How to Cross the Street: What Mom Taught Isn’t Enough

Like most of you, I learned a lot from my mother. Many of these lessons can be filed under the general heading of common sense. That common sense derived from observing my mother’s situational awareness, and, because I grew up in New York City, there was always a lot to be aware of. One of the things she taught me was how to cross the street.

You may think this is a rather obvious life skill, and not something to be writing about, but the nanny state would disagree with you. During the past two decades or so, Big Brother has concluded that all of us require some help with this—dare I say, some “education.” It has gotten nuts recently. Pedestrians and bicyclists are no longer required to obey rudimentary traffic regulations!

First, let me tell you what my mom taught me. When you want to walk across a street, you make your way to the corner where there might be a traffic light. If there is a signal (you know, those old-fashioned ones with the red, yellow, and green lights), you wait for the green. If there is no signal, you wait until traffic clears, look both ways, then, when it is safe, you cross the street. I can even recall public service announcements on TV: “Walk on the green and not in between.” Perfectly simple!

Of course, that’s not good enough anymore, and the nanny state has, little by little, taken away our responsibility to look after ourselves. Government, in its beneficence, incrementally relieves us of responsibility and, in so doing, has increased its power over us. With less and less expected of us, we wonder why we are less able to cope.

Image: Pedestrian signal by freepik.

Now we have signs telling drivers to stop if they see a pedestrian who might even be thinking about crossing. We even have signs with flashing Christmas lights that can be manually or automatically activated, the so-called “demand” crosswalks. These are bad for both pedestrians and drivers.

As a pedestrian, when I want to cross a street, I avoid the demand crosswalks. I hate when, as I am waiting to cross, drivers attempt to stop for me. I always wave them through. Again, thanks to mom, I know that a 170 lb. man is no match for even the smallest vehicle. If I were to exercise the right bestowed upon me by the nanny state to stop traffic, I would be placing my safety in the hands of the legislature and governor. Thank you, but no! I will rely on my own judgment and common sense and provide for my own safety. My mom, who taught me not to rely on others, often said “Never depend on the arm of a friend; paddle your own canoe.”

Likewise, as a parent, I was adamant: “While you live under my roof, you will not stop traffic, little girl.” As my mom taught me, so I taught. I told my daughter that the legislature makes you feel empowered that you can legally stop traffic; resist the temptation. Their foolish fantasy will do you no good in intensive care.

As a driver, I hate these things even more than I do as a pedestrian. Just today, while driving on a major thoroughfare in my city, I spied a pedestrian standing at a demand crosswalk sign. Is he looking at me driving toward him? No. He’s looking at the trees, the birds, the clouds, the kids on the swings, and the squirrels in the park; everything but oncoming traffic.

Now, I have many skills and talents, but telepathy, I regret, is not among them. Without some form of communication (a nod, a wave, eye contact, something), I cannot possibly know what an inattentive person standing at the roadside intends. And, please put the phone in your pocket, and lose the earbuds!

Dog walkers are another category entirely. Are they trying to cross or merely waiting for Rover to finish doing his business? Now, I am a dog lover, and I always slow down for dogs (you never know if they might get spooked and dart out) but, for Pete’s sake, give me a hint!

A subspecies of pedestrian, typically occurring in the ecosystem around high schools and universities, is the skateboarder. You might not know this judging from the behavior of this subspecies, but the skateboarder is treated legally as a pedestrian. As such, a skateboarder is not permitted to ride in the street. Police rarely, if ever, ticket a street-riding skateboarder, though the number of single-person injury accidents is staggering. When a motor vehicle is involved in a skateboarder accident, it appears that the skateboarder often has been car surfing; that is, grabbing the rear of a vehicle for propulsion.

But back to those signs with the flashing lights. These things break down all the time. They sometimes flash constantly with nobody around! And, now, in the beautiful state of Colorado, bicyclists no longer have to stop at red lights or stop signs. Well, that might be the law, but it is as foolish for a bicyclist to put his/her safety in the hands of the legislature as it is for a pedestrian. I am sure that your state senator and the governor will be thinking of you constantly while you are in rehab.

And while I am on a rant about the nanny state and traffic, I really must comment on the flashing beacons in school zones. Now, I get that we need to be especially vigilant for the little ones in elementary and middle school. These youngsters lack the situational awareness that is so critical for adulting. But I have to say that by high school, the ability to cross the street safely should have become second nature.

I can tell you that it used to be second nature, but it is second nature no longer. Even high schoolers, apparently, require the protection of the nanny state with school zones and flashing beacons that decrease traffic speeds to a crawl. We wonder why so many young people fail to launch. It’s partially because we no longer expect them to bear increasing responsibility as they grow up. Not even the responsibility of safely crossing the flipping street!

I really must laugh when I think of what would have happened if they had school zone beacons around my high school in New York City circa 1970. We would have considered them to be an insult not to be endured. And those beacons would not have lasted through the first week of freshman year. The beacons and the poles they stood upon would have been stolen, knocked down, burned up, and shot at. During homecoming, they would have ended up in the visiting school’s team bus!

Dr. Bruno, a scientist retired after more than 40 years in research, amuses himself writing books and editing scientific journals, along with wood and metal working.

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