Monday, August 02, 2010

Who Owns the Sidewalks

There's a couple of sources for this blog. In a way, its been inspired by what I've seen and heard about the situation now facing pedestrians as they traverse from place to place. If you've been a pedestrian you know that things are dangerous out there. Try crossing a busy street even if you do have the light. In some ways it is far safer to jay walk because there's the element of surprise. Drivers view crosswalks much in the same way fishermen observe fishing ponds, filled with the targets of their desire. Am I saying that most drivers go out of their way to maim pedestrians, no of course not, they simply don't pay them the slightest bit of attention. I truly believe drivers, and I am one of them, view pedestrians the same way they view squirrels, if the squirrel gets across the road, that's good, if it doesn't, well, its road kill.

Issue number 2 of the most excellent Urban Interest Magazine, Spacing had on its cover, the title "Everyone is a Pedestrian". The article has this in its opening paragraph:
We’ve been walking upright for a few million years, but over the last century we’ve sat back and watched our species do everything it can to abandon this unique ability. Our culture minimizes travelling by foot in every possible way — cities are designed to accommodate cars, kids count down to their sixteenth birthdays so they can drive, and people look at us funny when we choose to walk home from work. Even our language takes a jab at walking: “pedestrian” is a synonym for something boring or common. But the very fact that walking is common is what makes it great. Spacing’s second issue focuses on the many joys and obstacles — and the politics — of walking in Toronto.

The joys of walking. Something that can be forgotten in our society. It's not just cars either, one of the quickest things to close and the slowest to open is the sidewalk. At one time, construction sites had to leave the sidewalk open, and they would build an enclosure to keep the pedestrian safe. Now it seems its simplier just to stick a huge wire fence and plaster the sign "Sidewalk Closed" all over the place. After all, who worries about people walking. I know someone will say its far safer and makes the construction company less worried about litigation. Right and I cross over in busy traffic, usually where there is no crosswalk because some knob decided to start building something. But I digress.

Going back to my title, sidewalks are for pedestrians. Lately I've noticed they are sharing the space with wheeled vehicles. Let's go through the list. The first thing I've noticed more of is bikes on sidewalks. I'm not talking about children either, but adults. Now I understand why people ride on the sidewalks, its a lot safer. For the reason mentioned above, the cyclist feels they are taking their life in their hands being on a road. With drivers more then indifferent to the point of openly hostile if you ride a bike, its simpler to stick to sidewalks.

My concern is this, if we and I'm an avid cyclist, stay on the sidewalks, they win. If drivers don't see us on the road, then they're not going to care a whit about us. By being on the road, which we have the right to be on, by the way, we force drivers to respect us. Most drivers will respect the cyclist, and if we become more in number they will have to do just that.

The other issue is the electric pedestrian scooter. This may be the greater threat. Jo-Anne was listening to a radio station out of Hamilton and it had to do with the topic of those scooters. To put it bluntly, they can be a threat. One newspaper had the headline "90 year old injured"

Maclean's also had a recent article entitled: "Beware of seniors driving scooters".

Another article declares they are becoming a hazard. Part of the article reads:
There are no driving tests, no insurance, no speed limits and no authority governing their use.

"I'm not a psychologist, but it seems when these people use their electric scooters they develop a sense of entitlement, as if they have the right of way on the sidewalk," Ducker said.

"I see it in a lot of [scooter operators], in their body language and their comments and their demeanour."

Police aren't about to stand behind lamp standards with radar guns clocking speeding scooters, Ducker said, but he suggests scooters should be licensed by the province and a doctor should first have to sign off on a person's cognitive and physical ability to operate a scooter.

I think we can all agree with the sense of entitlement. They look straight ahead as if you're nothing more then a discarded Tim Horton's Cup. Some of them also look like running you over would make their day. I once made the comment to a few friends that the future, instead of being the dystopic vision of a punk of emo-punks with piercings and tats being the major threat, it will be old people in scooters, terrorizing whole communities. As the pension money dries up, these individuals will form gangs of scooters running over those emo-punks and shaking them down for money. If you think my vision is incorrect, just watch this Seinfeld clip:

I know I can be accused of ageism and someone will remind me that in a couple of years that may be me. First of all, I hope not. I plan to keep using these legs as long as possible.

What I am saying is, there needs to be some sanity. Sidewalks are the pedestrians only place of security. They walk and observe life from sidewalks. They should be looking at patio restaurants and interesting stores, checking out the fresh produce at the local green grocer, not keeping an eye open for scared cyclists or scooter drivers with attitude.

So what can be done. The scooters are too slow for the road, plus the rider wouldn't pay the slightest attention. They are not licensed, they need no testing. Perhaps the first step is to make everyone take tests before they get one of those things. The Maclean's article tells of a scooter rodeo:
Now, thanks to Cox, Qualicum Beach has an annual scooter rodeo where seniors meet in a parking lot to practise backing up and handling skills on a pylon course amidst blasting country music and the aroma of grilled meat on the barbecue. Const. Masi takes the microphone to address the crowd of about 50 seniors; 14 will ride the course. “You are to yield to vehicles and bicycles,” he booms. “You can’t pull into traffic. Use the crosswalks. Wear bright clothing. Remember! You are a pedestrian!”

Part of the problem is, they are viewed as pedestrians by the law. I think there needs to be a new catagory. Or how about this, encourage communities to build bike and scooter lanes and trails. Give them opportunity to ride unmolested and protect the pedestrian.

Who owns the sidewalk? The Pedestrian, they just now need to fight some more for their rights.

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