“Controversial” (or was it pedestrian?) story on the dangers of walking in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette essay on “R.I.P in Pittsburgh” and comments:

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 (tomscanlonsblog@gmail.com).

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29 Comments
Karen Lillis192 days ago
Thanks for writing this editorial. I write a similar one in my head almost every day on my walk home from work. I, too, moved here from a more pedestrian-frie­ndly city and find it hard to believe how utterly oblivious the drivers here are to pedestrian right-of-way. Or even to pedestrian existence. Routine Occurrence #1: Drivers who don’t pause when turning. My understanding is that drivers turning at a green light (I’m not even touching the Pittsburgh Left here) must yield to whomever is lawfully going straight at the light, whether it’s a bike, a pedestrian, or a car. Yet drivers often yell at pedestrians in crosswalks in such a Pittsburgh scenario. Routine Occurrence #2: Driver pulls all the way across a crosswalk at a stoplight, settles in to text, and then looks bewildered or terrified when they notice pedestrian me crossing the street AROUND their car. Mayor Peduto, can we send all the drivers back to school for a refresher course in sharing the road?
+9

John McIntire192 days ago
FINALLY, a pedestrian with proper perspective. Gawd bless you my son.
+8
Scott Garrett192 days ago

I agree with Mr. Scanlon. I’ve often told my coworkers that if I don’t return from lunch, it’s because I’ve been killed by a maniac driver Downtown. I’ve had more close calls in Downtown, the Strip and the South Side than I can count. I’ve had people get out of their cars and threaten me just for being in a crosswalk.

When I lived in the South Side, I witnessed three different pedestrian hit-and-run incidents. The victims were all crossing with the light in a crosswalk.

One of the problems is that many people have no empathy for pedestrians; they never get out of their cars or walk anywhere themselves.

+7

Monica Tomaszewski192 days ago
I have often felt this way as well. I have a personal rule to not cross in front of anyone who is on a cell phone or texting. Crosswalks are great when the cars also use them, most of the time they’re not marked well, or cars pull so far into them that they’re useless. Don’t get me started on people that beep at me while I’m crossing in a crosswalk (I’m not a slow walker, and I’m not going to sprint across because you’re late).
+5

Michele Cook192 days ago
Honey, I hear ya!!! Due to finances I cannot afford a car so am a committed pedestrian myself. You are SO right, I will join you in being killed one day!!
+3
Joe Greenway192 days ago
Seriously dude, no one will have time to run you down, given your self-proclaimed adherence to crossing within crosswalks. We’re all too busy dodging the tons of peds who cross anywhere, unexpectedly, at anytime. How long will it take you to write a snarky letter to them ?

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4 replies

+3
Rich Adams192 days ago
Separate issue, dude. Simply bringing it up does nothing to add to the discussion about rude, ignorant Pittsburgh drivers who routinely ignore crosswalks nor does it exonerate that behavior.

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1 reply

+8
Joe Greenway192 days ago
It’s all the same issue. People vs cars. Cars vs people. Frame it however you want. The 2 groups, and bikes if you want to complicate this a bit more, all need to respect each other and make room for the other.
0
Celeste Stec192 days ago
Drivers have the duty and responsibility to be in control – after all, you are operating a 2 ton vehicle that nobody has a defense against.
+7
Karen Lillis192 days ago
There are at least six kinds of people on the road: Good drivers and bad, good bicyclists and bad, good pedestrians and bad. I’ve seen crazy, suicidal pedestrian behavior in Pittsburgh, but the bad drivers here are much more likely to be homicidal if we’re talking cars vs bikes or pedestrians. This editorial had to be written, I hope it spurs much more conversation. Like Rich says, pointing out the existence of bad pedestrian behavior add nothing to the conversation. It certainly should not shut the conversation down.
+4

Adrienne Young191 days ago
Wow, I was just hit at the corner of Baum Blvd. and Highland Avenue as I was crossing (attempting) the street. A man looked up at me and then back into his lap…so I went to cross the street and as I got in the middle of the street he just took off…knocking my body over his hood and later telling the police that “he didn’t see me” I never thought I would have been a victim to just trying to cross the streets…this is real and Pittsburghers need to stop texting and being distracted!
+2

Tom Scanlon191 days ago

Thanks to the reader for the following that shocked (and not in a “Casablanca” way) me:

“fyi, in the below, from the Atlantic, Pittsburgh is 2nd safest behind Boston. There are others that also rank Pgh in top ten safest.

“Between 2003 and 2012, 47,025 pedestrians were killed by drivers in the United States.”

Read More:
http://www.city­lab.com/commute­/2014/05/the-mo­st-dangerous-us­-cities-for-ped­estrians/371253­/

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3 replies

+2

Jason Lalli191 days ago
It’s because Pittsrbughers learn at any early age to understand that cars weigh WAY more than they do, don’t stop immediately, and hurt like hell when they run you over. We learn at an early age that we are responsible for our own safety, rather than relying on the vigilance and care of others. In short, we look out for ourselves, and follow this basic rule of life: “Don’t get run over.”

