The last two weeks' Getting There columns about Maryland drivers and pedestrian crosswalks brought a strong outpouring of e-mail. This is a sampling of reader reactions.
Md. pedestrians, an underserved bunchThank you so much. We are such an underserved minority, we Maryland pedestrians. About a year or so ago, I was crossing in a crosswalk at about 6:15 a.m. on my way to work, downtown. The SUV driver had to stop anyway, at the stop sign at that particular crosswalk. I crossed in front of him. He did not want to stay stopped for those couple of seconds. He started cursing at me. He was big and scary and so was his vehicle. He called me every name in the book, with his window rolled down. Mostly he kept saying , "F*** you, F*** you, " I told him that if I had my gun I would blow his head off. Finally he drove away.
That was a stupid thing for me to say. He looked like the type who would have a gun in his glovebox. I think he would have loved to have blown me away and laugh his head off as he sped the scene. My husband told me I better start cooling off with these people or I'm going to get myself killed. I plan to retire in 3 years and getting the heck out of Maryland is my main goal, if I don't get killed first.
Pedestrians at fault, tooThis is an interesting column which makes some valid points, however, it fails to leave out one major point. I was born and raised in Baltimore and I have lived in Montgomery and P.G. county. One thing that I notice when I am driving is that pedestrians have become very bold as they cross the street. I can't count the number of times that I have had pedestrians just walk out in front of my car as I am driving down a street, doing the speed limit or less, and look at me as if I'm offending them by driving a car. I think that all too often pedestrians abuse the "pedestrians always have the right of way" policy/law in the state of MD. Also, another flaw in this column is the mention of pedestrians having the "go" crosswalk light and still being run down by cars. This is a fallacy. If a pedestrian has the crosswalk light, then that means that the oncoming traffic has a red light and this is not an issue unless you have chronic red light runners in which case I think we would probably see a spike in traffic citatations. I think that the truth is many, not all, pedestrians in this state are just as much at fault as the drivers when it comes to courtesy when interacting with automobiles. The one thing that they need to to remember is that pedestrians don't have bumpers on their behinds.
Jimmy R. Lewis, Jr.
Walkers given little heedI live and work in Towson. I don't drive. I can walk and ride the bus to work. I use crosswalks all over Towson, and I can tell you that people rarely stop for peds, even when we have the right of way. On more than one occasion I have had people drive aggresively towards me while I was in a crosswalk. I've had two people attempt to bump me out of a crosswalk with their cars. Yes, it's true. I've seen it done to other peds, especially in the Towson traffic circle, which is one of the worst places to cross -- I avoid it at all costs.
I understand that from a driver's perspective it's tough enough just to navigate your way through traffic these days since there are so many crazy drivers distracted by their cell phones and other gadgets. But people need to realize that as soon as they park their cars and walk somewhere, they are pedestrians too, and we all deserve the right to navigate the streets in a (safe) manner.
I've complained about the issue to the SHA, and I've been in touch with the commander at the Towson police precinct. She told me to get a tag number and call the police. But it's hard to get a tag number when you've almost been mowed down. I've since given up. There is little anyone can do. I'm married to a city police officer -- he's handed out plenty of tickets for traffic and pedestrian violations. I would hate to tell you how many people he's pulled over who are suspended, revoked, or who just don't have a license at all. Nevermind whether the car is legal.
The problem is that we are trying to do two things on streets that are designed for just one thing: vehicular traffic. This country pays little attention to the needs of the pedestrian or bicyclist. And it's a shame because we all need to use the same spaces. My attitude now is to watch my rear end. I have learned the MD pedestrian law, so I know my rights. I know how and when to cross. I am very careful, and I never expect traffic to stop for me, so I cross defensively. I'm not sure that things can/will change much as we see more and more cars on the roads.
Chevy Chase flag method has meritI read your two columns on crosswalk problems with interest, and wanted to tell you about a relatively recent approach to this issue adopted by Chevy Chase, an approach which seems to be working.
