I found the picture that accompanied the article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Saturday November 15th 2008 title “Increase in Deaths, injuries on dangerous San Francisco Streets”  a bit symptomatic of the problem.

The article is reciting the statistics on just how dangerous the streets are for pedestrian and bicyclists and the picture shows a pedestrian walking right out in front of a car without even looking at the driver of the vehicle which is poised to potentially run him over.

(click on the picture for a full-sized view)

SF Chron 11

Don’t get me wrong, in most accidents drivers are in fact at fault and hitting pedestrian accounts for more than half of the fatalities each year in San Francisco. That doesn’t mean we should subjugate personal responsibility or common sense for laws. Traffic lights are there to tell drivers they need to stop, and laws are there to help enforce that they do so, but if they fail to stop who really wants to be dead right?

I applaud Belmont for installing the flashing crosswalk signals to alert drivers that a pedestrian is about to cross. This extra “heads-up” could save many lives if it were employed in San Francisco. And while their proposal to install cameras to award citations for failure to stop will generate much needed traffic fine revenues, it will do little prevent accidents; remember the citations are given after the fact—once there has already been a violation. That said, if the fines generate enough revenue to be self-sustaining or better yet offer extra revenue to fund lighted crosswalks I’m all in favor.

Not being privy to the statistics, intuitively, I’ll bet that the person who purposely runs a red light does so by just missing a yellow one. If the lights were timed with a little more delay, a pedestrian would not receive a green light until well after the opposing light had turned red. The real danger is in drivers who plow on through a red light oblivious to its warning, well after the driver should have stopped—giving pedestrians ample time to wander out in front of an oncoming car.

When I was a child my mother taught me to stop, look and listen before crossing a street. Somehow those simply life saving lessons have been lost as people become more reliant on traffic lights and less reliant on common sense—traffic signals do not substitute for common sense and personal preservation. Sure people are supposed to stop, but pedestrians fail to remember that sometimes they don’t, or can’t always do so.

I’ve driven around Belmont for many years and I’m always amazed as I approach an intersection to see for example, a mother with a stroller fixated on the WALK signal in front of her and not on whether I am poised to heed my signals. They’ll blindly push their stroller right out in front of my vehicle on the assumption that in a perfect world I will see the red light, heed the laws, that I will physically be able to stop and my car will mechanically be able to do so—should you really have that much faith in the average driver or the maintenance of their vehicles?

Look, listen, be aware of your surroundings and a lot of these accidents could be avoided.

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