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1 reply

+1

Jason Lalli191 days ago
We just don’t learn how to spell.
+1

Debra Desautels191 days ago
Ha, that’s funny because I was going to say that if you think it’s bad here, you should go to Boston. We moved here from there and I thought it was a lot harder to be a pedestrian there. But, then of course we actually walked more there because they have a usable public transportation system. Pittsburgh is a very car-centric town. Maybe everyone’s just forgotten there actually are pedestrians.
0

LaMonica Wiggins190 days ago
Pennsylvania law is quite clear when it comes to people versus cars. All cars must yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. It’s spelled out in the driver’s manual for anyone getting a license. If you hit someone in a crosswalk you are at fault end of story.
+1
Ben Yogman190 days ago
Just quick note for those who recognize, say, that cars don’t wait for clear crosswalk but might not feel so unsafe personally. Think of how it would effect those who’re less mobile and/or don’t see or hear as well as they did when younger. Think of trying to explain a Pittsburgh left and what to watch for to a 6 year old. We’re certainly not the worst but we also sure as heck need to do better.
+1
Paula Winslow178 days ago
I have a neighbor in the South Hills with the same name who is a pedestrian advocate and was actually seriously injured as a pedestrian a few years ago. I thought he was the author initially. Clearly, Tom of South Side, you are not alone.
0
Cheryl Hall-Russell189 days ago
Last Thursday around 5:40, I slowed down to allow pedestrians to cross downtown on liberty ave. A Port Authority bus #3210 swerved around, almost hit 3 people AND ran the red light. My daughter and I were dumbfounded.
0

Derek Buck190 days ago
I guess it’s all a matter of personal experience, but I’ve never found Pittsburgh to be anything but pedestrian-frie­ndly. I routinely walk all over downtown, Oakland, the South Side, Squirrel Hill—never had a problem. On the other hand, I certainly HAVE seen animosity from drivers toward cyclists. I’ve seen them yell at cyclists, honk at them and even hit them. But never toward pedestrians, and certainly not in designated crosswalks.

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0
Karen Lillis190 days ago
Count yourself the luckiest pedestrian in town!
0

Martin Zehr190 days ago
Twenty-one people were struck and killed by drivers while walking the streets of San Francisco last year, the highest number of pedestrian deaths since 2007 in a city where three people on an average day get hit by cars or trucks.
0

Martin Zehr190 days ago
And I bet in San Francisco you were so busy listening to your I-Pod that you didn’t bother to notice the accidents around you to pedestrians and cyclists. You didn’t look both ways and walked right in front of a car turning. Rule of thumb: walk defensively, drive defensively. Pedestrian right of way is not all it’s cracked up to be. Pittsburgh drives? Unsafe at any speed. Pittsburgh walkers? Do you really want to take the chance? http://www.sfga­te.com/bayarea/­article/Streets­-of-S-F-a-road-­hazard-as-pedes­trian-5205143.p­hp Streets of S.F. a road hazard as pedestrian deaths spike
0

S.J. Antonucci190 days ago
I always tell people in Los Angeles (my current home) that they could learn from how Pittsburgh builds pedestrian friendly places…
0

Susan Gahagan191 days ago
It all could be avoided if all traffic lights were red when the pedestrian crossing light says walk. The confusion comes when cars are permitted to turn at the same time pedestrians are told it is safe to cross. That is not how it is in most [small] towns.

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1 reply

0
Karen Lillis190 days ago
This one is easy: When a car has a green light and wants to turn, they must yield to anyone going straight.
0

Melissa Tison191 days ago
I am not engaging in Hyperbole when I tell you I feel your near death experience. The obligatory life-wrap-up scene flashed before my eyes while attempting to cross on a green pedestrian signal last week by Duquesne. I literally screamed and was lucky the car swerved. Jeez, I don’t even garner a brake? I received a half-hearted “sorry” out the window.
0

Kate Hansen191 days ago
Pittsburgh’s transit issues are an infinate loop of responsible pedestrians, walkers that cross at green lights, and drivers that don’t know what a turn signal is. It’s some sort of parasitic microcosm and I’m not sure which came first.
0

Melanie Hall191 days ago
I do not see many people using the expensive crossing devices. They do not listen for the cross don’t cross voice commands they do not pay attention to the signal signs, they do not pay attention to the traffic. They jump out and look in the wrong direction when crossing. They act as if they never learned how to cross a street. Blind people do a better job. They jump out in front of buses, Let’s for get about Bikes obeying the traffic signals or even signaling. My grand kids cross better than most of the college kids and business people down town.
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