Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Being a Pedestrian: Top Ten Things That Suck

Trigger/content warning for descriptions of violence/accidents as well as sexual harassment and unwanted advances.

As a person who's never had a driver's license and who has traveled on foot or by bike for her entire adult life, I have a few behaviors and occurrences that drive me up the wall while sharing the roads and sidewalks with other people. Hey, road rage isn't only for drivers, you know!

So I present for you now the Top Ten List of annoying things about being a pedestrian or bicyclist, in Top Ten format (with the most severe item at the bottom). Enjoy!

NUMBER 10: When there's stuff in the sidewalk that makes the sidewalk unwalkable. This is generally unavoidable in Florida when the sidewalks are littered with dead branches and huge puddles of standing water after all the storms we have, but it's especially annoying when the sidewalk is blocked by very large pieces of litter, asshole shopkeepers' unattended sandwich boards sitting in the path, piles of broken glass, or dead animals. When I'm walking it's easier to get around things, but I'm often on a bike, and people who use wheelchairs will be similarly inconvenienced by such things. Argh!

NUMBER 9: Other pedestrians who become impatient with ped signals. I don't know why, but I always feel a wave of frustration when I approach a crosswalk and I see another pedestrian standing there rapid-pressing the signal button waiting for their turn. Over and over and over and over and over again, sometimes while cursing or muttering "come on, come on." Listen, people. The pedestrian signal button does not make the light change sooner. The pedestrian signal, when installed in an intersection that has an alternate timing to allow pedestrian crossings, allows you longer crossing time, not less time waiting for the light to change. And since I've had people make "omg wow you're naïve" faces at me and condescendingly explain that pedestrian signals are actually placebos and only make you think you're doing something, no, that's not true. There are some places/cities where that is true--that there is no alternate timing plan for the pedestrian cycle, because it's already safely long enough for you to cross as is--but in many places, if there is a "WALK" indicator at all, it is in fact giving you longer to cross than it would if you had not pressed the button, and if you don't press it, you may not have time to cross. I don't know this just from observation, either; I work for traffic engineers and the pedestrian cycle included in signal timings isn't pretend. The people standing there ABUSING the button like it's going to change sooner just drive my blood pressure up.

NUMBER 8: People who act like they want to ask you a question and then hit on you. Being without the shelter of a vehicle exposes you to other wandering people, and as a naturally helpful person, I'm more than happy to volunteer the time, directions, or what I know about bus schedules to anyone who flags me down and asks for my help. So it's incredibly annoying when someone is clearly indicating that they want to ask me something and I slow down thinking I'll be able to help a fellow pedestrian, only to find their questions is about WHETHER I WILL GIVE THEM MY PHONE NUMBER or WHERE I'M GOING and WHETHER I'D LIKE TO DROP WHERE I'M GOING TO GO HANG OUT WITH THEM. A similar but not identical situation sometimes arises when someone really does want something, but then while thanking me or wishing me a good day, they call me a sexualized pet name like "baby" or "sexy." Fantastic. 

NUMBER 7: People not looking before they open their car door. Good lord this is so horrible! Especially on narrow streets where you have to ride close by parked cars to avoid being in traffic, and then some oblivious ass just clonks their car door open right in your way (or, worse yet, hitting you, which luckily has only happened to me once). Seriously people. You should be looking for pedestrians if you are getting out, just like you should be looking for other motorists. You'll hurt the pedestrians and bicyclists if you ignore their potential presence near your car, but failing to do this if a car is going by could take your door off and drag you with it.

NUMBER 6: Other pedestrians not getting out of the way. This is especially common if the person is listening to music or absorbed in a hand-held device while walking. They do not respond to bike bells or "excuse me." They just assume the world will not need to interfere with their plan of walking smack in the middle of the sidewalk. (I don't assume everyone can hear me, of course, but I do figure most people should have the consideration to pick a side of the sidewalk or not take up the whole thing if that's possible.) I'm okay with going around someone or giving them a wide berth if they are carrying a big load or using a mobility aid, of course, but when there's a person just choosing to tune the world out and hog the sidewalk, I get irritated.

