should) be on the shoulders of those most at risk: social darwinism is not just an explanation, but a natural order. Of course, all these views are morally bankrupt when you examine them closely, but since our built environment and habits are predicated on them, examining them closely will always bring out the defenders of indefensible moral positions: might makes right, the weak should watch out for themselves and deserve no protections, the convenience of the powerful outweighs the safety of the weak, my convenience trumps your risk...

Nathan Phillips said...

Steve, that is one of the most insightful and well-put comments I have read in a long time.

Steve R said...

Thanks, Nathan.

Of course, I've oversimplified the picture in order to make a point. One could certainly also observe that the upper-middle-class owner of an expensive condo in Brookline has the economic power to control their time commitments in a way that allows them to walk to destinations, and that the speeding driver of a 1998 Toyota behind on his house payments in Medfield in fact feels the pressure of time keenly.

Hence, some of the class resentment in the comments, about pedestrians feeling a sense of "entitlement."

But I would counter that we should all feel entitled to a higher sense of safety on roadways, drivers and pedestrians alike, and if we've predicated a system of transportation--convenient as it may be--on 35,000+ annual deaths, then something is terribly wrong, and only our sense of familiarity with the annual toll is keeping the majority from demanding change.

(Can you imagine if any other transportation system--planes, buses, trains--caused 35,000 deaths a year? I can't imagine the public outcry!)

So, the morally indefensible positions are appalling, but kind of inevitable, given the last century's tacit and habitual excuses for them. It'll take a while for people to come around.

Anonymous said...

Somewhere along the way while you were all patting yourselves on the back, you missed the point of the previous anon's comments. It isn't about pedestrian's in general, it's the comments of the condo residents in the article, such as:

“There is, unfortunately, no safe crossing location available without taking a very, very long walk — I am talking about at least a couple of miles — to get there,’’ says Roberta Gross-Torres. “We are a virtual pedestrian island.’’

I guess miles have gotten a lot shorter these days. As pointed out in the comments of the original article, the back entrance to the condos is right at the crosswalk & signal and the from the front it is 100-200 yards to it.

I don't disagree that drivers should obey traffic laws and pay extra attention to cyclists and pedestrians since a "chance encounter" is unlikelyto have a good outcome for them. We also need more law enforcement action for all 3 to enforce the rules we have.

Still, both those groups also need to use some common sense. Or else just chalk it up to natural selection.

Nathan Phillips said...

Yes, it is only 1 or 2 football fields away to cross the street - no big deal, they want to walk anyway, right? How far do you have to walk to cross your street? Look at all the motorists jockeying for the closest parking spots at the big box stores. 100 yards would piss many of them off. Also, your last cynical comment about natural selection totally validated Steve's point about social darwinism.

Anonymous said...

Motorist jockeying for the closest parking spot is also an example of entitlement. I never said it wasn't. Personally, I just grab the first available space no matter the distance.

Access to and from your place of residence is something you have to take into account when you choose where you will live. The road was their before the condos, so you need to accept the crossing situation as it is. I chose to live in a neighborhood where I can cross when I wish after looking both ways. When walking to the T, I need to cross Centre Street where there is no cross walk. It is at an open point where there are good views in both directions. If it was on a blind curve, I would walk down to the crosswalk. I don't walk down to the crosswalk since who wants to walk along Centre street in rush hour when you can walk through a quiet neighborhood and view a fabulous garden?

Natural selection vs. social darwinism: an argument could be made that social darwinism is a subset of natural selection but I do not subscribe to that theory. They may co-opt the use of the term "survival of the fittest" but not in its true application. For example:

Natural Selection: Person walking through forest and sees some pretty mushrooms. They don't know anything about identifying mushrooms unless there is a label on them but they still bring them home and put them in their salad. Stomach cramps and death follows. It was their choice to eat something they did not know.

Social Darwinism: Government cuts public assistance to women with dependent children. There is an increase in childhood deaths due to malnutrition. It was not the choice of these mothers to be poor or be unable to provide for their children. (Putting aside those who would be considered unfit parents to begin with of course).

Thus, if a person chooses to make an unsafe crossing and is hit, it was their decision. This assumes the driver is going the speed limit and obeying all rules.

Anyone could end up hitting someone crossing on a rainy night in black clothing.

People need to take responsibilities for their actions. And by people I mean everyone regardless of their mode of transportation at the time.

dr2chase said...

@Anon: how can a driver collide with a pedestrian and be obeying all the rules? You use of the word "unsafe" is inherently subjective, but plainly put, if a driver is traveling faster than they can see (their stopping distance exceeds their sight distance), that is unsafe for conditions, and not obeying all the rules.

In particular, I find it interesting that even though it is the car that is dangerous to others, you require only that they obey laws -- but pedestrians, who have every right to wear black on rainy nights, should "be careful". The burden of care should fall on the person who brings the danger, not on the person who is endangered.

Otherwise, you create an arms race where each person escalates the danger that they pose, in order to get the other guy to give way for safety. Imagine if pedestrians shoved carts full of bricks out into the road before crossing -- we are, after all, allowed to walk with carts, and someone driving a 2000lb car cannot sensibly complain about the non-necessity and pointlessness of someone pushing around 200 lbs of bricks, and they are doing it for their safety anyhow. By your logic, if a driver collided with such a cart, they just weren't careful enough, right?

Nathan Phillips said...

A fantasy world to believe we all get to choose where we live. Ever heard of environmental justice?