My work sends me to D.C. and its environs a couple of days a week, and I often spend time on Connecticut Avenue just south of the city/county line, a very busy area during the day, both for pedestrians and cars. At the main crosswalks, they have built poles on either side of the road, with slots that contain large red flags on long sticks. The flags have stop signs on them. When a pedestrian wishes to cross at a crosswalk, he or she takes a flag and waves it at oncoming traffic. It does wonders to alert drivers of the walker's presence. After crossing, the pedestrian places the flag in the pole on the other side of the street.
Part of the problem as I see it is that drivers are not accustomed to looking out for pedestrians at crosswalks, and need to be encouraged (and even trained) to do so. There are usually a few crucial seconds between becoming aware of the need to stop, and having the ability to do so. The flags usually seem to do the trick, and I use them all of the time.
Problem crossing? Try jaywalking More fodder for your crosswalk column. I work in Towson and have a nice little 5-minute walk from the garage to where I work. If traffic is coming, you cannot cross in crosswalks in Towson. In fact, I've had people speed up as soon as they see me step into the crosswalk. I've been yelled at by drivers after they almost run me over in the crosswalks. One person even screamed that she had the right of way after I got done pounding on her hood to let her know that she was about to run me over. She was proceeding through the intersection after looking only in the direction away from me as I entered the crosswalk. I guess the cell phone was too distracting, though I hate to blame cell phone usage for someone's obvious ignorance of the law.
On the other hand, the best way to cross a street in Towson seems to be to jaywalk. After risking my life using the crosswalks, I decided to do what most everyone else here does: jaywalk. The response has been great. Unlike the crosswalks where a lone motorist will try to run me down once I step into the crosswalk, I've had people stop in the middle of the road and hold up a line of traffic to wave me on to cross. And this is while I am standing on the curb looking away from them as an obvious cue that I don't plan to cross until traffic is clear. And this has happened more than once!
And just to be clear, I'm not talking about being part of a large group waiting to cross. These incidents involved just me, so there was no group trying to muscle its way into traffic. Just me. Except for the "I have the right of way as the driver" lady. That time I was not alone. Go figure.
An elegant solution to this problem would be to install a traffic signal at that location. Peds would push a button to stop traffic while they cross. To increase the "elegancy," add cameras to nail the red light runners. Make an example of this one!!!
Walkers trod on drivers' turfNow that the dangers of crosswalks have been discussed, how about we discuss why it is that pedestrians walk in the streets even when sidewalks are available. This is a common occurrence that I see daily. I have also seen people walking in driving lanes instead of on the shoulder of the road. Just the other day I was driving on Lillian Holt and a person was walking about 2 feet inside of the right lane when there was a very large shoulder that would have been much safer. Maybe if we discuss this problem, I will understand why people do this.
Get tough on aggressive drivingThanks for your recent series of articles on pedestrian safety. We moved to Baltimore 3 years ago, partially so I would be able to walk to work. Frankly, I felt safer driving 90 miles a day from Rockville. There seems to be an utter disregard for pedestrians, especially when making a right turn on red. If the politicians are serious about bringing life back downtown and saving the environment, they have to get tougher with aggressive drivers.
Drivers must remember courtesy, the lawHad I seen your article about walkers/pedestrians when originally printed a few weeks ago, I would surely have responded then. However, I have another near-miss story today and when I returned to the office from lunch in full rant mode, one of my colleages pointed out your article. What a blessing!
At least I am not the only one feeling this way. Here's today's story: Roughly two years ago, a one block, eastbound lane designated for emergency vehicles entering the University of Maryland Shock Trauma/Emergency Room was installed in the 700 block of West Lombard Street (Lombard Street is one way westbound all the way across the city), just east of Martin Luther King Boulevard. I would hazard a guess that at least once weekly a pedestrian is nearly hit at the intersection of Penn and West Lombard Streets by drivers who ignore the "for emergency vehicles only" sign, and today was my lucky day. A driver in a shiny new, supersized SUV not only drove down Lombard Street illegally, but forgot that as a pedestrian crossing properly with the little man on the light post, I have the right of way. Fortunately, I didn't lose my life or my lunch. At least if I had been hit, I was close to treatment!
