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Death by Crossing the Crosswalk
by Courtney Caldwell

As the publisher of this magazine, I travel a great deal - usually, by plane. However, I also spend an enormous amount of time driving in Los Angeles, Detroit, and New York. It's just the nature of the job. Trust me when I tell you that it's not glamorous at all. In fact, driving in traffic in any of these cities is not my idea of a good time, especially when patience is not my strongest suit.

But there's one great advantage: the opportunity to observe human behavior, and not just behind the wheel. Because my job requires in-city driving as much as freeway touring, there's always plenty of time to sit around at red lights, stop signs, and in traffic jams. Let me tell you, the streets are an amazing place.

Los Angeles is probably the worst for the homeless, the beggars, the con artists, the "will work for food" cardboard sign holders at traffic lights, the addicts, and criminals. They don't seem to hide it nor do they seem to care much. New York is next, although the mayor of New York has done a superb job in recent years to clean up the once-crime-riddled city. And then, of course, Detroit comes in last most likely due to the cold climate.

But there's one thing they all have in common, which is how their citizens cross the street when the light turns green. That is, of course, if they're minding the laws. It never ceases to amaze me to observe people eager to leap into the crosswalks when the light turns green. They rarely look both ways, assuming they have the green and no one would dare hit them.

An even bigger offense are mother's pushing their infants in strollers. More often than not, I've observed women pushing their baby's carriage into the crosswalks as soon as the light changes...and they just don't look. Think about it. How many times have you seen someone step on the gas when the light turns yellow to avoid stopping at the red? For some it seems, the yellow light is a mere suggestion or an invitation to go faster.

How often have you witnessed someone careening through an intersection at a high speed even though the light turned red? And how many times have you watched as the car in front of you was about to take a right turn on a red but the driver was looking to the left for oncoming traffic? Without looking back to the crosswalks, the driver makes a right-hand turn right into somebody crossing. How many times has that been you?

This behavior disturbed me so deeply that I decided to ask some questions. Recently, I sat on a bus bench at a fairly busy intersection with a four-way traffic light in Santa Monica. Over and over again, I watched as men, women, mothers with strollers, and children crossed without looking when the light turned green. I also observed on numerous occasions drivers about to make right-hand turns or rushing the yellow light. Either somebody was always jumping out of the way and giving the universal sign, screeching on the brakes and giving the universal sign, or just giving the universal sign and screaming a few obscenities as they dared each other over territory.

I had to ask. After introducing myself and announcing that I was writing this article, all seemed eager to talk to me until I asked why they crossed on the green without looking. The answers were generally the same: "Well, the light was green. Cars are suppose to stop." "It was my turn." "I never look, I just cross when it's green." "It never occurred to me that someone would run the light." And my personal favorite, "Well, let 'em hit me, I'll sue the bastard." As if he'll just get up and brush off the dust. Ha!

This kind of blasé it-won't-happen-to-me-it-only-happens-to-other-people attitude is what gets so many people killed every year in crosswalks, including children and babies, even though it's not the crosser's fault in most cases. To be sure, I called the LAPD to ask for statistics, and the nutshell version is that more people are killed each year in crosswalks than they are jay walking. The officer also explained that it was pretty much the same M.O. in most of the big major cities.

So what's my point? Stop, look, and listen. Sound like your mother talking? Good. If you're one of those people who jump into the crosswalk before looking, may the force be with you. If you're one of those people who rush the yellow or red lights, may the lack of force be with you. But ask yourself just one question before you do either the next time around: How would it make you feel for the rest of your life if you were the one responsible for a death by crossing? Slow down, speedsters. Look both ways, walkers. Take a deep breath, smile, and use all five fingers instead of one. Waving is also universal.

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