Walkers drive home point of road danger

The Baltimore Sun

It seems like such a simple concept: Huge vehicles, each weighing more than a ton, must yield to flesh-and-blood human creatures in a modest zone provided for their passage.

It's a concept grasped widely in California and many overseas countries, but seemingly foreign to the denizens of the Free (to Mow Down Others) State.

That's the report from the many readers who responded to my column two weeks ago about driver misbehavior at a particular crosswalk on O'Donnell Street in Canton. From all parts of the Baltimore area they wrote in to say that the motorists at their neighborhood crosswalks were equally disdainful of human life and Maryland law.

Christine Callahan wrote that she has lived in Canada, Europe and various U.S. states.

"Maryland is the only state where I have personally found myself at risk or been afraid to cross a street. Bar none," she wrote. "Marylanders are different people when they get behind a wheel, I hate to categorize anyone but they are." And it's not just nasty old Baltimore. Callahan spent two years in leafy, law-abiding Westminster, where she walked to work.

"People do not stop for pedestrians at established crosswalks. They just don't," Callahan reported. "I have been in lighted crosswalks with a 'go man' light and still had impatient drivers honking their horns at drivers who did stop for me. The only choice the driver they were honking at had was to run me over. I was glad they didn't."

Me too, hon.

Beth Dochinger of Homeland said the problem of crosswalk violations is "systemic" in Baltimore.

"I can't tell you the number of times I've stopped for pedestrians in a walkway and I've gotten yelled at (expletives galore), fingered, honked at, and almost creamed from behind by irate drivers [because] I stopped in a crosswalk," Dochinger wrote. "A couple times, a woman and child trying to cross the street [were] almost hit because [drivers] swerved around me in anger."

It's good to see our old friend Model Maryland Motorist is still alive and well. (Doesn't my modest proposal in the Jan. 22 column that car horns be abolished sound better all the time?)

Sean Meyer of Essex said he found himself nodding "like a bobble-head" in agreement with the crosswalk article. He said that about a year ago, while crossing in a crosswalk with the walk signal, he was nearly run down by an SUV driver who he believes intended to scare him.

"Fortunately for me (unfortunately for the driver of the SUV), there was an unmarked police car behind the driver. He quickly pulled the driver over to issue a citation," Meyer wrote.

So Meyer goes to court to testify. Defendant is a no-show. Police lieutenant tells Meyer defendant will be socked with license suspension and $500 fine.

So defendant gets suspension in the mail and ceases driving until he comes clean with the court? Not likely. People who drive that way don't pay attention to mere trifles such as a suspension.

Mike McGlynn of Canton questioned whether the crosswalk on O'Donnell Street makes sense given that there's a crosswalk with a stoplight about 100 yards (his estimate) up the street. He suggests the existence of the crosswalk is the result of the clout of the developer of the Brewers Hill complex.

"If you are driving eastbound on O'Donnell, it is difficult to see the crosswalk until you are directly at it," McGlynn wrote. "Wouldn't it be easier to remove the crosswalk altogether and force people to use the one supported by a light and easier to see from a driving perspective?"

Let me get this. There are two pedestrian crossing signs and two sets of rumble strips warning eastbound drivers on O'Donnell to slow down. Then there's the crosswalk itself, which does come up on drivers rather suddenly when they're going 50 mph in a 30-mph zone.

So because these drivers can't or won't comply with the law, the solution is to remove the crosswalk and "force" hundreds of Brewers Hill workers - some of whom cross between buildings several times a day in all weather conditions - to go 200 yards out of their way each time?

The idea certainly makes sense from the perspective of speeding drivers who hate to be delayed in their rush to get to that stoplight. Maybe we should tear out all the crosswalks and get over the idea of vehicles yielding to pedestrians.

Stone Scruggs of Ocean City, who describes himself as a "full-time walker," likes that idea. He thinks it would be "arrogant" of him to "presume to stop traffic."

"As a vehicle is more visible than a person, the burden of responsibility should fall on the ped," he wrote.

The last word goes to Mark Walker, who works in strategic planning and market research at Johns Hopkins Medicine. He offers constructive suggestion that I commend to the powers that be in local transportation agencies.

"The answer can easily be solved by following England's lead," Walker wrote. "It's called a Belisha beacon."

Walker explained that a Belisha beacon is "a flashing orange globe atop a tall black and white pole" that is used to mark pedestrian crossings in Britain, Ireland and Singapore - among other places.

Named after Leslie Hore-Belisha, the British Minister of Transport who introduced them in 1934, the beacons provide extra visibility at crosswalks. Whether they would stop or even slow many Maryland motorists is doubtful. But they're kind of picturesque in a goofy sort of way that would fit Baltimore's streetscape.

You can check out Belisha beacons at http:--en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belisha_beacon.

The Getting There column welcomes reader feedback at gettingthere@baltsun.com. Please include full name and hometown.

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