by Francesca Norsen (firstname.lastname@example.org), published online 02-03-2010
By Francesca Norsen Tate
Charles M. Plotz’s letter about traffic calming and pedestrians’ responsibility (January 20, BHP) raises some valid points about the need for pedestrians and cyclists to be more vigilant about their safety. However, it leaves out some vital considerations. As a longtime Heights resident who is both a driver and a pedestrian, I have made some surveys.
Dr. Plotz mentions serious accidents between drivers and pedestrians at curbs, but doesn’t indicate whether these were at controlled intersections. So, curious about driver and pedestrian habits at intersections controlled only by stop signs, I braved the frigid weather and took some random hour-long traffic samples. During a midweek afternoon and a Saturday afternoon, I logged traffic approaching the intersection of Montague Street and Montague Terrace, which has stop signs and a choice of turning left or right. On Sunday afternoon, I logged traffic on a heavily-traveled church route: at the stop sign where Remsen St. intersects with through-traffic on Hicks St.
The results were consistently alarming.
After school hours on Wednesday, I logged 56 vehicles and 20 pedestrians. The number of those on foot who looked before crossing Montague Street and Montague Terrace was equal to that of pedestrians who didn’t first look. This was also true for people escorting children. However, only five (7 percent) drivers came to a complete stop at the two, clearly-visible stop signs. Four more drivers (6%) came to a sudden stop because they saw pedestrians in the crosswalk. Even more alarmingly, 26 drivers (38%) rolled through (as if this were a Yield sign) and the other 33 drivers (49%) ignored the stop sign completely. Refusing to stop is unlawful, dangerous and a form of road rage. Among those breaking the law were a police car whose siren and lights were off, a yellow school bus and two cyclists.
The Saturday results were not much better. Of 70 pedestrians, only 19 percent looked before crossing; 81 percent did not. And only 13 percent of the 108 drivers came to a complete stop. Fifty percent did a “rolling stop,” and an alarming 37 percent — including a cab, cyclist and another police vehicle — ignored the stop sign altogether, even when pedestrians had already entered the crosswalk before the vehicles got there. Sunday’s results logged 48 vehicles and 187 pedestrians at Remsen and Hicks. Of those, 64 percent of the pedestrians looked before crossing; 36 percent did not. Among those with children or strollers, many more took the precaution of checking before they stepped off the curb. But others didn’t bother to look until they were halfway across. Among the vehicles, only 13 drivers (27 percent) came to a complete stop; and of those, only six did when no cars or people were crossing. The other 35 drivers ignored the stop sign — a few even chose to drive around pedestrians already in the crosswalk!
I learned from a very thorough teacher how to drive, walk and think and defensively at all times. This has served me well on crowded Montague St. sidewalks. Drivers and pedestrians alike must develop and maintain good habits and a sharp connection between their mental and visual presence. It would behoove pedestrians to start thinking like drivers. Drivers might remember that, once they park and leave that car, they are pedestrians. And the New York DMV Manual, Chapter 11, clearly explains the law for cyclists (it’s the same as for drivers), as well as laws protecting the visually-impaired who have service dogs or white canes.
Cultivating these habits will make us better citizens and stewards of each other’s safety.