Pedestrian explanation for rampant jaywalking

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How many times has this happened to you: You're driving through the city -- maybe Downtown, maybe the East End -- and when you come to the rare light that isn't timed to turn red as soon as you get through the previous one, you have to stop anyway.

You cringe at the possible impending impact from behind. Why have you stopped at a green light? For a jaywalker.

Now, I know that Pittsburghers are very fond of jaywalking and hope someday it will achieve Olympic status so we can field a gold-winning team. I have been known to cross against the light or in the middle of the block myself, though I indulge in the quaint practice of first making sure there aren't any cars coming.

I know. I'm a total nerd that way.

And I still perversely believe in a motorist-jaywalker social contract. A driver has to take his foot off the gas and not try to hit me if I inadvertently get in his way, and I extend him the courtesy of hustling out of the street briskly with a contrite wave.

And then we all pair up and dance a quadrille in our powdered wigs, because it's the 18th century.

Nobody does this anymore. Nobody on foot, anyway. By ones and twos or in vast plodding herds, pedestrians are straying out into traffic in violation of the Vehicle Code (Chapter 35) and witless disregard for the laws of physics.

I'm in favor of walkable cities. I'm in favor of bikes and bike lanes and beard-y young people in skinny jeans and knitted hats commuting safely on shared roads. I'm careful to give them their 4-foot buffer, and I wish they'd give me more than 3 inches in return when they whiz by at a red light, but I wish them well. I bike too.

Cyclists aren't immune to the zombie pedestrians shambling obliviously off curbs. In game-day crowds on the North Shore, I saw a cyclist collide with a pedestrian, stop and apologize profusely while the startled but unharmed pedestrian unleashed a torrent of hostile profanity. The cyclist, bless him, remained polite and apologetic.

I don't know if I could keep my cool that way. I'm increasingly annoyed by deliberate jaywalkers who make me brake hard and then give me a look of righteous outrage as I pass. I dared to blow my horn at a herd of possible art students meandering into a busy street, earbuds stuffed and phones in hand, and one of them turned to shriek a torrent of obscenities and threats that made my upholstery smoke.

City Council is considering supplying flags at busy crossings in town to improve visibility. This is a good idea: Drivers need them to try to get the attention of pedestrians. Some cars already have those Steelers flags, but those don't seem to do any good at all.

How did this epidemic start? What causes it? I've puzzled over it for months now. You know what else is a mystery? The problem in the suburbs and rural areas with structures getting in front of drivers. Every night the local news has a story about a vehicle-vs.-library or similar crash. Many of these buildings even have flags.

But when it comes to the zombie pedestrians in the city, I have a theory. It's color blindness. They must be color blind. Red-green color blindness, which would make you unable to see a red light, is genetic; in a city like Pittsburgh, where the population tends to be stable, it stands to reason a genetic affliction might become common.

You already knew zombies are in our blood, right? But what do they really want? Braaaiins.

Happy Halloween.


Samantha Bennett, freelance writer: sambennett412@gmail.com

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