NUMBER 5: Motorists who back up if we're going behind them. Okay! I probably rode my bike behind your car because your ass wasn't paying attention to the road (since you were stopped) but I didn't trust you to not mindlessly roll forward, because people do this all the time. But then YOU BACK UP and give me a heart attack making me think you're about to run me over! Dude, you should never, ever, ever back up without checking behind you. I understand that some people assume being at the front of the queue of cars guarantees that no one will be in front of them, and that inching up is something people sometimes do unconsciously (which they also shouldn't do). But actively reversing your car and moving without looking? NO. BAD DRIVER.

NUMBER 4: People who try to wave pedestrians through when we can't go. This may seem like a weird thing to get ticked off about, but it actually happens a lot, and sometimes they're really weirdly snotty about it! Here's the situation. I'm waiting to cross at an intersection at which I will have a walk signal. I still have a while to wait for the walk signal, because though most of the traffic is stopped, people are still turning, barreling across half my path. And yet, the dingbat closest to me is wave-waving at me, c'mon-c'mon, go ahead, cross, beep-beep dummy! No. I CAN'T. You aren't the only person who has to be stopped before I can go, and the others are still going. So stop prompting me as if I am being silly or not properly understanding your signal. Seriously, ride a bike sometime and you will see this happening ALL THE TIME--well-meaning drivers getting frustrated when they're "letting" you go WITHOUT NOTICING THAT YOU WILL DIE IF YOU DO because other cars are in fact NOT letting you go in the subsequent lanes.

NUMBER 3: Drivers three or four deep in the queue who honk at the front car when they're doing the right thing respecting the right-of-way. What happens is they can't see someone's actually using the crosswalk, and what happens is they're so fixated on understanding the roads for vehicle use only that they don't even pay attention to crosswalks. Thus, when a car that wants to turn actually waits for the pedestrians who are crossing in the crosswalk LIKE THEY'RE SUPPOSED TO because right-of-ways exist, sometimes people behind them get impatient and start laying on the horn. Hey jackass. Take a look a few cars in front of you instead of staring at the brake lights immediately in front of your face and assuming somebody just doesn't know they can turn. There might actually be a person they're refraining from running over, you know.

NUMBER 2: STREET HARASSMENT. Oh, motorists love screaming rude things at me as I'm walking or riding down the sidewalk. Sometimes they make animal noises, most notably barking or howling. But usually it's words. "HEYYYYYYY BABY!" "YEAAAAHHHHHH OOH SEXY!" "HEYYYYY YOU GOT A NUMBER??" "HEY HONEY WHY DON'T YOU SMILE FOR ME?" "WHERE YOU GOING? HEY WHERE YOU GOING? WANT A RIDE SEXY?" I get to hear various men's opinion on my butt or my body pretty regularly, and this is pretty much exclusively a pedestrian/bicyclist thing; I've almost never been hollered at or called out to with sexual comments if I'm in a car. If I'm walking, it's usually worse. If it's two or more men, they usually just scream things and laugh and beep their horns. If it's only one guy driving, it usually becomes scary; he slows down, actually attempts to get my number, pressures me to get in the car, asks me where I'm going or where I live, says asinine things like "going to your boyfriend's house?" or "where's your boyfriend at?" or "your boyfriend better be careful letting you walk around by yourself," and occasionally says something disgusting or threatening when I don't respond positively. And no, this is not a compliment.

NUMBER 1: Honking or yelling at us while we're in the crosswalks!!! I can't even tell you how many times this has happened and it's only worse than the street harassment bit because the danger is so immediate and so full of completely misplaced aggression that every time it's happened I have honestly thought I am about to die. Now, I'm super cautious in the crosswalks because I know that despite having the right of way, I'm going to lose if a driver decides not to respect it, and it won't be a matter of that wasn't fair and they should get a ticket; it is a matter of my life will be over. So I do my best to make sure no dipsticks are zooming into the intersection when I'm walking or biking WITH THE PEDESTRIAN SIGNAL completely in the right. And what still happens every once in a while? Some buttpipe zings around the turn and sees I'm crossing or about to cross, and suddenly UNLOADS AGGRESSION in the form of loud honking, screaming and threatening, or both.

