Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chicago Tuesdays: Hey! I'm WALKIN' Here!

One of the sites where I work is in the middle of an industrial park. As a motorist, for a few months I used to travel through here between work, church and school. And I appreciated this strip, because it is nearly half a mile of pure, unadulterated three lanes in an otherwise stop light-heavy major thoroughfare. If you hit the green at the south end, you've got another six blocks before the next light - but that's full of dangerous turns and it's more narrow, so it's not quite the joy to traverse.

So I see why cars don't necessarily have any desire to slow down at this juncture, despite the obvious pedestrian crossing markers on the floor.

However, Illinois just became the fifth state to pass a law wherein cars have to stop in order to let pedestrians cross at any crossing lane. And that would include unmarked lanes.

Motorists don't seem to be much aware of this law, though. And I'm sure that there are many who, when first hearing about the law, argue that it's unnecessary or reaching For instance, although 6,000 people are hit by cars each year, only a fraction of those result in injuries and fatalities. I can hear the everyman rhetoric right now. "Only 170 people died in the entire state from getting hit by cars while walking. Half of them were probably asking for it. How much are we going to lose in revenue to enforce this law? How much productivity are we going to lose to slow down every block for walkers?"

Similar arguments (at a more heightened and frightening level) were made about DWI laws, of course. But there is a major difference: Driving while intoxicated has killed multitudinous drivers, passengers, passerby, bicyclists and other motorists and their passengers. The culture-change that needed to happen there was not just necessary, but apparently so. And as Mad mothers started telling their stories, more people felt it necessary to be responsible (not always, but there is a legitimate sea change here).

Pedestrian crossing laws and cultural shifts are, however, just as necessary, even if not as apparently so. Citizens are not necessarily dying at a heart-breaking rate from being run over or sideswiped. We are dying at heart-attack rates from inactivity, from NOT walking or bicycling. And as long as the rules of the road favor 1500 lbs of steel and plastic traveling at 30-60mph over roughly 200 lbs of cartilage and organs, capable of traveling from 1-10mph (or those same skins and bones on top of a 25lbs thin machine of oil and aluminum at 10-25mph), then we'll continue to suffer and die from preventable diseases. As long as current law and culture favors oil and gas-propelled vehicles over food-propelled movement, we'll continue to poison our waters, land, air, children and lungs. As long as we continue to promote vehicular use over and above other forms of transport, we promote violence for expediency.

So, I say, bold move Illinois legislature. Good show.

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