By Steve Scauzillo, November 28, 2015
Living in Pasadena for the past 15 months now, I do a lot more walking.
I’m enjoying walking instead of driving to a restaurant in Old Pasadena. I can ride my bicycle to join friends for a drink at a nearby tavern. Actually, my favorite walking time is Sunday morning — less crowds. When I walk to Vroman’s Bookstore or the movie theaters on Colorado Boulevard it makes me feel more alive when I get there. It’s like I’ve made an effort so it matters less if the movie stinks.
A slew of new studies link walking and taking mass transit with improved heart health. People are less likely to develop high blood pressure if they live in a walkable neighborhood, said one study from Ontario, Canada this month. A study from Japan found citizens riding trains or buses to work are less apt to be overweight or develop diabetes. The American Heart Association meeting this month in Florida said the key is walking, city walking or suburban walk-your-dog walking, it is all good.
Well, not all is good. There is one problem. You can get run over.
Not a day goes by when as a pedestrian, I nearly become a statistic. That is not an exaggeration.
In 2013, 4,735 people were killed walking in the U.S. and that usually involved their unfortunate meet-up with a vehicle made of steel. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also says there are 66,000 reported pedestrian injuries every year, or one injured every eight minutes. That’s far too many.
On a lunch break, I was crossing Lake Avenue at Green Street on a green light. The hand flashed go and the countdown began when a car turning left crossed a few yards in front of me. I was just a few feet behind a taller man with gray-blonde hair, about my age, who cursed out the driver and tossed him the bird.
“I know how you feel but unfortunately, it happens every day,” I said as we safely reached the curb.
He mistook my accounting for reluctance, or worse, benign acceptance. Not wanting to leave that impression, I am writing this column. But also because my wife thinks I’m overreacting every time I remind her that being in a crosswalk doesn’t make you any safer.
Eric Bruins, planning and policy director for Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, says progress is forthcoming, even though “a lot of people are walking and biking and the streets are not that accommodating.”
He says planners must make the streets communicate the fact that vehicles are not the only things on the road. Signs. Bike lanes painted on the blacktop. Billboards and bus wraps that tell Angelenos: “I’m walking here!”
But here’s my point: There is a flaw in the traffic control system. The light is green. The driver turns left and whack! Yet, both driver and pedestrian are obeying the signs. Both are ostensibly “correct.”
How about a green light that flashes a message “watch for pedestrians”? Or lighting up the intersection crosswalk when a pedestrian is present?
Eventually, everyone will get the message. Already, with more bicyclers on the streets of the county, “we haven’t seen a huge number of people getting hurt,” Bruins said. But until more concrete solutions are rolled out, there may be strength in numbers.
“The one thing we’ve learned is that the more people do walk and bike, the safer it gets,” Bruins said.