By Tom Scanlon
By the time you read this, I will probably be dead.
No worries, it’s completely my fault, as I engage in extremely risky behavior. I’m not a sky diver, drug taker, mountain climber, train hopper or mixed martial arts fighter, and I don’t participate in the Running of the Bulls.
My hobby is far more hazardous than all those and more, as I am a Pittsburgh pedestrian.
I know I should stop, but I can’t.
How did I start? Probably when I lived in pedestrian-friendly cities, like San Francisco and Seattle. In San Francisco, I remember walking from one end of the city — the Financial District — to the far end — the aptly-named Sunset District — pausing only for refreshments at neighborhood bars, often walking down the middle of streets. It should be noted that this was in the 1990s, before Facebook, Yahoo and hundreds of start-ups landed and took over the city, like techie Martians.
Later, I roamed up to the Northwest, to what was a sort of pedestrian Mecca; I imagine thousands of faithful walking for miles to Seattle, in order to … walk some more.
In Seattle, drivers hold crosswalks as sacred as hunters cherish the Second Amendment; instead of the Right to Bear Arms, in Starbucksville they celebrate the Right to Cross Streets.
Let’s say you are walking up Pike Street through the drizzle and are about 10 paces from a mid-block crosswalk. A Seattle driver coming ripping through the rain will brake hard, waiting for you to catch up — IN CASE you want to cross the street. And if you get to the crosswalk but have no intention to cross, waving the car on to signal you’re continuing on this side of the street, the driver will continue, but with a frown of disappointment.
Different story, here — but you know that, as you’re a Pittsburgh driver.
When you are driving and you see a pedestrian up ahead tentatively leaning into a crosswalk, you lift your right foot off the gas pedal — only to give you some momentum before stomping it down. You’re being courteous: The sound of your revving engine will serve as a warning to the walker, who, in most cases, will be me.
Being slow to react, I will leap back to the relative safety of the sidewalk (assuming it isn’t blocked by parked cars) as you speed by, screaming out your window, “Get a car, loser!”
Thinking about it, it seems to me that Pittsburgh drivers aren’t any more aggressive and unforgiving than, say, New York City drivers. But in Manhattan, herds of pedestrians cross streets; New York drivers would love to rip through crosswalks and send walkers scurrying, but they would be attacked by hundreds of angry foot soldiers.
Rather than platoons of pedestrians, here, it seems, it’s just pretty much me, an unarmed army of one ambling along in an enemy uniform (San Francisco Giants cap, Seattle flannel jacket). Perhaps the crosswalks on my South Side path should have crosshairs?
Please don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating for Pittsburgh drivers to be more wary of and/or courteous to pedestrians. I understand deeply in-bred cultural mores and merely think some warning signs might be wise, to protect those new to town.
At a busy intersection, when the traffic light turns green for cars and the pedestrian sign shifts from a red hand to a white man (racist/sexist?), it might be good to add a subtitle, stating “AT YOUR OWN RISK!” Or, “IF NO CARS ARE COMING AND BE SNAPPY ABOUT IT!” Or, for a more subtle touch, a soundtrack of mocking laughter.
Better yet, so as not to disturb you hurrying drivers in the least, how about having elevated zip lines at each intersection? Pedestrians would climb up to a platform elevated a good 15 feet off the ground, then just zip over to the other side — as cars and trucks rumble by underneath.
You’re right, Pittsburgh’s probably not quite ready for that. Maybe when the Lawrencevillers start to get some political traction …
As for me, I’ll be long gone, as I have accepted my fate. On a gray, drizzly day, I’ll have a flashback to being in Seattle, come to a crosswalk and, with that Northwestern pedestrian confidence, stride across without hesitation.
I apologize in advance to the driver who, scrolling through his phone app to find the least-trafficked way home, hears a strange “THUNK” as he runs over me. After the briefest of pauses, he will shrug his shoulders and stomp on the gas pedal, muttering, “These potholes! What’s that app to report them?”
Tom Scanlon is a freelance journalist/social services worker living on the South Side, where he is likely to meet his end (email@example.com).