Chronicles of a crosswalk traditionalist
I remember when, because I’m not old enough yet to say, “When I was a kid . . . ,” you had to look both ways before you crossed the street. My mother made sure every time I left the house that I would remember this very important rule. Later, when I learned to drive, I was told to make sure I not only looked left and then right, but also left again, just to make sure. When I had children, I made sure to pass on this time-honored advice so that they too would be safe out there in the world.
I remember that when you wanted to cross the street, you would wait at the curb or the corner and let traffic pass, and when it was clear, and only when it was clear, you would take that step off the curb and into the crosswalk; and, you always crossed at the crosswalk ‘cause that was the place to do your crossing.
But something has happened since that time, almost recently, in fact. It seems to have happened in the time since the city transformed our crosswalks by adding those wonderful flashing pedestrian markers and the in-the-road signage. Since that signage was installed, the minds of my Cleveland Heights neighbors have gone blank. They have forgotten that they are “pedestrians” when they are on the sidewalk, and that cars, even when traveling at the measly 25 m.p.h. we must travel in the Heights, are big and have human operators, and may not be able to stop in time simply because you wish to cross the street without waiting.
I have watched, from the safety of my steel-enclosed vehicle, my fellow residents step right off the curb moments after pushing the magical crosswalk light button, expecting to be protected from oncoming traffic. I have watched as pedestrians have moments of sidewalk rage as they wait impatiently for cars to stop for them. I have even seen pedestrians who have entered traffic unsafely stop in the crosswalk and have words with the driver who nearly missed them.
I remember when safety was the priority for the pedestrian. I am pretty sure that is why the crosswalk improvements were installed—so that oncoming drivers would be aware of the crosswalk and more likely to notice pedestrians in it. They were not put in place to entitle pedestrians a free pass across the street, like the E-Z Pass system on the highway.
I checked the ordinances and sure enough they state clearly that “No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard (371.01b).” They also state that cars must yield to a pedestrian already in the crosswalk (371.01a).
It sounds like a pretty good system, and we can think of it this way: Cars are big and driven by fallible humans; people are relatively small and easily squooshed. People who want to reach the other side of the road should wait patiently, and drivers on the road should heed those new flashing signs to remind them to take care of their neighbors.
One last thought: Like mom also used to say, “It’s always fun and games until somebody gets hurt.”
Mike Spencer is a resident of Cleveland Heights.