If you guessed “Nashville drivers”—you’re right!
Despite the fact that the law states “Traffic should yield to pedestrians when the are preparing to cross or crossing the street at a marked or unmarked crosswalk,” and the presence of brand-new, neon yellow signs helpfully pointing out the crosswalk I use every day during my commute, drivers rarely yield to pedestrians in this city.
In some ways I can understand why drivers might not stop for me—after all, I stay on my bike to cross and am not, strictly speaking, a “pedestrian.” But I see it happen to women, men, parents with children, on a daily basis—all of them waiting patiently on the corner, sometimes in a light drizzle or blazing sun, until there’s a big enough opening in traffic or until a driver with 1.) manners or 2.) knowledge of the law can carve 30 seconds out of their busy day to let someone cross safely.
So I was dismayed, but not really surprised, when last week Nashville was named one of the least friendly cities for pedestrians (with a very active headline on the article—I think Tom Vanderbilt would approve). The failure of drivers to yield in crosswalks is an indicator of how much drivers in this city (and America as a whole) are encouraged to believe the road belongs to them—even the people who are more sympathetic toward cyclists and pedestrians. Of course, it also reflects how the roads in this city are built to suit cars, not alternative methods of transportation.
One of the Wednesday editorials reacting to the earlier article had some encouraging suggestions (the other will not be mentioned):
Much as the state produces public-service advertisements about seat-belt use, Nashville could educate motorists about the law that requires them to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, as well as to observe reduced speed limits in area of high foot traffic. . . .
The bottom line here should be safety. It trumps both street aesthetics (though less-cluttered streets will also be safer) and the need to get around town in a hurry.
Wouldn’t it be nice?
Now that I’ve scared you off the streets in Nashville entirely, I’d like to encourage any local pedestrians and cyclists to come out during peak hours (7-9 am and 4-6 pm) next Tuesday. The Metro Planning Office is conducting a count of pedestrians and cyclists in certain areas in order to make decisions about infrastructure changes—so the more alternative road users we can count, the better! I’ll be helping out in the Belmont area, so wave if you see me and the Bat.
What are crosswalks like in your city?
* with apologies to Robert Frost