Why Pedestrians Sometimes Do “Stupid” Things

People are often blamed for doing “stupid” things while walking, like “darting out in front of cars.” Why would anyone “dart” in front of a moving vehicle? Seems strange. But that’s the way it could seem, if you’re driving past pedestrian crossings at high speeds.

When road conditions are very hostile to pedestrians, self-preservation might encourage them to behave in unorthodox ways. Image: ##http://www.pps.org/blog/wider-straighter-faster-roads-arent-always-safer/## Project for Public Spaces##
When road conditions are hostile for walking, pedestrians have no choice but to take some risks. Image: ##http://www.pps.org/blog/wider-straighter-faster-roads-arent-always-safer/##Project for Public Spaces##

Nathan at Carfree With Kids explains how poor street conditions for walking can lead to situations where people have no choice but to do something that looks risky. Citing his experience crossing a street in Providence, Rhode Island, on his daily commute, he shows how pedestrians’ behavior could be misunderstood by people behind the wheel:

Cars on these busy four-lane roads are not expecting pedestrians. They are moving quickly (I’d guess the average speed when traffic is moving well is 45 miles per hour). Even if one car sees you waiting to cross and stops, granting you right-of-way, cars coming behind will honk at that car and whip around in the next lane. I’ve gotten to the point in navigating these crossings, where I will stand on the sidewalk, 8-10 feet back from the intersection, avoiding eye contact with drivers so that none will be tempted to stop for me, because I know for certain other drivers will not stop. My safety, and likely the safety of the considerate driver who may be rear-ended, will be compromised if I too aggressively attempt to cross at these crosswalks.

So I stand there, averting my eyes, waiting for a clear gap in traffic across all four lanes. I’ve learned that that gap eventually comes, but at rush hour in the early evening, sometimes I have to wait a long time (multiple minutes, far longer than any vaguely reasonable light cycle). I’m often tempted to overestimate my ability to cross safely.

I do wait. I do cross safely. But I’ve seen multiple near misses at these intersections. And in these near misses, I’m certain that the driver was surprised and shocked by how “stupid” the pedestrian was who crossed in front of them. But every pedestrian I’ve seen in this situation (a) had the right of way (we were in a crosswalk!) and (b) had attempted to cross safely in an extremely difficult situation.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Green Lane Project says bike-share is contagious — after a city opens a system, nearby cities tend to follow. Urban Indy reports that clearing the Cultural Trail of snow in Indianapolis is a duty the city takes seriously. And Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage reflects on bike advocacy’s progress in Alaska’s largest city after a cyclist was killed.


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