Sunday, January 13, 2008

Berkeley Pedestrians In The "Driver's Seat"

Lest anyone believe I am a kneejerk P.C. liberal, this is a Letter to the Editor I recently sent to our local rag. The context: a recent pedestrian death from an oncoming car, one of four such Berkeley deaths in 2007. Local pols are starting to get on their soapboxes and, predictably, they are placing blame on the drivers, rather than holding pedestrians responsible for the dangerous situations they create.

This is short and inflammatory to fit the LTTE format. I'm working on a much longer version that will present a well-reasoned rational argument, including the choices Berkeley pedestrians make, the alternative choices possible, letting the reader decide which is safer and more rational.

To state the glaringly obvious: the greatest danger to pedestrians in Berkeley are the pedestrians themselves. Whatever the many virtues of walking, the overwhelming majority of pedestrians consistently behave ignorantly, arrogantly, and/or selfishly when entering our roadways, putting themselves and others at risk. They seem to believe their moral superiority ("I'm an ecological pedestrian, you're a planet-killing driver") or perceived legal right-of-way ("All cars must halt for MEEEEE") will magically stop all vehicles. Or maybe they are just too busy zoning to their iPods, or exchanging important gossip on their cell phones to care. Unfortunately, in the real world, vehicles don't always stop in time.

The collisions are not, as has been suggested, predominantly a result of Berkeley car culture, but rather of Berkeley pedestrian culture. Instead of rushing to blame speeding cars, we should be asking why pedestrians are in such a damn hurry to cross the street. If Berkeley pedestrians simply treated cars as the dangerous 2.5 ton missiles they are by 1) avoiding crossing streets in front of nearby oncoming vehicles, and 2) crossing cautiously under all conditions, vehicle-pedestrian collisions would be entirely eliminated except for the most unique unfortunate circumstances. Regardless of whether drivers behave recklessly or responsibly, pedestrians are nearly always "in the drivers seat" in regards their own safety. Right now, they invariably choose to drive their safety off the nearest cliff and take their chances. "Precaution" does not exist in the vocabulary of the Berkeley pedestrian, and THAT is the problem.

Having spent nearly 40 of my 50 years elsewhere, and speaking as both a driver and pedestrian, the lack of regard Berkeley pedestrians show for their own safety is appalling. I'm amazed the injury and fatality rates aren't much higher. It's time Berkeley pedestrians grew up and behaved responsibly- that is, if they truly want to protect themselves instead of digging up scapegoats to fit whatever irrational ideology they've adopted to support their narcissistic behavior. I look forward to the day when a Berkeley pedestrian actually looks both ways before crossing a street (especially when they are pushing a baby carriage; even looking one way would be an improvement), or waits for a line of twenty cars to pass instead of forcing them all to brake and idle, wasting gas and spewing emissions, so one single solitary self-absorbed "green" pedestrian can mosey across.