Friday, January 09, 2009

Little bit from column A, little bit from column b

I have mentioned before that Bobbie & I have about a 0.5 mile walk to the bus stop in the morning. It's typically no big deal. We cross two streets, and walk for some time alongside another, fairly major one for this part of town.

The scary part is the little street we cross to get to the bus stop. It's right by a Chevron, and when the station's open it's hair-raising at times, because it gives us a fourth direction to have to keep an eye on. There's a small street that runs briefly parallel to the major street, and the street that we cross as well. It's bad because it's hard to judge where people are going. This is why the speed limit is only 30 mph.

We were crossing this morning--after having stopped and checked for traffic, as always--and damn near got flattened anyway. Little car turned off the street that runs parallel to the big one, going way too damn fast, and I did that little deer-in-the headlights thing where it's going through your mind in a split second "Which way do I break? Run towards the side we were going to, or the one we were coming from? Is he gonna hit the brakes? Is he gonna swerve? Should I shove the kid out of the way?" And, of course, "Oh, FUCK!" I broke towards the side we were crossing too, he swerved in the other direction, blood did not flow. It was all over in a second or two, and I was cursing and hugging my kid and wondering why I wasn't more scared than I was. It was all kind of unreal. I don't think we were in much danger, really, because whoever it was saw us--Bobbie's jacket was white, mine a very light gray--and he wasn't going as fast as it seemed, or hit his brakes good or something. Or maybe my brain is trying to protect me. I dunno.

Funny thing is, there was a letter-to-the-editor in the paper just yesterday on the topic of how dangerous San Antonio is for pedestrians. And it's true. There is no sidewalk at all for the vast majority of our walk to the bus stop; thankfully the land is undeveloped and we can get up well away from the street (speed limit 45, routinely broken). Even in many of the nicer neighborhoods there are no sidewalks; I was in Windcrest last week with Robert and there wasn't a sidewalk to be seen.

I think part of it is this: no one walks in this city unless they're poor. Which, of course, isn't 100% true, but it holds a lot of water (just like almost no one rides the bus unless they're poor). Those who've managed to scrape together just enough money to buy a hoopty tend to be very disdainful of those of us still on the hoof. Many others simply don't look. It does not seem to occur to most drivers that anyone might be walking. (Motorcycle riders will be familiar with the cousin to this blindness!)

The letter actually annoyed me a bit, though, as the writer mentioned something about being almost hit several times crossing driveways. It is his understanding--a correct one--that pedestrians have the right of way. So, apparently he wanders out with great faith in his righteousness. Meanwhile, you will find me standing there getting progressively more annoyed while I wait for a break in traffic or that one person who knows he's supposed to stop. (And frankly, it is very seldom women who stop, even if I've got the kids with me.) I have the right of way. I know this. I am still not willing to take on the law of physics, as I somehow think it trumps Texas law. Greater mass, in other words, pretty much always wins out.

In Connecticut, people stopped. Whether the pedestrian was in a crosswalk or not, the drivers would stand their car on its nose to stop for them. Being of good German rule-following stock, I have naturally done much the same ever since learning I was supposed to in Driver's Ed. (I also do freakish stuff like signal my lane changes, but that's a topic for a different post.) In Virginia, they usually did not. Ditto Hawaii, unless you were downtown in the midst of a tourist throng. Hawaii matched this with a tendency by small, elderly Asian ladies to wander out into traffic. Pedestrians, in the right, got killed much more often in Hawaii than here.

San Antonio is a city of near-misses. Though pedestrians are taken out on a semi-regular basis, it's usually when they've wandered drunkenly out into traffic.

I prefer walking and riding the bus, especially when headed downtown. My college campus is on the northern fringes of downtown. I wouldn't drive in even if I had a parking pass & enough money to pay for gas every day.

Of course, downtown is where the tourists are. I was standing at the trolley stop at Navarro & East Houston downtown this morning after dropping Bobbie, reading my book & waiting for the trolley to take me to Bill Miller's, when movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. I looked up and there were three women standing in the middle of the intersection, doing a slow circle. Conventiongoers, obviously (too nicely dressed for tourists, but standing out in the street like 'em). Thankfully, traffic was light. They appeared to be looking for a place to eat, as they spotted the Delivery Market and tottered off toward it. I was sorely tempted to aks them whether there were any streets where they came from, but they were on the other side of East Houston from me.

East Houston is bad for people wandering out into traffic. My mother, the girls, & I were walking to (you guessed it) a trolley stop some short time ago when a woman staggered out of the Majestic Theater, white wine in hand, and stood out in the middle of the street to stare--I presume drunkenly--up at the marquee, completely oblivious to traffic oncoming from two directions. There are several hotels in that small area, and a number of chi-chi restaurants, and of course the theater, and this seems to breed stupidity in people who do not normally walk anywhere. I have seen people wander down the middle of the traffic lane on a semi-regular basis lately.

So while I want to defend the honor of my fellow pedestrians...I cannot. I've seen too much to be able to do so with any honesty. Too many people wandering up the center-turn-lane of a seven-lane street. Too many pushing strollers ahead of them as they dodge oncoming traffic. Too many walking out in front of a bus (for the record, I wait until the bus pulls completely away from the stop, 'cause you just can't see around those suckers), or out from between parked cars. It's crazy.

In the battle of car vs person, car wins. This is a simple fact, yet apparently escapable.

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