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MARTHA MUZYCHKA: Foot notes: ways we can all be safer pedestrians

Generic image of a crosswalk sign for general use.
Don't jaywalk, use a crosswalk and obey traffic signals. FILE PHOTO

I was on my way to a doctor’s appointment, waiting my turn for the left turn light at a notorious intersection when I witnessed it. 

The impediment was a pedestrian. They were in the midst of a crosswalk, texting on their phone and walking at a snail’s pace. 

Horns honked impatiently. We waited. 

Did I mention the pedestrian did not have the right of way? Or that it was peak rush hour? Or that there was a fine mist falling and the asphalt was slicking up? 

No matter. For the pedestrian, all was just fine in their world. Eventually, they made their way to the other side. Alas, the light had expired, and the rest of us waited until it came back again. 

What is the point of sharing this story? Partly to say that while we should always take care in traffic, either as a driver or as a pedestrian, the winter season seems especially critical. 

Lately, though, I keep seeing egregious examples of pedestrian daredeviltry and it gives me, a frequent driver, great anxiety. 

Now, let’s be clear. I have lots to say about the lack of manners — and just plain awful safety practices — among drivers. A close call or a white-knuckle moment is all too common.  

Today, though, let’s focus on the unwheeled bipeds among us. Many of us at some time or another are out and about, and it’s on all of us to protect ourselves — especially when there are distracted drivers in the mix, too!  

At this time of the year, it’s dark later in the morning and earlier in the evening. The daily weather offering here serves up rain, sleet, and sometimes hail. The roads may not be in the best condition, in part, because of ongoing repairs, emerging potholes, or wind-blown, litterbug-flung garbage. 

It’s a recipe for potential disaster. Herewith some tips to avoid death, injury, anger and fear. 

1.   Cross at the crosswalk — I can’t tell you the number of times I see people dart across the street between cars because the nearest crosswalk is not convenient to them, even if it’s just a matter of feet.  

2.   Obey the walk signal – you may be on a crosswalk, but if your signal has expired, and/or the hand is up saying stop, you don't have the right of way. 

3.   Signal your intention to cross at intersections where there isn’t a walk signal – At least once a week I see a person barrel across the crosswalk. I am impressed by their confidence in the quality of vehicle brakes, but let’s face it, it’s hard to stop on a dime, and my expectations for stopping distance erode quickly when there is rain or poor visibility at play.  While you may have the right of way, you should pause to ensure traffic is clear, signal your intention to cross, and look both ways. 

4.   Wear reflective gear and ensure your belongings have reflective tape — of all the things I hear about regarding pedestrian near misses, not seeing someone because they are wearing dark clothing is No. 1. Winter is coming, and the scarves, the hats, the hoods will be up and heads will be down. Make yourself as obvious as possible. 

Today, though, let’s focus on the unwheeled bipeds among us. Many of us at some time or another are out and about, and it’s on all of us to protect ourselves — especially when there are distracted drivers in the mix, too!  

5.   Walk against the traffic — It’s easier for both you and the driver to be aware of what’s happening on the road. Sadly, since many sidewalks are often blocked with snow in winter, we see pedestrians in the road if they want to get from Point A to Point B. The other advantage: you can see cars coming, even if you can’t hear them. With more electric cars on the road, you are less likely to get advance warning of a car’s approach behind you. 

6.   Make sure you are in clear view of buses, trucks and cars if you are entering or exiting — One of the most terrifying moments of my driving life occurred three years ago. I had stopped as required behind a school bus so it could discharge its passengers. One of the youngsters decided they would scramble up the snowbank as the bus began to move away, and it gave way. By some miracle, the child did not slide under the back wheels of the bus. I still get cold shivers when I think how narrowly a tragedy was averted. 

7.   Pay attention — Put away the phone, get rid of the earphones or reduce the volume, and be aware of your surroundings. 

 St. John’s is a beautiful city, but it can be a challenging place to walk. When I’m driving, I’ll do my part on the road to make sure everyone is safe. The same goes for when I’m on foot.  

Martha Muzychka is a writer and researcher living in St. John’s. Email: socialnotes@gmail.com 


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