There are no chickens crossing the road here

The Baltimore Sun

Be warned. If you are a pedestrian on O'Donnell Street in East Baltimore, the vast majority of the drivers there would rather run you down and kill you dead, dead, dead than slow down even a smidgen to let you use the crosswalk in which you have the legal right of way.

This is not hyperbole. I spent several hours last week observing the behavior of the drivers in the vicinity of the midblock crosswalk linking the old National Brewery with the building that now houses Elder Health. I crossed and recrossed O'Donnell Street dozens of times to see whether drivers would stop for foot traffic.

Fat chance. More than 90 percent ignored the signs and blew through the crosswalk without pause - even if a pedestrian was stepping off the curb. Some grudgingly slowed. A few actually stopped. But most made it clear through their actions that you proceeded into the crosswalk at your peril.

This included supposed professionals. As I stepped off a curb, a FedEx driver - with plenty of room in which to brake - showed a steely determination to accelerate over my dead body if necessary. A little later, a UPS driver exemplified that company's competitive spirit by doing the same.

Couldn't the city do something about it? It already is. The city government van that rumbled through the crosswalk nearly achieved an O'Donnell Street speed record as a uniformed public servant glared down at the pedestrian who had the temerity to think of crossing.

My excursion to Canton was prompted by an e-mail from a reader named Michele - no last name provided - who expressed concern about the O'Donnell crosswalk.

"I believe in the state of Maryland the law requires that cars stop at all crosswalks if someone is in the crosswalk," she wrote. "Recently people have begun using this new crosswalk, but nobody stops. When I do stop, drivers blow their horn at me and last week several vehicles actually went around me while people were in the crosswalk. I fear there may be a tragedy or I am going to be involved in a rear-end collision."

Michele is right about the law. The Maryland driver's manual says a driver "shall come to a complete stop" when a pedestrian using a crosswalk is on the half of the roadway in which the vehicle is traveling or "approaching so closely from an adjacent lane as to be in danger."

Drivers who fail to do so violate section 21.502a2 of Maryland law and are subject to an $80 fine and a point on their driving record. If their actions cause an accident, penalties are steeper. As for the drivers passing Michele when she stops at the crosswalk, they're breaking section 21.502c - also $80 and a point.

The O'Donnell crosswalk is marked by two pedestrian crossing signs in both directions. In the westbound lanes, where traffic is approaching a residential area from the industrial area to the east, there are two sets of rumble strips to slow traffic.

It isn't working too well. Though the speed limit in that stretch is 30 mph, many westbound drivers appeared to be doing more than 50 mph when they reached the crosswalk. Meanwhile, the eastbound vehicles were gunning their engines in their rush to get up to interstate speeds.

There were exceptions. A young woman in a Jeep Cherokee came to a full stop and let foot traffic pass. The guy in the van from Auto Glass Alternatives stopped and politely waved me across. (It turned out to be proprietor Roger Outten, whom I'll remember if a flying object hits my windshield.)

Regular users of the crosswalk say such courtesy is rare. Dan Rapp, who works at the Exit 10 advertising agency, said he sees cars stopping for pedestrians "maybe once or twice a week."

Generally, Rapp says, "I yield to them. They don't yield to me."

Tanika Rice, an Elder Health employee, says workers at Brewers Hill call the crosswalk journey "playing frog" because pedestrians end up hopping back and forth.

Susan Cole, vice president of human resources for the Bravo by Elder Health medical plan, uses the crosswalk several times a day. She said she sees people going through the crosswalk zone at what she estimates to be 70 mph.

Cole said she'd like to see the city install flashing yellow lights and speed bumps. "We need to slow it down and get it a little more pedestrian-friendly," she said.

Many employees in the complex say the city has been unresponsive to complaints, but David Knipp, who manages the Brewers Hill property for Obrecht Real Estate, said he's confident officials will soon act. He said he'll be sitting down with city transportation officials in the next two weeks to work out an interim plan. Among other things, he said, the city should replace the rumble strips. He said they worked at first but have since flattened out.

Even before that, there's something the city police can do.

Send an officer down there with a radar gun every day for a week. Have a cadet in civilian clothes use the crosswalk again and again while another officer observes who stops and who doesn't. Give out tickets by the bushel. Invite the media to cover the sting.

Then the city state's attorney's office can try to persuade our tenderhearted District Court judges not to hand out probation before judgment to people who were perfectly willing to mow down their fellow human beings to avoid a 10-second delay.

Good luck.

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