Campus jaywalking undermines safety for all

by Pete Wagner

Everything you need to know you should have learned in kindergarten – but you didn’t. I’m talking about this: “Look both ways before you cross the street!”

It’s a tradition to jaywalk on campus. Even I did it as an undergraduate student, and I had been trained since birth by my father, a safety-conscious firefighter, to behave in ways that prevented accidents. (He even took me to a park once when I was about nine years old to teach me the correct ways to climb trees without killing myself – or injuring the trees.)

I was quickly cured of jaywalking, this adventurous deviation from my upbringing, when a University cop stopped me one day. I had just crossed in a crosswalk, while I still had a green light but the “don’t walk” signal had begun flashing.

“Do you have a lot of extra money you don’t need?” the cop asked.

“No,” I replied, wondering why he had stopped me and what the hell the sarcastic screw was getting at.

“Then why are you crossing against the light and risking having me write you a ten-dollar ticket for jaywalking?!”

In ancient times, when I was still an undergraduate and $10 was a lot of money, they actually used to enforce the jaywalking laws on occasion. So, I was cured.

Now, I am not an anal retentive when it comes to crossing outside of the crosswalk, or even against the lights, as long as the traffic is sparse and the jaywalker first looks every possible direction and sees there is no oncoming motorized vehicle in sight.

But the style of jaywalking predominate on this campus is devoid of this minimal
self-preservational protocol. It is anarchistic mass stupidity.

At Harvard and Washington, less than a block from the “‘U’ cop shop” (and a block from the intersection where I had been stopped by the cop for my own youthful indiscretion years ago), students and others regularly ignore the lights. Without so much as a sideways glance, they step directly into the path of my two-ton Ford F-150 4×4 when I am halfway across the intersection, necessitating I slam on the brakes and remark aloud, “What the hell is wrong with these morons?! Didn’t their dumb Gen-X parents ever teach them how to cross the street?!”

At the corner of 15th Avenue Southeast and University Avenue, when I am driving and have the legal right of way to make a right turn onto University on red, gaggles of law-flaunting pedestrians spill into the crosswalk against the big orange hand without so much as a glance over their left shoulders to see if there is a vehicle making a (legal) right turn into their path.

At the crosswalk between the dorms and the parking ramp on Oak Street and Delaware Street, nurses – people who should have a modicum of respect for the notion life is worth preserving as well as being intimately familiar with the consequences of a human body taking on an oncoming SUV – lead the moronic masses as they march brainlessly through the crosswalk on red lights during the busiest times of day, oncoming steel-and-glass-on-wheels be damned.

The most insulting intersection is the one at 14th Avenue Southeast and University Avenue. There, the University has planted a sign and painted a line in the street that comes off River Road behind Peik Hall that requires drivers to stop for red lights about 50 feet in back of the actual light at the actual corner. Apparently it is just too exasperating to expect college students not to walk against the red light and straight into the path of oncoming cars. Poor babies. Why don’t we just close off all the roads within a one-mile radius of campus to protect all of the students from ever having to look before they step off the curb?

Though I might sound anti-pedestrian, I’m not. Motorists who fail to yield to pedestrians who have the right of way rank somewhere beneath suicide bombers, in my mind. I have logged many more miles walking, biking and riding mass transit than driving. I resisted driving until I was 34, and then only because I needed, for my work, to drive out of state frequently to areas without mass transit service. I’m currently a member of an international pedestrian rights organization.

What finally prompted me to write this was an incident recently at East River Road at the Franklin Avenue bridge. I had often seen students mindlessly run right into the street against the “don’t walk” signs without checking over their shoulders to see if motorists, with the right of way to turn right from River Road onto the bridge, were about to crush the life out of them. When the signal turns green for traffic headed southeast, the walk light stays red. I’m amazed there hasn’t been mass carnage there by now, considering the way impatient rush hour drivers leaving the University speed around that corner.

The night before I wrote this, I was heading the other way, across the Franklin bridge toward East Bank. It was dark, it was late and there was little traffic. I saw no pedestrians around. As I clearly signaled and made my left turn from the bridge onto River Road, I checked the walk sign. The big orange hand was lit solid. Then, as I continued to turn, I glanced to the left to make sure there were no pedestrians. Two imbeciles on bicycles with no lights or reflectors shot out into the crosswalk right in front of me, forcing me to slam on my brakes and veer off to the side to avoid hitting them.

It wasn’t their death-defying dopiness in doing that, but the fact they brazenly stopped before completing the crossing, blocking me, and turned to give me a prolonged dirty look. This is where it degenerates from carelessness to a kind of right-wing, antisocial anarchism. Where pedestrians break the law in ways that assume drivers who are taking their legal right of way are villains for failing to exempt them.

As one of the indignant yahoos stood there, straddling his bike, holding me up and glaring at me, I stuck my head out the window and asked, “You are giving me a dirty look when you had a red light?” Apparently he believed being on a bike somehow made it unnecessary for him to regard the “don’t walk” sign despite the fact he was in the crosswalk.

If I hadn’t been extra cautious, I would probably have taken my right of way that night and any opinion this biker held about superceding the crosswalk signal would now be a moot point.

Lucky for him and his friend my dad was a firefighter.


Pete Wagner is a Daily editorial cartoonist. Send comments to [email protected]