I used to very much enjoy walking in downtown Sacramento, but I realized today that I don’t really enjoy it anymore. Sacramento downtown and midtown continue to be more interesting places to walk, with more businesses, more people, more destinations. So that is not the reason. Why, then? The behavior of drivers is why.

I just had a driver blow though the crosswalk at high speed while I was crossing L St at 13th St. I was already half way across in the crosswalk, but the driver accelerated into the other lane in front of me and blew through. Minutes before that a driver almost hit me while I was crossing J St at 10th St. When the pedestrian signal went white, I looked right (one way traffic eastbound) and proceeded. A driver almost hit me in the crosswalk. He (yes, it is almost always but not always a he) had run the red light because left turning vehicles in front of him had kept him from making the green light. He was not just a little late. The signal had been red for him for at least 10 seconds. He was so late northbound vehicles on 10th St had to wait for him to get out of the way. Every walk I take these days involves one or more of these instances.

There is a clear message that these drivers are sending to walkers and bicyclists, and that message is: “my convenience is more important than your life.” I believe that almost all of these people are very aware of the law, but choose to break it because to do otherwise would inconvenience them.

What do other pedestrians do? I see them cringing on corners, waiting until all the cars are gone, all the right and left turners have turned, and then crossing. As you probably well know, that means that many times they don’t get to cross at all, or they end up finishing their cross after the pedestrian phase is over. I am not willing to cringe on the corner. I have just as much right to the street as any car driver, and the law says that they must yield to me.

A driver who does not yield to a walker in the crosswalk is not only violating the law, they are creating an atmosphere of intimidation that causes some people to choose not to walk. I suspect many drivers are just fine with this; the fewer pedestrians around, the faster they can drive and the less chance of their distracted driving leading to an inconvenient insurance claim.

When a driver expresses their disdain for me, for all walkers, by not yielding to people in the crosswalk, they are threatening my life. They are largely doing so with impunity. Tickets for failure to yield are rare. And when a driver does kill or seriously injure a pedestrian, they often get away with it. The survivor gets to tell the story and make up some excuse about why hitting the pedestrian was inevitable, an ‘accident’. The number of pedestrians murdered by drivers continues to climb. It is a public health epidemic, it is an epidemic of lawlessness, and it is failure of society to protect vulnerable people.

We can’t just let drivers continue to kill us with impunity. It is time to fight back.

Now, back to the posts about creating a walkable Sacramento. I think this post does explain why the topic is so important to me. I want to live, and I want to be able to enjoy walking. And I want every other citizen who travels on foot to have the same, life and enjoyment.

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. We can’t just let drivers continue to kill us with impunity. It is time to fight back.

    I agree, but what can we do?

  2. I’m not sure what to do. The city has shown itself unwilling to address the issue. The Vision Zero effort is weak sauce, full of big ideas but little action. Sacramento Police Department doesn’t really believe in Vision Zero, so is unwilling to take any real action. Yes, safer streets are more a question of design than enforcement, but in the meanwhile…

    A concerted effort by walkability advocates might move the city off its butt, but there isn’t a radical pedestrian organization in town. WALKSacramento does a wonderful job at working with the government to improve things, but they are not the radical organization needed in this case. Perhaps individual direct action is part of the solution.

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About Dan Allison

Dan Allison is a Safe Routes to School Coordinator in the Sacramento area. Dan dances and backpacks, as much as possible.

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