Friday, June 04, 2004

And on the Gripping Hand....

(Bonus Cool Points if you know where that header came from.)

Yesterday's Commercial Appeal editorial about pedestrians makes some good points, but fails to see the other, larger, part of the problem with folks trying to cross streets in Memphis.

While I don't diminish the problems with idiots who walk boldly into traffic and just stand out there, let's not take any responsibility off the drivers. I've been walking the streets of Memphis for fifteen years now and the stories I could tell you....

The editors propose traffic crackdowns by the cops, but I'm sure that's not gonna happen. It would help though, if local police were serious about speed limit and traffic light enforcement. Memphis drivers are some of the worst I've ever known. Truly, mind-bogglingly, dangerously bad. The number of times I've tried to cross an intersection with a stop sign, only to have the driver slide through the sign, up to the cross street, then crowd into traffic, all while ignoring me standing right by their window, I can't count. I once had a woman who missed me by literally inches just raise her hands, shrug her shoulders and look at me with a "What can you do?" look.

I've also noticed that suburban drivers are the worst of the worst, after blacks on crack and drunk drivers in general (which Memphis has a lot of). Since walking in the suburbs isn't a normal part of getting around out there, but an "exercise activity," they never consider that Midtown is loaded with pedestrians. Some of the worst of them, oddly enough, are petite women in monster SUVs. I don't know what's going on there. Womb eversion giving them a false sense of security and invincibility?

Speed limits in general seem to be used as baselines, not limits. On my residential street, with small children outside all the time, we still get folks in a hurry to get between Union and Madison, or down to Sekisui, who blast through at up to forty miles an hour! Union traffic regularly hits fifty-five. Try driving the speed limit on the Interstate. You'll be regarded as a dangerous freak by the folks zipping along at 70 and 80, eager to exercise their inalienable right to travel across the county unimpeded in ten minutes or less.

Our obliviously auto-centric culture here in the Bluff City, and the sterile slabs and ribbons on concrete that surround it like the spaghetti-wire bundle behind the television / stereo / computer nexus in our homes, simply considers the pedestrian a danger to auto drivers, not the other way around.

The City has a project to put up speed bumps and "go slows" in neighborhoods everywhere. I support that and hope one day we get some on my street. And maybe a few on Union.

The other side of this discussion of course is the placement of crosswalks and stop lights. For example, the stretch of Union near me is roughly one-quarter mile between lights, from Barksdale to Kimbrough. We could really use a pedestrian-activated light at Avalon. Will the City spend that kind of money? Of course not, unless there was a Beale Street or FedExForum next to it.

Same out at UniMem (University of Memphis). Did the designers actually stand out there and watch the ways people cross the streets, the patterns and flows of usage already in place? Or did they just draw up maps and say, "This looks like a good spot?" How many greens spaces have you seen where some designer laid out concrete walks no one uses, but you see the worn brown paths that people have dug for themselves? That's a failure of designers to account for real human behavior. Is that part of the problem out at UniMem? I suspect so, to some extent.

Last gripe. It would be nice if the City would make sure the pedestrian crosswalk light switches worked! I can't count the number of intersections in Midtown where they don't, so I have to cross with the intersection light, but against the pedestrian light. I get honked at by innocent (and sometimes stupid) people who don't know or care that my light doesn't work.

That's part of a larger discussion about infrastructure repair, though. We're spending a lot of money on stuff we don't especially need, or need to be spending on, but are ignoring the quality of the streets, sewers, etc. that are a City's fundamental responsibility. That certainly needs to change.

No comments: