This year, I resolved to be more optimistic, but I can’t shake the feeling that, one day in the next 12 months, I’m going to be run over by an automobile. This realization struck me around noon on Jan. 2, immediately after I was almost run over by an automobile.
You may recall it was a relatively mild, sunny day. I was walking east across the intersection of North 45th Street and Wallingford Avenue North and was fully within in the orange-painted crosswalk, heading toward a fully lit “Green Man.”
All was right with the world, until I was literally halfway across the street. Suddenly, a car, coming north at about 20 miles per hour, passed about 4 feet in front of me, ran the red light and turned east. Either the driver didn’t see me, or he saw me and simply didn’t care.
Either way, another New Year’s resolution was smashed in just 36 hours. I should have resolved to win the lottery. At least, then, I would have had the chance for 366 days of optimism.
Walk the walk
I am as pedestrian as a pedestrian can get. I don’t own a car, bike, skateboard, scooter, unicycle or roller blades. I walk to my grocery store, library, post office, bank and gym and frequently stroll to the retail shops and restaurants in Wallingford and Fremont.
When I do leave my neighborhood, I take the Metro bus and pay with my Orca card.
I am the type of resident that Seattle’s high-density neighborhood advocates salivate over. So how come every time I hit the pavement of my city I feel like an endangered species?
The episode I described seems to occur on a weekly basis. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve almost been hit by a car, van or truck. And those are just the times I’ve been in a painted crosswalk or crossing at a corner; I’m not even counting the times I’ve almost been hit while on a sidewalk.
I’m a conscientious pedestrian, too. While I’m walking, I never talk on the phone, text, read or listen to headphones. I don’t jaywalk, and I’m also one of those dummies who will stand at an intersection and wait for the “Green Man” to appear before I cross the street, even if it’s midnight and there are no cars on the horizon in any direction. Still, I’ve had numerous close calls.
Tragically, many pedestrians aren’t as lucky as I’ve been. In 2009, 17 pedestrians were killed in Seattle; in 2008, 14 were killed; and in 2007, nine were killed. How many of these senseless deaths could have been prevented if the drivers involved had been paying more attention while they were driving?
We’ve all seen drivers doing stupid things behind the wheel. I’ve seen drivers brushing or flossing their teeth, shaving with an electric razor, reading books or holding babies, toddlers, adults, German shepherds or cats in their laps.
I’ve even seen the same guy in the same car in my neighborhood receiving a sex act from a passenger on two separate occasions, both national holidays.
But it is cell phones that probably cause the most distractions for drivers and pose the greatest danger for pedestrians.
According to the Washington State Department of Licensing, a driver talking on a cell phone is as impaired as a driver with a .08 blood-alcohol level, the legal limit for drunk driving. Drivers talking on cell phones are also slower to hit the brakes in emergencies and miss more than half the visual cues noticed by attentive drivers.
A driver who is texting is as impaired as a driver with a .16 blood-alcohol level and can travel more than the length of a football field in the time it takes to read a short message.
In Washington state, you can be pulled over and issued a $124 ticket if you are caught talking or texting on a phone. As these mobile devices become more and more sophisticated, they will no doubt become more and more distracting.
Combine that with all the large-scale road and construction projects currently underway around the city, and I’m going to be dodging automobiles for a long time.
So how do I prevent drivers from hitting me? I can tell you that shouting, flipping them off and knocking on their window when they stop in the middle of a crosswalk and pointing out their errors doesn’t work very well.
Maybe pedestrians should hold some mass protests and block off intersections at rush hour like Seattle bicyclists do when they’re aggrieved. But then people would just think we were an Occupy Seattle rally or a marathon.
I think the onus is on drivers everywhere to pay more attention while driving and obey traffic laws. That could be your resolution for 2012, if you haven’t made one yet, or if you’ve already broken one and looking for a new one.
As for me, I’m going to walk on over to the convenience store, buy some lottery tickets and start daydreaming about what kind of car I’m going to buy when I win.
MATTHEW WILEMSKI, an award-winning columnist, lives in Wallingford.