The other day I wrote about how I thought that too many pedestrians took too many chances. At the same time I put much of the blame on transportation planners who create situations that wrongly encourage people to cross at points that put them at risk. The location of bus stops is key. Shortly after that piece appeared, Channel 5 showed a press conference about pedestrian safety that was near the intersection of two major roads in Maryland. I think it was near Langley Park. The thing that the report pointed out was that while this press conference was going on you could see a number of people walking across the street in the background. They were nowhere near the crosswalks and were even so bold as to cross mid block in front of a police car that was part of the press conference. It was amazing how brazen these people were and how little regard they seemed to have in their own safety. It defied common sense. Of course that didn't stop local advocates from stressing that all this was the fault of local planners who failed to place signs in the area in Spanish as a warning against crossing the street. Why are these signs necessary and why is it so important that they be printed in Spanish? I don't want to sound callous, but at some point common sense and a sense of responsibility need to come into play. A busy street is the same here as it is in other countries; drivers are only half of the equation. Community leaders need to take the lead and educate their constituents to adapt and to make proper decisions rather than constantly pointing the finger of blame.
Technology came to the rescue during the recent evacuation of New Orleans and surrounding areas. On-Star, the General Motors in-vehicle navigation system with live operators, beefed up its staff as the storm approached. Almost 100,000 people used the service to find hotels with vacancies, alternative routes and even to find loved ones who were also on the road (and presumably equipped with On-Star). I can imagine that this sort of personal service helped ease at least some of the angst of having to leave your home without knowing what you might come back to. The key is that On-Star uses real live people and that would seem to make the difference. That's so much more soothing than some clipped computer voice giving directions. Technology with the human touch.
In response to my rant about those parking illegally in spaces reserved for the handicapped, Pete left a comment about a website that was launched to expose those who selfishly use the spaces when they shouldn't. You can find it at handicappedfraud.org and see if it's something that you want to participate in. Essentially it is a site where people can report the tag numbers and, if appropriate, the placard numbers of the offenders. The site's webmaster gathers the information and sends it to the appropriate department of motor vehicles at the end of the month. The belief is that the DMV will take action if a pattern of abuse is spotted. I'm not sure that happens or that there is any way of following up but, at the very least, it seems a cathartic experience that I think I will give a whirl.
I think that Steve Offutt is on to something with the idea of a virtual tunnel. Follow the link below to read his whole post, but the thrust is that it would allow riders to depart stations and then walk to others to make connections within a specified time frame using a SmarTrip card. The prime example is the connection between the two Farragut stations. Metro's computers could be set up so that people couldn't run out of a station, grab something at a nearby store, and go back to the same station. I can't imagine that such a rare but potential occurrence would stop Metro from giving it a try. For that matter, Metro could set up a one, three or six-month trial to see how much it gets used and whether or not it loses any revenue. I'm with Mr. Offutt: Build the Virtual Tunnel.
Steve Eldridge is a long-time reporter, observer and commentator on the Washington region's transportation issues. You can contact him directly by writing to: [email protected]. Unless otherwise requested, letters or portions of letters can be used within future columns. Letter writers will be identified by their first name and city/neighborhood.