Custom vs. law

Due to lack of safe parking — I was the victim of a hit-and-run in the Alewife garage — I often walk the last mile to work.

Drivers are very courteous at the crosswalks. They stop for pedestrians on the curb waiting to cross. I’m not sure that’s legal — it may be considered standing more than 12 inches from the curb — but it’s customary in the area. They even stop for bicycles. Bicycles, being vehicles, don’t have right of way in crosswalks. Drivers, ignoring the law, treat them as fast pedestrians.

Almost nobody knows the law, but drivers have a notion that they should stop to let people cross. And the result works.

I’m not going to play traffic lawyer and maybe cause an accident. If stopping before the pedestrian leaves the curb is technically illegal, police aren’t going to ticket me for it. In fact, a police officer stopped to let me cross.

The result works, and it works without any of the anti-car devices I find farther out in the suburbs.

You take the exit ramp, round the bend, and everybody knows there’s a busy crosswalk up ahead.

The word “busy” is important. It’s what determines the custom.

Farther out in the suburbs it’s a different story. It’s human nature to react more quickly to an expected hazard than an unexpected one, and pedestrians are less expected.

We have a limited amount of attention and we have to prioritize. On an empty highway the radio is important. Near the subway station, pedestrians are important. Out in the suburbs, motor vehicles are important.

Drivers who have just as much intention to yield to pedestrians are less likely to do so in areas with fewer pedestrians.

But the laws are the same. This is why police can run crosswalk stings. They surprise drivers. Stop hard and you get rear-ended. Don’t stop hard and you get a ticket.

Towns post nuisance stop signs and speed bumps to slow traffic, and end up making things worse.

On an unobstructed road I can guess if you’re slowing down, you’re probably slowing to let me cross.

When traffic has to slow to 15 mph to roll through a stop sign or over a speed bump I can’t tell what to do. Is the car slowing for me, or is the driver’s eye fixed on the suspension-crushing bump? In the latter case, I’m going to get hit.

I’d rather be missed at 35 mph than hit at 15. I have not found walking any easier with the anti-car devices that popped up recently. My favorite crosswalk to use is the one with nothing but paint.

There is literature, not just ancedote, saying that unnecessary stop signs cause accidents. There is also literature suggesting the injury rate depends on pedestrian judgment of traffic as well as traffic speed.

Do you know any compulsive remodelers? I do. That wall needs to go. Wouldn’t the foyer look better with a new window?

That’s the attitude of the people who end up in charge of regulating traffic. Messing with the flow of traffic causes accidents, but they just can’t help themselves.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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