The Bizzaro World of Courtesy

Yes, you do live in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

Submitted for your approval, a world where the people who operate large, dangerous machines — automobiles — are given every courtesy, and,  in their mishaps with people who prefer to walk or ride a bicycle, are given the benefit of the “doubt.” The street does not belong to people; the street belongs to automobiles and, secondarily, to the people driving them. Pedestrians and bicyclists are expected to extend courtesy to motorists because it’s simply unthinkable that any motorists ought to be held up for even a moment to accommodate a pedestrian or bicyclist. In this bizzaro world, even advocates for pedestrians and bicyclists believe this.

The entire system of traffic is designed primarily with the ease of motoring in mind. For example, this intersection that I cross daily by bicycle and foot (click for larger image):

ScreenHunter_210 Apr. 12 11.30

Notice those sweeping right turns? If you’re standing on any of those corners waiting to cross you’ll notice something else: most people don’t stop for the red light. They focus on traffic to their left and glide right on through. You don’t want to be in those crosswalks when that occurs.

(Tip for the Springfield Police Department: National and Grand offers a great opportunity to fulfill your traffic ticket quota! I look forward to seeing an officer there soon.)

I’ve actually had to wave and yell to get the attention of motorists in the right turn lanes so that I can cross safely during the green phase that includes a walk signal. And all too often, as in nearly every day, I have to weave my way around motorists who block the crosswalk. About once a week, a motorist will actually challenge my presence in the crosswalk by attempting to shoot the gap or hurrying me along by easing into it while I’m still in the middle of the road.

Given the bizzaro culture and the traffic designs, is it any wonder that it’s dangerous for humans to cross the street?

I do not fault the engineers. They are doing the job the culture asks of them: Make sure traffic — understood as motor vehicles — can move safely at speed. Then, secondarily, paste on a few features to accommodate pedestrians.

Why did the human cross the street?

To flirt with death.

And our culture is totally cool with that.

Totally. Cool. With. That.

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Comments 13

  1. John Brooking wrote:

    All true. Maybe as a follow-up you can write about the effect of this on cycling behavior, basically that the prime directive is assumed by almost everyone — cyclists, motorists, and law enforcement — to be to stay out of the way at all times, and find whatever safety you can, and convenience if you’re very lucky, on that foundation.

    Posted 12 Apr 2013 at 11:33 am
  2. John Brooking wrote:

    Oh, and what made me think of that topic, how “courtesy” for cyclists is defined as staying out of the way as much as humanly possible.

    Posted 12 Apr 2013 at 11:36 am
  3. Andy Cline wrote:

    John… Yes, that upside-down bizzaro concept of courtesy just makes me sad. As a culture and a nation we have sold our souls to the motor vehicle. We don’t even see the need to accommodate children who walk to school except to create programs and traffic features designed to keep them out of the way of cars. The idea that we would accommodate children before motorists? Insane.

    Wow. I’m grumpy today.

    Posted 12 Apr 2013 at 11:53 am
  4. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    One caveat: wider corner radii are also to accommodate large trucks. (Though those in the photo might be excessive, still.)

    But then, the feds have, over the years and at the behest of the trucking industry, allowed longer and longer trailers, necessitating those wider radii.

    Posted 12 Apr 2013 at 1:33 pm
  5. Andy Cline wrote:

    Mighk … Yes, accommodating trucks was one of the main reasons for the “improvement” a few years ago that created the intersection you see. Never mind that’s a college campus on the NW corner and that many pedestrians cross this intersection daily.

    Posted 12 Apr 2013 at 4:06 pm
  6. Steve A wrote:

    In truth, the safest way to cross is well away from that intersection rather than where it is “legal.” If Andy’s police are present, however, they’re more likely to snag “jaywalkers” than motorists not stopping before making a right.

    Posted 12 Apr 2013 at 4:56 pm
  7. Andy Cline wrote:

    Steve… Owing to a few student injuries a few years back (as I hear tell, anyway), the city created a barrier running north along National to prevent jaywalking for about 3 blocks. Your only other choice is a dedicated pedestrian crosswalk about a block north.

    Posted 12 Apr 2013 at 5:56 pm
  8. Steve A wrote:

    Crimeny! You not only have to jaywalk but scale “the Berlin Wall” as well?

    Posted 13 Apr 2013 at 4:16 am
  9. Khal Spencer wrote:

    We had a similar problem at LANL a couple years back. People are jaywalking in one location because it is convenient, i.e., the crosswalk is not where the parking lot is. Rather than add more pedestrian amenities, the thought was to build a fence to block the jaywalker’s route. My suggestion was more crosswalks or grade separated crossings, both of which are still on the drawing board.

    More recently, we had a discussion of how a pedestrian was hit by crossing in an obscure place. I pointed out that it is not that obscure a place to the pedestrians, as they have walked there enough to establish a very good trail system. The official sidewalk, placed according to engineering standards with respect to gradient, visibility, and oh, by the way, to parallel the road, is a very indirect route. Pedestrians are not motorists. Asking them to go a few hundred yards out of their way is analogous to asking a motorist to go several miles perhaps; I would have to do the math.

    We need more of our transportation engineering standards to understand the difference and put a high enough value on non-motorized travel so that we don’t always ask the non-motorist to accommodate the motorist. That has to be a political decision. Give an engineer the right problem to solve, he or she will solve it.

    Posted 13 Apr 2013 at 6:52 am
  10. Khal Spencer wrote:

    If the ped is walking 3 mph (average speed I found on a Wikipedia source) and the motorist 30 mph, the distance factor is simple-a factor of ten.

    Posted 13 Apr 2013 at 7:08 am
  11. Andy Cline wrote:

    Steve … Yep.

    Posted 13 Apr 2013 at 7:46 pm
  12. A.J. wrote:

    Fight Back to those stop-rollers! With the art of mime. Granted being in front of such a person isn’t a good place to be.

    Posted 16 Apr 2013 at 12:43 pm
  13. Andy Cline wrote:

    A.J. … That is funny :-) But also interesting.

    Posted 16 Apr 2013 at 4:00 pm