Friday, August 31, 2007

When Courtesy Goes Too Far

I was waiting to cross the street yesterday at a fairly busy intersection on Madison's near west side. As I watched the traffic flow for the right time to launch my large frame into the intersection, I noticed a car in the oncoming lane stop and wave me across. Well, this really did me no good as the other lane kept moving. I tried to wave the car off, but he just sat there.

Then it got worse. Another car joined the first, thus allowing me to (theoretically) cross half way. This would have been fine...if there was a median in the center of the street. As there was not, I still stood on one side of the road, unable to cross as the other lane kept moving.

I tried to wave these people off, but they will not move at all, so I had to run across, barely getting to the other side ahead of a garbage truck careening down the street.

What caused this difficult situation? The same thing that causes problems in all facets of modern life...misplaced courtesy.

It is apparently a law in Madison that drivers have to stop at crosswalks to let pedestrians cross. It is, as you might imagine, a law that is sporadically followed and enforced...and this is where the difficulty starts.

It is one of those laws that would work if everyone followed it or no-one did. If just some people follow it, I think it makes you more likely to get hit because people are inclined to "take the driver up" on their "offer" to cross the street. Unless you can wait the "well-meaning" driver out, you have to take the chance of being hit instead of waiting until the opportunity presents itself to cross safely. If I wanted to cross at a more reliable pace, I would find an intersection with a stop sign or a traffic light.

In Chicago, this would never happen. People would never in a million years think of stopping to let people cross if the light was green. Never. Ever. Not kind, caring or concerned for the safety of your fellow man? Yes? More predictable? Absolutely. In Chicago, I can just assume that drivers are dangerous sociopaths who would gladly run me down in the street. The surety of that assumption allows me to react in more predictable ways.

This is just more evidence that the feeling in Madison that we are a kinder, more aware, more community-minded city is often a case of the heart being in the right place but the brain not considering the practical implications.

It is also further proof of another old saw, namely "the road to hell is paved with the best of intentions."

Use those good intentions for something that is really worthwhile and, since you won't be stopping at every crosswalk, you can get to it right away.

Problem solved.


erika said...

Dude - your post made me think of the drivers here in Israel. You have to throw yourself in front of cars at crosswalks here, and the drivers don't so much stop as they slow down and then swerve (swirve? sp?)to miss the offending party - I mean pedestrian...

Aaron Cynic said...

It's funny, every now and again I do actually stop in the middle of a green light to let someone cross. However, that's simply because most pedestrians are fearless idiots (myself included, when I'm not driving) who believe that a car will stop for them so they just go ahead. I've got no choice but to slam on my brakes, as vehicular manslaughter isn't something I'd like to add to my rap sheet. Coming back this weekend for labor day?