Mean streets

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On a Sunday night after Friday’s snowstorm, it was easy to see why pedestrians get hit by cars in St. John’s.

On Circular Road, a man dressed entirely in dark clothing strides onto the road in the middle of the block, almost invisible as he crosses to his parked car.

Halfway across the road, he unlocks the car doors with his remote — the car’s lights flash orange twice, distracting other drivers from the slight silhouette in the middle of the street.

He couldn’t have put himself at greater risk if he tried.

On Monday, near the main fire station on Harvey Road, three pedestrians in a span of about 100 feet of road decide to cross in front of traffic — not on crosswalks — and not waiting for traffic lights to offer a gap. At one point you can see all three, going in different directions, crossing from different sides, as the 4:30 p.m. traffic grinds to an unexpected halt.

Drivers are no better: three days after the snow and there’s still no place for pedestrians to walk except the street.

Drivers, however, are treating the road as if it was August and the pavement was clean, clear and dry.

Speeds are too high and yellow lights are almost universally treated as if they were a signal to speed up, not prepare to stop.

Drivers desperate for a cup of drive-thru

coffee are trying to muscle through traffic travelling in the other direction — pedestrians on the sidewalk are scarcely more than a passing imposition.

Accidents are not just likely — they are downright unavoidable.

And accidents there have been: two on Monday alone. The first, a woman who was on a crosswalk when she was hit by a right-turning car trying to edge into traffic on Topsail Road at Burgeo Street, the second, a man hit on LeMarchant Road at 15 minutes to midnight.

Both those incidents have generated plenty of Internet comment, with opinions split about whether distracted pedestrians or careless drivers should share more of the blame.

There are plenty of comments about other near-misses in similar situations, right down to close calls on the same exact Topsail Road crosswalk. There’s also been discussion about texting drivers, drivers who refuse to yield right-of-way to pedestrians on crosswalks, and comments about illegally parked cars blocking sightlines for crosswalks.

What’s obvious is that there is a problem, and it’s a problem that plenty of people are aware of — but awareness is only one small part of the equation.

The simple facts are that pedestrians do not always have access to sidewalks and often have no choice but to be on roads; that it is winter and driving conditions — from sightlines to stopping distances — are different than they are in summer, requiring different driving habits; and that we all have a role in safely dealing with what winter offers.

It happens every year, people. It shouldn’t be this dangerous.

Geographic location: Circular Road, Harvey Road, Topsail Road Burgeo Street LeMarchant Road

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Recent comments

  • Elim
    January 17, 2013 - 19:59

    Courtesy and obedience have almost are non-existant on todays roadways.

  • RJ
    January 17, 2013 - 00:44

    To distracted and in a hurry to line up for 20 min @ Tim's...turn on ur bluetooth when driving and be wary ...oh and ease off the gas pedal..Ur coffee will still be fresh! ;)

  • Ken Collis
    January 16, 2013 - 11:08

    At no time under any curcumstances does a car have right of way over a person, if by that you mean that there is no fault to a driver who hits a pedestrian. Even if someone is foolish enough to run into traffic you are legally bound to stop if you have time to do so.

    • a business man
      January 16, 2013 - 11:25

      Correct Ken, although I would add that if you are unable to stop in time before striking the foolish person with your car, you will not likely be charged criminally. Obviously there needs to be some evidence of the driver trying to stop, but assuming that there is evidence (witness, skid marks), the accident while unfortunate and tragic, will likely not be criminal. In fact, I believe a fellow-lawyer colleague (in another province) once represented an uninsured client who sued the pedestrian that he struck for the damages to the car.

  • a business man
    January 16, 2013 - 08:34

    I agree that drivers need to be more careful and cautious in the winter time, but pedestrians have to be aware of the fact that THEY ARE WALKING IN a live lane of traffic. The vehicles do have the right of way and it is too bad if someone gets hit. Fortunately, the police are not likely to file charge someone who hits a pedestrian who is not using a cross walk. That said, drivers who fail to stop for crosswalks should have their licenses suspended. Have you complained to the police about these "hot-spots". I would complain, but it is not really my problem. I drive, and I watch for pedestrians and crosswalks.

    • Anne
      January 16, 2013 - 09:50

      Pedestrians have the legal right to walk along the side of the road facing traffic when sidewalks aren't available. If you hit somebody walking along the side of the road, don't kid yourself -- you can be charged and/or successfully sued. It would depend on circumstances like whether you had slowed down sufficiently for the conditions.

  • Ken O'Brien
    January 16, 2013 - 08:04

    Amen.