Ruth Ann Daily: Selfish walkers are a running theme here

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I was driving toward a green light on Fort Duquesne Boulevard -- driving slowly like other motorists since it was dusk, it was snowing hard and the roads were icing up.

Suddenly a man sprinted across the intersection in front of us, and we all hit our brakes. I slid a bit to my right, but so did the car in that lane, and we both came to a stop inches from where the sprinter had just passed.

We sat there stunned. Despite a red light and "Don't Walk" signal, the man had crossed all the way from the river-side of the boulevard, hidden by a snowstorm and by vehicles waiting to turn -- which means he'd crossed four lanes illegally before he reached ours and almost died.

And here's the thing: This happens all the time in Pittsburgh.

Take away the near-death conclusion, the blustery weather and his hooded parka, and you have something that occurs here a few thousand times a day: pedestrians flouting the law.

Forget a bus-free Golden Triangle: If the powers-that-be really want better quality of life, more safety and less gridlock, they'll ban pedestrians.

I know, I know -- it's a ridiculous proposal, but it's high time that my fellow Pittsburgh pedestrians join me in confessing what we all know is true: We stink.

We are selfish, accident-causing, street-congesting scofflaws.

And yes, I'm switching positions here, from behind-the-wheel to in-the-crosswalk, because I divide my time equally between the two points of view and because I don't want to exempt myself from this broad but much-deserved rebuke.

We deserve a collective kick in the pants.

Merchants' complaints about hordes of waiting bus-riders may have prompted the bus-free zone proposal, but anyone worried about Downtown congestion in general would have to conclude after a few minutes' observation that oblivious and disorderly pedestrians clog things up the most -- no contest.

Due to my husband's business travels, I've been fortunate enough to make my way on foot through many cities around the world, and I can state unequivocally that of all the places I've visited, Pittsburgh pedestrians are the worst.

In Vienna people simply do not disobey the walk/don't walk signs -- not even when the utter absence of traffic clearly makes it safe. If you do, you immediately single yourself out as a tourist and risk a verbal rebuke from the gentle Viennese. (Ahem.)

Name a major city -- London, Paris, Bonn, Beijing, Lucerne, Washington, D.C. -- and its pedestrians are more alert and polite than ours.

Even in supposedly aggressive New York City, where the new mayor is cracking down on jaywalking, those on foot behave better than we do. They understand the urban ballet: We're all in this together, everyone's got to get through, so I'll wait till it's my turn.

It's actually fun to hang back at a New York corner and watch the natives. They check the signals, they check the oncoming traffic, they calculate -- they do it all fast -- and then they move, decisively. We Pittsburghers don't check anything. We don't look at the signals, we don't check traffic, we just mosey on into the street and hope for the best.

Which makes us the worst.

So once again -- We're No. 1!

Do we really want to top that list?

My theory is that most of the people who are pedestrians Downtown never drive Downtown. Or they drive but park far enough away that they've never experienced by car the intersections they're gumming up on foot.

The two worst are at Fifth Avenue and Wood Street and at Sixth and Penn avenues. Here, the lights are timed to allow north/south then east/west vehicle traffic to proceed (or vice versa), followed by a long all-directions crossing for pedestrians. It would be brilliant if obeyed.

Instead, pedestrians ignore all signals and cross whenever they like. If a vehicle wishes to turn, it cannot; it's rare for more than two drivers to make it through any light cycle.

When defending the bus-free zone proposal, one official said pedestrians might have to walk farther to catch their buses, but that would be no hardship because "Downtown is very walkable."

But what makes the walking so easy also makes driving so difficult. The narrow 18th- and 19th-century streets have one lane in each direction. Turning vehicles and walking people are in direct competition.

Maybe the same approach would solve gridlock and the milling-crowds problem: Enforce the law. Police officers could ticket scofflaw pedestrians, keep store entrances unblocked and invite bus riders to form lines.

We'd have to hire more cops, of course, but that's the upside to our rudeness: It's a jobs program!


Ruth Ann Dailey: ruthanndailey@hotmail.com.

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