Walking just may be hazardous to your health

Ever since the Critical Mass incident in Capitol Hill at the end of July, there has been a lot of discussion about the rights of car drivers and the rights of bicycle riders on the streets of Seattle. Although this dialogue has been important and worthwhile, an important aspect has been neglected. What's missing is mention of the real victim of these brutal road wars: me!

You see, I am a pedestrian. I live in Wallingford and walk to work. I walk to the grocery store and the barber shop. I walk to restaurants, pubs, video stores, doughnut shops and bookstores. I walk in summer sun, fall mist, winter snow and spring rain.

And the one constant in all my walking is the fact that no matter where I go, I almost get flattened by a car or a bike.

I walk by choice. And by "choice" I mean I can't currently afford a car and insurance, and I never learned how to ride a bicycle. (I suffer from an acute fear of riding bicycles. Hey, I don't laugh at your phobias.) But just once, I'd like to walk a couple of blocks without the fear of never seeing my loved ones again.

Cross at own risk

A few weeks ago I was crossing corner to corner near my apartment when I was nearly clipped by a young woman speeding around a corner and talking on her cell phone, completely oblivious to the fact that she almost hit me.

When she came to a stop at a red light at the next block I caught up to her, tapped her window and asked her if she realized she had come within 3 feet of hitting me. She replied, "You were jaywalking," and rolled her window back up.

I was very relieved that she wasn't completely oblivious.

Because of the large number of drivers like this young woman who are ignorant of what constitutes "jaywalking" and what doesn't, I try to use crosswalks as much as possible.

Crosswalks are probably the most dangerous areas to walk in our city. When you factor in the number of drivers who run red lights and stop signs, plus the number of drivers who turn right on red without even considering stopping, it's a miracle that any pedestrian ever makes it to the other side.

Last week, I tried using a crosswalk on Stone Way North. I even carried one of those bright-orange safety flags. At first, I thought these flags were a good idea; now I realize they are the equivalent of waving a red cape at a charging bull.

When I started crossing the street, an oncoming car stopped. Sure enough, when I reached the halfway point of the crosswalk, directly in front of the stopped car, a speeding SUV approached and, without even slowing, began to swerve to the right around the stopped car.

The driver of the stopped car leaned on his horn. I held my orange flag higher. The SUV stopped with a screech. The young man driving the SUV was talking on his cell phone. There is no doubt in my mind he was talking to the young woman who nearly hit me a few weeks ago.

Two tons of fear

I wish every driver had been instructed by my father. He was a full-time junior-high teacher, and he drove a flower-shop delivery van on the weekends. To earn extra money he spent years teaching after-school driver-education classes.

He also taught me how to drive. I still remember what he told me the first time I got behind the wheel: "You are in charge of a 2-ton machine, and if you don't pay attention to what you are doing, you will kill someone."

Then I drove around the block, with him yelling at me the whole time. When we got home I had to look "lethargic" up in the dictionary because I had never been called that before.

Now when I see drivers behind the wheel brushing their teeth or holding coffee cups in both hands or with a Great Dane on their lap, I realize that I'm the person at the other end of that 2-ton machine. And I doubt their driving instructors were as invested as mine.

Walker beware

Bicycle riders aren't blameless, either. I've almost been upended numerous times by bikers running red lights and ignoring stop signs.

The other evening I was walking on Fremont Avenue North when I noticed traffic was at a standstill in both directions. I then witnessed two bikers crash into each other at an intersection.

I also had to change my morning walking route to work after a biker snuck up behind me on the sidewalk and shouted, "On your right!" every day, almost scaring the orange juice out of me.

Sometimes police officers seem to have it out for pedestrians, too. One Saturday night, my friend and I were walking back to our car on Capitol Hill after a movie. On the way we passed two drug deals, a fistfight and an unconscious person lying next to a Dumpster.

As we crossed the street to finally get to the car, a policewoman parked in a squad car on the corner turned on her headlights and top lights and used her speaker to tell us, "Hey, fellas, no jaywalking. Cross at the corner."

Then she shut her lights off and resumed sitting in the dark. I would like to publicly apologize to the good people of Capitol Hill for my shameless behavior that night.

At least the Critical Mass melee has gotten many of us to think more about how we act when we're driving, biking and walking. Maybe someday we will all be able to come together as one and confront the real enemy on Seattle's roadways and sidewalks: skateboarders.

Matthew Wilemski can be reached at editor@capitolhilltimes.com.[[In-content Ad]]