The Hazards of Crossing the Street

Earlier this year I witnessed a terrifying event while out in my neighborhood.  Textbooks would refer to it as a “pedestrian-vehicle conflict”, something that can be observed at any number of intersections several times a day.  Seeing it play out in reality, I began to realize that our built environment has done a very poor job of training drivers to watch out for pedestrians.  One glance at the number of pedestrian fatalities statistics shows the devastating consequences on our society.

A Dramatic Encounter at the Intersection of Ritter and Washington

The situation happened along East Washington Street in a pedestrian friendly commercial district.  A car stopped at a red light and wanted to turn right.  At the same time a young family with a baby in a stroller arrived at the corner and wanted to cross the side street.  The family saw the “Walk” signal lit for them and proceeded across the street.  The driver, having earlier noticed the family, failed to anticipate that they were going to cross the street and shifted attention to traffic from the left in the main street.

What happened next is the stuff nightmares are made of.  When the family was halfway through the lane, the driver saw a break in traffic and began accelerating.  There was a loud noise and a scream, but thankfully it wasn’t what I feared.  The husband had slammed his fist down on the car hood and yelled “STOP!”, and luckily the driver found the brake quickly enough to prevent disaster.  It happened so fast that I could barely process that an entire family had almost been killed or seriously injured, just because they wanted to cross the street during a nice summertime day.

This incident reveals a larger problem with our transportation system.  Humans are great at identifying threats to them, but not so good at identifying the threat that they pose to others.  In addition to this, drivers often have a hard time recognizing pedestrians and cyclists as rightful users of the street.  They don’t realize that pedestrians don’t always stay on the sidewalk or that cyclists don’t behave like cars, especially if the drivers never spend time as pedestrians or cyclists themselves.

While this conflict had a fortunate resolution, many other conflicts don’t turn out so well.  Are there steps that Indianapolis and other cities can take to make street crossings more safe for pedestrians?  The answer is a positive YES, and that is one of the goals behind the movement referred to as Complete Streets.  It is surprising that more citizens haven’t actively supported complete streets here in Indiana (see Indiana Complete Streets Campaign), because it gives us something that has a huge amount of political support – better streets and more opportunity to walk and bike places.

Comments 18

  • I agree completely. As a driver, your attention is focused on cars. Not people, not bikes. My greates fear commuting to work is not the cars approaching from behind me, but cars turning left from on coming traffic or cars on side streets. They take one look each direction looking for a car or car headlights and if they don’t see them they go. I will be the first to admit that many cyclists abuse road privlages and pedestrians can take their life in their own hands at times, but this shouldn’t be the standard. My roomate was riding home from IUPUI one afternoon. He was on the sidewalk, not riding fast and received the crosswalk light to cross West St along Michigan heading east, thus he wasn’t in the bike lane. A truck was waiting to turn left from Michigan on to West and never saw my friend. My roomate had the crosswalk light, he looked for traffic and did everything legal. Fortunately, he managed some serious scrapes and bruises, but stiches are better than coffins. Pedestrian and cycle interaction with cars is such a small portion of the driving experience and hardly taught in driving school. It can be as simple as looking twice before turning, it may save a life.

  • Right turns on red are some of the most dangerous situations out there for pedestrians. I wouldn’t mind if they went away.

  • I was hit by a car performing an illegal right turn on red that was turning into the Fieldhouse parking garage at Maryland/Alabama. I ended up on his hood with no injuries luckily.

    • Aren’t right turns on red permitted from Maryland to Alabama or the parking garage? I always thought the idea seemed ridiculous, but I didn’t think it was posted “No Turn on Red”. Perhaps you were indicating that the turn was in some other way illegal.

      I made a few suggestions to the City’s DPW a few years ago about a few intersections that I thought needed to be posted “No Turn on Red”, usually because there’s a building at the corner that prevents a driver from seeing cross-traffic until they’ve pulled across the crosswalk and into the intersection. They haven’t changed anything though.

      • Technically you are running a red light crossing Alabama on red to enter the garage, so no right turn on red into the garage should be allowed unless directed by event “securtity”. I know it happens all the time when traffic is clear. A right turn on red onto Alabama under the fieldhouse garage should be allowed. The person who hit me did not look right to see me in the crosswalk and proceeded to cross Alabama illegally to turn in to the garage after southbound traffic cleared. This is a result of having to have the parking garage there, and bad engineering to fit it in. Try walking west on the southside of Maryland, there is no cross walk at the parking garage and the “security” makes you cross Maryland to cross Alabama on the north side. Again this is where design for the suburban commuter/parker took priority over pedestrians.

  • I was hit by an SUV at the intersection of Rural and Kessler a few years ago. The vehicle was making a legal right turn on red. Luckily I jumped and was only pushed back 5-10 feet before she stopped. I saw her looking for cars, and never in my direction. There is seldom any foot traffic there, so it is understandable that people wouldn’t be looking for it.

  • I’m always VERY conscientious when I’m out running and will purposely smack my hands into the passenger side window of people looking left and rolling into the crosswalk. It always scares people to death and I give them a nice stern look and usually some yelling about paying attention.
    The scariest situation I’ve run into though are the left turners that try to “beat” the pedestrians. I’ve almost had someone hit the stroller that had my daughters in it numerous times.

    • I have beat on people’s passenger window before too. One person would only barely crack their window and Im sure it was because I was this sweaty, scruffly looking beard having dude on a bike beating on the window. When I was nice and told them they almost swerved into me in the bike lane, she apologized.

  • This is not precisely on point, but related. Raceway Road on westside by Meijers and Rockville is a busy road shared by two counties. Every day you see pedestrians try to squeeze through the 1908 RR overpass at the same time cars try to. Then, usually once per week, there is either a traffic jam or collision when large vehicles try to squeeze through the low clearance RR bridge. Some jam in the bridge and destroy their vehicle, some stop a foot short and then try to back up. There is no effective signage in the area. If you can imagine the back up for vehicles on this busy road, then you can certainly imagine pedestrians and bicycle riders in the mix. Again, this is a regular situation, with no effective signage to warn people.

  • The west end of avon yard (Dan Jones Rd. CR800) is also interesting because someone spent a lot of $$ on sidewalks at Lowes and BP Gas but the only way to walk south is over the RR via bridge which is totally lacking in pedestrian and/or bicycle space and protection. I sometimes see cyclists on the bridge but you must be very aggressive with the auto traffic. I’m not sure that aggressive non-car people last very long.

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