My take is that people these days just don't think of pedestrians and are in too much of a hurry to really pay attention. Just two weeks ago, I was crossing a street near my home when a woman was turning right and failed to look in the right hand direction as I was crossing the street. She only realized after I politely rested my hands on her hood and whispered "You forgot to look the other direction, ma'am!" (Of course I didn't say it that way, I actually slammed my hands on her hood when she was six inches from taking out my knees and said B****, rather than ma'am. :-D )
I agree that pedestrians need to exercise caution, and believe me, I do. However, drivers seem to have forgotten basic common sense and that little old rule that pedestrians have the right of way. Did that change in the 25 years since I got my driver's license?
Take care and happy walking,
Bad drivers are a global problem Hello there. I live in NE Baltimore. I agree that it is dangerous to walk around near traffic in Maryland. Especially Baltimore. Very much in my own neighborhood. I wonder, however, if any of the complainers in today's article have ever tried walking around New York City? Philadelphia? How about London? I've had close calls as a pedestrian in each of these towns. I don't buy that it is worse in Maryland than anywhere else. And you should never trust that the driver of a "huge vehicle weighing more than a ton" sees you before you go crossing the street. Bad drivers exist globally.
Crosswalks can workI have lived in countries where crosswalks "work." I have vague recollections of their working in the UK in my youth, but also of being impressed with the system in place in Toronto when I moved there in 1966. You stood at the crosswalk and pointed, signifying your intention to cross, then waited until traffic slowed. It worked, and if I was impressed, I would guess it worked better than the British Belisha beacons.
The Baltimore crosswalks, however, have been effete ever since I first came here in 1981. The question is why. Did they ever work? If so, when and why did they stop working? Was it, perhaps, during the disturbances of the late 1960s, when things happened that might make drivers less willing to stop en route unless they really had to? When I first came to Baltimore, what impressed me was not the fact that crosswalks didn't work but also that there were parts of the city where stop signals didn't work either.
There are two main considerations, I would guess: culture and design. First, it has to be broadly accepted in the community that drivers stop for pedestrians at crosswalks. But also, the design of the crosswalk has to be suitably imposing.
Over the decades in Britain, Belisha beacons have been supplanted on busy streets by elaborate systems utilizing railings to channel pedestrian flow and red lights to compel traffic to stop. In Toronto, the point and walk system has been replaced by a system which allows the pedestrian to activate a red stop light by pressing a button.
Similar expensive design improvements will be necessary to make the system work again in Baltimore. Take the crosswalk on York Road just north of Stevenson Lane in Towson. It had flashing yellow lights to alert drivers, but flashing yellow lights tell a driver to keep moving, not to stop. The crosswalk was a joke until, very recently, pedestrians were enabled to activate a red stop light. The system of crosswalks at the Towson roundabout is also futile, despite those large signs with flashing lights adjuring drivers to respect pedestrians' right of way.
Look at Britain, Toronto, and the Towson examples. Systems vary, but they all suggest that, on a wide and busy street at least, only a red light will induce a driver to stop.
Walkers who dash into trafficOf course drivers should yield to peds in crosswalks, no question about it. I have to cross the street to get to my car every day, and it can be scary. Especially if the driver is making a turn and has a green light. However, there is the other Baltimore thing. I've driven in other cities, and this is the only place where I routinely see pedestrians who meander, slowly and arrogantly, from between parked cars in front of traffic. Middle of the road, against the light, crosswise across intersections, you name it. Coming in to the office on Friday I was at the corner of Belair and North avenues, 2 guys on the corner started across the street, I had the green to continue across North Avenue. One guy strolls into the intersection, I have to stop to avoid him. He stands there, motioning to his apparently brighter friend, who didn't want to cross the street in front of moving cars. Guy one starts back, guy two figures what the heck, and starts into the intersection. So, you've got a bunch of cars stopped at a green light waiting for two pedestrians who are clearly in the wrong.
