Comfortable Drivers and Talking Crosswalks

Today on the Streetsblog Network, we’ve got a post from M-Bike.org, who weighs in on a new crosswalk treatment in a Michigan town:

home_pic2.jpgCan this crosswalk penetrate a driver’s consciousness? (Photo: R.D. Jones)

Some fancy solar-powered crosswalk signs

(the “Enhancer”), with lights, flashing beacons, and a pleasant spoken
instructions have recently been installed in Lyon Township where the
Huron Valley Trail crosses both a newly constructed road as well as
Grand River.

They’re expensive, obnoxious, and as far as we can tell, somewhat ineffective.

As
for the obnoxiousness, here are the instructions. "Hello. You’ve
activated the crosswalk signal. Wait for traffic to stop before you
cross. To show traffic you want to cross, place one foot near the curb
line. And remember to thank the driver as you are crossing the roadway."

Why are pedestrians and cyclists instructed to thank
motorists just for following state and local crosswalk laws? Shouldn’t
that be a basic expectation?…

[W]hile testing them on Grand River, a van never slowed
when the sign was activated and we were trying to cross. It appeared
they were texting.

Maybe we should thank those drivers that aren’t driving while distracted, too.

Now,
there’s certainly nothing the matter with a little wave of
acknowledgment when a driver stops to let you cross. In more suburban
or rural areas, where there are few people around, it seems like a
natural gesture. But the inclusion of this reminder in the crosswalk’s
spoken instructions certainly does sound obnoxious, and reveals a
familiar autocentric mindset.

On the website of the company that makes the "Enhancer" crosswalk, R.D. Jones, its inventor, explains the thinking behind it:

About 20 years ago, we told the Automotive Industry
that we wanted "quiet" in our cars and trucks — well, we’ve got it. The
commercials on TV display it all the time. This "quiet" has allowed
us, the drivers, to be in a completely controlled environment — we now
have “Moving, Soundproof Rooms”, that’s why I designed this new warning
beacon, the Enhancer.

Everybody
while
driving now is either on their cell phone, reading the paper,
listening to satellite stereo systems, with surround sound, yelling at
the kids, putting on makeup, looking at the GPS system, watching a DVD,
or just plain not paying attention to the roadway — because they’re
"relaxing" or in a big hurry to get to their next destination.

We
can all relate to at least one of the above. Our world is fast paced,
and we’re always late. It’s my belief that the motorists are just not
paying attention to our nation’s roadway signage anymore due to the
comfortable environment they’re in. I also believe that we can almost
all agree that our nation’s roadway signs are clear and concise in
their meaning and message — but they’re losing their impact when they
are up against the cell phone using drivers of today.

As
M-Bike.org observes, it’s not at all clear that a few more flashing
lights, no matter how well-intentioned, are going to break into that
sacred space that is the American automobile, with all its seductions
(surround sound!) and vexations (those darn kids!). What needs to
change is the sense of entitlement and invulnerability inside the mind
of "us, the drivers." And in a world where pedestrians are told by a
machine to thank drivers for the privilege of a safe crossing, that
seems a long way off.

More from around the netowrk: More on road etiquette from Biking in LA. Hub and Spokes wonders why there are so many roads in Minnesota. And Biking in Dallas documents that city’s truly impressive bike infrastructure.

  • patrick

    Instead of being instructed to thank drivers for not killing us, there should be a minimum fine for a driver hitting a pedestrian or biker (even if the ped/biker was entirely at fault), and the minimum amount goes up with amount of harm caused and driver fault.

  • I sometimes wave, but only to make sure they see me. SF is notorious for cars flying half way into the crosswalk before slowing/stopping, or looking left while turning right (or a combination of the two).

  • Seven

    The reason I wave and thank drivers who stop for me to walk across the intersection is not so much to thank them for obeying the law. Rather it’s to make a connection with the driver to reduce the risk they will use dangerous “car bullying” tactics on me.

    It’s very common for drivers to pull far into the intersection to get peds to walk faster or swerve around peds that are simply trying to walk from corner to corner.

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