To the Driver Who May Have been Offering Me the Right of Way

It was a little after 8 p.m., just after dark. We met at the intersection of King Street and West Avenue. I was wearing a rain coat and boots, though it wasn’t raining (it had been earlier). You were in a smallish red SUV.

I had just reached the corner, was walking down King on my way home from work. I was on the sidewalk, hadn’t yet stepped out into the avenue. It may have looked like I was going to. I was thinking about it. I had just started to take in the situation. 

You noticed me there.

I’m hardly ever noticed there. At least not by drivers. They don’t really have time. 

And the Department of Transportation (DOT) respects that. They regularly evaluate whether or not the streets they’re in charge of are providing a high enough “level of service.” To drivers. They want to make sure drivers don’t have to wait too long at lights and that vehicles keep moving quickly down the roadway.

In order to accommodate that, West Avenue has twice been widened: once in the 1980s and again about 10 years ago. The second time a median was added, with openings for turn lanes at intersections. 

We were at one of those intersections. You were in the lane on West Avenue closest to me (but not uncomfortably close—the lanes, after all, are quite wide, by specification). I was on the sidewalk, not even to the curb cut, the downward slope that empties into the street so that a person in a wheelchair can cross.

The corner there, as on any street designed by the DOT, is a sprawling affair. It has a wide turning radius to accommodate large vehicles at high speeds. The crosswalks are set back from the edges of these corners, which can make it difficult for drivers to see the pedestrians. When drivers must stop before entering a multiple-lane street, they typically pull up into the crosswalk so that they can better see into the roadway. Sometimes they check first to make sure a pedestrian is not entering the crosswalk, but my experience has been that more often they don’t.

So I’m generally expecting not to be seen here. I do, however, still often find it to be a good place to cross. Better, at least, than the next intersection, with a traffic signal, because here there are fewer turning vehicles. The cross traffic is also heavier there and even with a walk light, it’s iffy. In the evening I carry a flashlight, a light saber, to make sure that I am seen. Even so, I have had close calls.

But back to us. You were in the right lane, closest to me, and as I approached the street, you slowed down, I presume to give me the right of way to cross, even though you don’t legally have to unless I’ve actually entered the street.

Which I won’t actually do unless I’ve already determined it’s clear. 

Because chances are not good that, even though it’s required by law, drivers will yield. 

Researchers in St. Paul, Minnesota who are tracking driver behavior and attempting to get them to yield, found that when pedestrians were sent out to cross at the beginning of the study, only about 1/3 of drivers stopped for them. (At the time of the interview with the study’s organizer, no one had actually been hit.)

Those aren’t great odds. 

And at 30-some miles per hour (it’s posted at 25, but drivers routinely go faster), the likelihood of my surviving a crash is about 50/50.

But there you were, and you were stopping, before I even stepped into the street. 

The problem was, you were close enough to me that I couldn’t see around you into the other lanes in the same direction as yours. I couldn’t tell if there was going to be another driver in the next lane or two over who was not going to also yield.

And I also didn’t have a handle yet on whether vehicles coming from the other direction were still stopped at the intersection down the way, or if they were beginning to accelerate.

And I didn’t know how to communicate all of this to you. I don’t know what kind of hand signal expresses “Thanks, but no thanks. Nice of you, but I’ve got several other lanes to verify here.”

So I pivoted. I turned to head down to the next intersection.

I ghosted you. And I feel bad about this. Really, I would have preferred to have been invisible, to have not caused you the trouble.

I’m sorry I didn’t know how to show my appreciation. (Would a smile, a shrug, and a grand open-armed gesture at the vastness of the roadway have done it?)

It wasn’t the right time and place for us. Maybe back in the 70s, with fewer lanes and other “improvements,” we might have been able to work it out. But there was no chance for us the other night. 

It wasn’t you. It wasn’t me. It was the DOT.

Signed,

Not the flaky ingrate you may have thought I was

p.s. If you were just slowing down to read a text, never mind.

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