Guerrilla pedestrianism

It's easy to spot suburbanites driving downtown: they drive in herky-jerky fashion, constantly looking for the free parking space they imagine no one else has seen. Of course there are no such spaces, which is why suburbanites are so unhappy downtown. One of the pleasures of living downtown is that you can walk to a lot of places other people have to use cars to visit. But doing so makes you aware of the tilt towards motor vehicles inherent in "standard" street design, signalization, and signs. There are, for instance, any number of corners in downtown San Diego where a pedestrian has to look very hard to find a sign showing the name of the street he's on, or even the one he's crossing. The signs are way up high, perhaps partly to avoid vandalism but also to be more visible to--who knows?--truck drivers, maybe.

This article in Slate addresses the topic nicely, and suggests that "traffic engineers," as they are significantly called, make certain adjustments to their standards to be more pedestrian friendly. One such idea is that the pedestrian "Walk" signals be timed to let the peds get a head start on turning vehicles. But there's really no need to wait: at intersections I use every day I usually step off a few beats before the vehicular signal turns green, thereby precluding the turners from usurping the right-of-way that is, because this is California, mine alone.

I also cross against signals when it's safe to do so. A certain extravagantly mustacchioed motorcycle cop delights in handing out "jaywalking" tickets, so one must be sure he's not present before stepping out. Police in squad cars don't seem to notice but it's probably better not to provoke them. Aggressive pedestrians are also obligated to yield the right of way to cars when they rightly have it--no stepping off the corner just as the light is about to change.

A few weeks ago I was about to cross the trolley tracks on C Street when the trolley arrived and blocked the pedestrian walkway, extending partly into the intersection as well. The motorman was right in front of me so I looked at him in such a way as to say, "Can't you do your job any better than this?" because I knew, just as he did, that the train easily fits between the corners in the block in question. My mimed critique of his performance was rewarded with a stream of shouted invective, citing California law about how trains have the right of way in all circumstances. True no doubt!

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