Two blocks up, once I get past these dudes, a middle-aged guy wanders out into the street mid block, in front of me and a bus. Since he had wandered out between 2 cars, I had to brake hard (yes I was doing the speed limit of 30, but he was two car lenghts ahead of me when he came onto the street) to avoid hitting him. This guy had the nerve to shake his fist and yell at me.
This was just one trip. Hardly a day goes by when I don't have to stop for a pedestrian in the middle of the street, crossing in front of moving traffic. Do they have a death wish? Are they hoping to get hit so that I have to pay something? What gives with that?
L.A. drivers respect walkersYou should know that in LA, at designated crosswalks, if a pedestrian just steps foot into the street, the cars stop! I have experienced this many times when I am there.
At least some drivers know the lawI was very happy to see your two articles on being a pedestrian in Baltimore (6/11 and 6/25). Since I moved to Baltimore 5 years ago and do alot of walking as I do not have a car, I have been amazed and disgusted at the way drivers treat pedestrians who are trying to cross the street. One of my pet peeves is when I try to cross the street on the green light and a driver who is trying to make a left turn, turns quickly in order to beat oncoming traffic ... and of course comes close to hitting me. This is two traffic violations: not waiting for the oncoming traffic to pass first before making a left turn and nearly killing a pedestrian! (Check out the intersection at Baltimore St. and Linwood Ave.) And the law in Maryland says: drivers "shall come to a complete stop" when a pedestrian is using a crosswalk? I began to wonder if the rule I learned when I got my license applied in Maryland: "Pedestrians have the right of way." How can a lowly walking person fight with drivers in a huge vehicle and have such blatant lack of respect for life? Is it possible to have a public education campaign? I try to console myself by being more grateful for the drivers who do respect pedestrians and even wave so I can cross when I may not have the right of way. There are some out there so I don't take them for granted anymore. Anyway, thank you again for grabbing our attention on this subject. Maybe you can continue to push to improve the way we treat the "vulnerable" pedestrians!!
I read your two articles regarding pedestrians crossing a street at a marked crosswalk, and have several thoughts to share. I use the BWI trail around the airport during lunch for running. There are several places where that trail crosses driveways. These include the driveway to the Amtrak/Marc rail station and Matheson Drive. Both these crossings are a marked (hatched) crosswalk. I consistently have problems with State of Maryland vehicles failing to yield to pedestrians at those locations. These vehicles include BWI shuttle buses and Maryland Department of Transportation Authority Police. Both these entities should know better. One would at least expect the police to know the law and abide by it, but that does not appear to be the case here. If the police flaunt and ignore the regulations, why expect any more out of the general driving public? Also, your discussions focused solely on marked crosswalks. There is a more general class of crosswalks defined in Maryland Statutes as the prolongation of a sidewalk across an intersection. Pedestrians also have a right-of-way in those crosswalks, not just in the marked crosswalks cited in your articles. Finally, pedestrians need to be aware of, and use crosswalks (either marked or unmarked) when crossing a street. Crossing in the middle of a block without benefit of a crosswalk is just asking for trouble.
After visiting family in May in Baltimore, my mom sent me your article on the O'Donnell St. crossing. Why? Because I had complained while there how inconsiderate drivers are of pedestrians. Now, as a former Balimorean, I probably never noticed this while living there and being a driver. But, having lived in Long Beach, CA for the past 4 years, I have learned to yield for peds. And to be yielded for. This almost cost me and my son our lives at a McD's parking lot near Eastpoint Mall. It would be nice to see MD come up with a way to make drivers yield to peds. For all the craziness on the roads out here, it is amazing to see everyone come to a complete stop when someone sets their foot off the curb and that's across all lanes even if the ped doesn't have a crosswalk to use (of course, the ped risks a ticket by not using a crosswalk). And horns, you better have a good reason to blow it or you can get a citation for that as well. Looking forward to more articles from you on this and hope that eventually, ped safety is accomplished. The beacon thing sounds like a great idea. Perhaps, they should add cameras to them. Bet that would make a driver think twice even if he/she doesn't stop. lol
Long Beach, CA (formerly of Dundalk)