In Civic Life

Freedom in the Crosswalks

It is absolutely right that pedestrians are as irresponsible as drivers are and that the difficulties of getting laws changed are gargantuan and that groups have been working for years to get the police to enforce stops before making right turns on red. That’s the big picture and understanding the big picture is important. I’m a big picture person if there ever was one. I always want to understand the big picture, but action starts with the little picture.

I once saw an East European tourist at a festival in the park dumbfounded at how Americans would allow people to crowd in line in front of them. Not just being polite to someone who is late to work or with a crying baby. “You let people walk all over you. This would never happen in Russia.” I’ve heard similar comments from exchange students from countries that were not democracies. On a daily basis they were much less tolerant of law breaking and violations of social norms than we are.

We give up our own freedom in the name of “what can we do.” And “what can we do” is not a question, just a lament. “We can’t get city hall to do anything.” City hall? That was your toe that car just about took off.

Whenever I suggest confronting bad drivers, even with a sign, people say, “Oh, we can’t be rude.” Or, “We might get shot.” “We can’t take the law into our own hands.”

Painting extreme scenarios, like “Law & Order,” help us avoid actions the same way focusing on the facts helps avoid the truth.

Why can’t you lean over, knock on a car window, and point out to the driver of the only car waiting at that stoplight that they are sitting on the crosswalk? Why can’t you yell at a driver who has just run a red light? Or is talking on their cell phone while making a left turn in front of an elementary school while children are present?

How many times do you think it would take for drivers to think twice about ever doing that again if the 15 parents and three crossing guards who witnessed this, ran over and banged on the car trunk as it passed and yelled at the driver. And used their cell phones to call the police and report the license-plate number? Take photos and post them on the school website?

This tiny action would not make anyone late for work and in less than a week would make crossing the street a lot safer.