Don’t be a Jerk Part 3: Pedestrians too.

Home » Don’t be a Jerk Part 3: Pedestrians too.

Relieving traffic congestion and moving everyone around our city efficiently and safely is one of the biggest challenges our city faces. I’ve focused my last two blog posts on how we can all make it easier and safer to get around.  First with cars, second for bikes.

My solution –as they say in the skate park – is simple:  Don’t be a Jerk.  Pay attention to what you are doing, pay attention to what others are expected to do, and the unexpected as well.   This applies to drivers, bicycle riders and pedestrians too.

I first explored how commuters traveling by car “block the box” or block intersections that prevent travelers in cars, by bike, or foot in the perpendicular direction from passing.  I also explored how commuters traveling on a bike can also comply with our “Don’t be a jerk” program.  See Part 2 about bicycle protocol here.

I am pleased to report this advocacy has produced some positive results and starting this fall SDOT and SPD will renew their efforts to remind people not to Block the Box. First, will come a two-month educational campaign from SDOT, and for those who refuse to learn, police will issue citations later in the fall for blocking intersections and not following the rules.

The Seattle Times shared the list of intersections around town that have high rate of rush hour box blocking violations:

Block the box intersections

In addition to this list, I want the police to focus on 1st and Columbia, Second and Spring, Sixth and Spring, and Fourth and Pike, those streets where drivers are rushing to get to I-5 or SR99.  If you have other locations that need attention, let me know.

In this Part 3 of my “Don’t be a Jerk” series I’m focusing on pedestrian behavior.  I am amazed at how many people walk staring at their telephones or headphones glued into their ears.  Many don’t seem to be aware of the cars and bikes bearing down on them, let alone troubled by them.

  1. Distracted Walking – cell phones and video games:

Remember what your mom said when you were learning to cross the street?   “Look both ways and watch where you are going.” Simple enough.  Yet many have forgotten those kindergarten instructions.

King County Metro tells us: “Look Up for Safety.”

Look up for Safety

I bike almost every day downtown –following the rules, of course.  I regularly have to alert pedestrians with voice and bell not to step out against the light or walk in front of me or other oncoming bikes in the bike lane.   It’s like they have a death wish.  Colliding with a turning car or a bike going downhill can produce some serious hurt.

I do like Copenhagen’s rule of “Soft over Hard”, (meaning pedestrians have priority over bike riders who have priority over drivers who have priority over buses and trucks) but those who are softer (pedestrians) have to at least TRY to stay in their own walkway. I am amazed to see pedestrians tapping away on their keyboards run smack into other people or sidewalk conveniences like garbage cans.   Happily they are more bemused than hurt.

Some cities have created a cellphone “lane” for distracted walkers (see photo below).  Not a bad idea, although these cities must have more sidewalk room than we do.  Other cities have started fining those who text or are not paying attention in crowded intersections.  I hate to go there, but with the increasing number of pedestrian injuries caused by distracted walking, (estimated over 7,000 nation wide last year [1]), we may have to discuss options.

Cellphone lane

  1. When the sign says don’t walk, DON’T WALK!!!

When I am driving downtown I am frequently frustrated by pedestrians who start walking when the DON’T WALK sign is on.  Especially if drivers are trying to turn against oncoming traffic, one late-crossing pedestrian can back up traffic for blocks.  For example, try turning onto Columbia Street off of 1st Avenue when you’re driving southbound.  Northbound traffic at least has a left turn arrow.  Add to normal traffic the additional pedestrians and cars on any game day, and traffic comes to a standstill.  Pedestrians who ignore the DON’T WALK sign, leave a string of cars in their wake, making it more likely that the driver will bolt through the intersection the next time.

At a minimum, if you DO cross when the DON’T WALK sign is blinking, look to see if anyone is having to wait for you.  It’s truly the least you can do.

Here’s my favorite episode of GOOD pedestrian behavior: The 12’s waiting until the light changes to celebrate.

  1. Walk where you are expected to walk.  Use the cross walks.  You walk between cars, you may not make it to the other side.

And, of course, the pedestrian who walks between cars or crosses mid block, or doesn’t look before he/she walks across the bike lane puts everyone into peril.   Have you seen this video from Australia of the pedestrian getting creamed?  It’s gross.  You won’t want to watch it twice.  But it may make you think twice.

Until SPD and SDOT start their campaign to reduce congestion, and MAKE us do it, we can all pay attention and improve conditions block by block.  We can truly relieve some of the congestion by thinking about what our actions are doing to the other guy.   One reader said to me “Whenever I’m on the street, I intentionally try to do three nice things.   Maybe I let someone into my lane; maybe I slow down and don’t run the yellow light.  Or maybe I don’t give someone the finger who deserves it.”

Thanks for helping out!


[1] See the following report from the Pew Trusts’ Stateline: