Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Trouble with Pedestrians

They want to cross the street without getting hit

They want motorists to stay out of their crosswalks

They want bicyclists to walk not ride through crosswalks

Yes, pedestrians.

All those people who walk neighborhood blocks, cross the streets, hurry around commercial districts on foot, and stroll on park paths. Everyone who walks for pleasure, exercise or because it's the only means of transportation they can afford.

They can be trouble. Because of what they do.
  • They cross streets without looking both ways
  • They use crosswalks while texting, listening to music, and talking with friends
  • They sometimes travel in large groups, spread across the sidewalk, and refuse to walk single-file
  • They enter crosswalks against the light or with only a few seconds left in a countdown
  • They cross streets mid-block with a saunter or a dash
  • They travel with small children who tend to get curious and stop to stare at something on the sidewalk or wander off to look at a leaf or a bug
  • They persist in using crosswalks even when motorists clearly want to drive past them or when bicyclists really don't want to slow down for their little ones
  • Invariably, they all have stories to share -- especially at public meetings -- about almost getting hit by motorists or bicyclists
But the real issue with pedestrians is they act as if they have a fundamental right to safe passage while on foot. They seem to believe they deserve deference from motorists and bicyclists when using the streets, crosswalks, paths and sidewalks.

The trouble is they're right. They do deserve safety and they should expect vigilance from people operating much larger, heavier, and faster vehicles and swifter bicycles.

People on foot are the most vulnerable users of paths, sidewalks, crosswalks, and roadways. For that reason alone we all need to make walking much safer in the North Panhandle and in all San Francisco neighborhoods. We are all pedestrians at some point during the day, and we deserve safe behavior from one another. When we take to wheels -- in vehicles or on bikes -- we need to retain enough pedestrian consciousness to not make ourselves the trouble.

WalkSafe: A series about walking safely in NOPA and San Francisco


  1. I used to treat my morning commute through Berkeley as a time trial, but I realized that this made me quite careless at intersections. I now try to be 100% observant of pedestrian right of way. I still get my workout, but I also get a lot of very surprised and grateful "thank you"s from people trying to cross the street. Makes my day.

  2. yes, I see too many cyclists treating pedestrians the same way some drivers treat cyclists (and pedestrians). Almost every day, when I'm stopped at a red light, a cyclist (or 2 or 3) will pull up in front of me and stop in the crosswalk (bonus points if they attempt to bust a trackstand) and block peds' way.

    More specifically to this particular blog's purview, what's the protocol along the panhandle multi-use path when a pedestrian needs to cross it? I assume it's the same as for when a ped is crossing the street in a crosswalk so cars and bikes have to stop, but whenever I stop, other cyclists just blow past on both sides like I'm an idiot.

  3. I always think of myself as a pedestrian, first and foremost--whether I'm walking or biking. When I ride a bike I do actually have the right to ride (see the CVC) in the crosswalk, albeit I do it carefully, slowly, and with major deference to the walkers.

  4. James: I find the same thing. A little mindfulness and consideration at the intersection can go a long way.

    steve: When peds want to cross along the multi-use path? Seems smarter for peds to wait briefly for bikes to pass -- would be different for much wider street or if there was a really long stream of cyclists.