If the person has stopped the car to display this flagrant disrespect of traffic laws, I usually stop where I'm standing/biking and look at them while POINTING AT my pedestrian signal, hoping it will clue them in that THEY ARE TURNING AND I AM THE ONE WITH THE RIGHT OF WAY AND THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO YIELD TO PEDESTRIANS. I'm pretty certain they don't get the hint, though, because as soon as I'm out of they way they almost always squeal their tires and zoom on through the intersection, probably convinced I was somewhere I shouldn't have been. Oh honey, did you not get that question about pedestrians on your driving test? Because I was under the impression you have to know this crap to become a licensed driver. It makes me especially mad because not only does it endanger my life, but it means they regularly zoom around corners without checking the crosswalks and continue through their lives believing people aren't supposed to cross the street or that WE were the ones not observing the proper protocol.

In my work at the traffic engineering consulting firm, I sometimes have to work with intersection diagrams and accident reports while preparing reports on traffic safety recommendations. Every time I see one with a pedestrian/bike accident or fatality occurring in an intersection, I know what it probably was and why it happened. I know the pedestrian or bicyclist was very likely in their rights crossing where they were crossing, and that the person who took their life or broke their body probably did so while screaming or honking, believing that the pedestrian was wrongly in THEIR path.

This is so important. Look for us. Even if you think we're doing something wrong or even if we ARE doing something wrong, please, drivers, don't frigging kill us through the act of not looking.


  1. This post is so relatable >-< Sexual harassment while I'm walking is enough to convince me to get a driver's licence some time in the imminent future. And I wish I didn't have to--I actually like walking a lot--but I feel so unsafe and terrified all day when some asshole yells obscene shit or tries to follow me around. I've never been attacked, but I *have* feared for my life before. (And it's never safe! It can be 10 am on a Saturday, broad freaking daylight, and the harassment still happens.)

    On the impatient crosswalk people who hit the button a million times, I notice they try and watch the cars to make a break for it too. Just waittttt ten more seconds and you won't have to sprint for your life.

    "People who act like they want to ask you a question and then hit on you
    ^ this hasn't happened to me exactly, but something like it did. Some dude got close with his car and slowed down to ask for directions. After I gave them to him he paused awkwardly and then asked if I knew anyone who smoked weed because he was selling.

    When I said no, he apologized a few times, thanked me, and sped off. Polite drug dealer? It was so weird. Like most pedestrian experiences I guess >->

    1. Glad you found it relatable! Ugh one time this dude in a car driving out of my apartment complex saw me walking into it and asked if I lived there, and when I said yes he said he liked how I looked and wanted to know which apartment was mine. I avoided disclosing with something like "Oh, I'm in the back!" and he goes, "I like you. I want to see you again. How can we make that happen?" and I pretended not to really understand and said "Oh thanks, you too!" and scurried away. Ew.

  2. Number four made me chuckle. I've had that happen and you try do the wave/hand signal to tell them you can not cross because of the other cars, but thanks for being polite and stopping for me.

    I've got one more for you, which since you live in Florida, you probably don't encounter. Shoveled sidewalks. This is probably more a sidewalk in a residential neighborhood thing, but it annoys me. I get that sometimes it might take a day to get that fresh snow off, but by day three, there's no excuses.

    Obviously there's few to no bikes out during snow season, but when my kids were younger I had my strollers and wagons out all winter long. And people not shoveling their sidewalks really annoyed me.

    1. Yeah, we definitely don't have the issue with snow. At all. Ever. We don't even own snow shovels. My friend and I drove up to DC recently and it snowed, and our friend had to help us dig the car out. She opened with "Do you have an ice scraper?" Neither of us really even knew what that was. :D

  3. For the next time you travel north. :) If you're in a pinch, a credit card or drivers license will work to scrape ice. As long as it isn't an inch thick. And an arm works great to wipe off snow. :)