May. 25th, 2010

stusegal: (Teutonic Highway from Hell)

Let me make this perfectly clear.  I live in New Jersey.

That’s in between New York City and Philadelphia.  New Yorkers are known far and wide for their manners, especially the cabbies and cops.  Some of the rudest people on the planet.  And Philadelphians  -  ah the the City Of Brotherly Love.  Ask any Philadelphian about the Eagles, Phillies or Flyers  -  unless it was a year they won the World Series, Superbowl or Stanley Cup , which incidentally they rarely do, a stream of vitriol like you never heard will erupt.  These people are so mean that they’d eat their own young if they had to.

Now you’ll notice I didn’t say I live between New York and Pennsylvania.  Because if you drive 5 hours west, you’ll reach Pittsburgh, which is in Pennsylvania but has Midwestern sensibilities.  And if you drive 5 hours north you’ll reach Buffalo, which is at Niagara Falls, and is on a different planet than NYC.  So again to be clear, NJ is in between New York City and Philadelphia, and is filled with people who used to live in Philly or New York, or who live here but work there.  So don’t think you need to leave New Jersey to hear someone say “Fuggedaboudit” or “Gimme two cheesestakes wit fried onions”.

Some years ago my ex-wife stepped off a curb in New York City when a traffic light turned red and it was OK to go.  She was instantly waffled by a messenger on a bicycle traveling at breakneck speed, inches from the curb, who knocked her to the ground, and left her battered, bruised and knocked senseless.  And how did people feel about this unfortunate incident?  “Shouldn’t have stepped in the street widdout lookin” was the consensus.

And this has always been the protocol where I live.  If you step out into the street into moving traffic and get hit, then shame on you.  Will the driver get a ticket?  Maybe.  Maybe not. 

And if you’re diving and someone steps out in front of you what are you expected to do?  Swerve and avoid them if possible.  Blow your horn.  Give them the finger.  Are you supposed to stop and “yield” to them?  Fuggedaboudit.

There’s a train station in my town, but there are no traffic lights right at the station, so for people to cross Main Street safely they need to walk a block or two in either direction.  Either that, or use their urban survival skills and dart between oncoming cars to get safely onto the white line in the middle of the road, then stand perfectly still (like those girls you used to see on the Ed Sullivan Show standing up against the wall while some lunatic threw knives in the wall around them) on the white line while waiting for the opportunity to dart between traffic and get to the other side.

So a couple years ago the town put in a couple of fancy brick crosswalks across Main Street, with signs that say “State Law: Yield to Pedestrians in Crosswalk”.  Yeah, right.

Last year at this time I saw our local Police Department in a major crosswalk sting operation.  I saw a guy wearing a t-shirt and dark pants, and he seemed vaguely familiar  -  turns out he was one of the local officers who had taken off his uniform shirt.  And he was strolling from the sidewalk into the crosswalk.  Half a block down was a second, uniformed, officer standing between parked cars.  When someone would not yield to the “pedestrian”, the second officer would step out into the street, wave over the driver, and give them a ticket.  (I guess we’re lucky there’s no bigger crimes in our town to deal with).  Well, I only saw this happening one morning.  Presumably, hopefully, there was such outrage over the use of expensive resources for a crime roughly equivalent to jaywalking that the police were re-assigned to more appropriate duty.

But did the city give up?  NO!  Then they managed to get a state grant for $$$??? I-don’t-know-how-much to imbed a row of yellow lights in the street on both sides of these crosswalks, and when a pedestrian wants to cross they push a button by the curb, and these yellow lights instantly start flashing.  Since there’s about 20 lights across the street on each side of the crosswalk it’s almost impossible for a driver to not see them.

And I noticed, that actually worked . . . most of the time.  Most, but not all, drivers yielded (after all, this is New Jersey.  Who says pedestrians have the right of way?  Some friggin signs?  Some damn flashing lights?)  At least it worked for about a year or so, until the flashing lights broke down, and there was no funding to fix them  -  yes, yet another well thought out government initiative.

So now to the reason for my post.  Today I was out for a walk.  And I happened, just happened, to want to cross in the middle of the block where one of these crosswalks is located.  So I looked to my left, noticed traffic coming (so I stopped knowing I would be run over if I proceeded), looked to my right and was watching traffic approach from the right while I was waiting for the traffic from the left to pass.  Funny thing, the traffic from the left never came past, so I turned my head back to the left and was shocked – the cars had stopped and were waiting patiently for me to cross??!!  I nodded a “thank you” and proceeded.

But here’s the problem.  THIS IS NEW JERSEY.  Traffic is not supposed to yield to anything.  This isn’t friggin Florida where traffic comes to a screeching halt every time some doddering old Bubby or Zayde stumbles off the curb.

I’ve got to admit  -  the older I get the harder it is to accept change, even when it is for the better.

This is the crosswalk, with the "Yield" sign in the middle of the street, and the now covered-in-orange-trashbag-so-you-can't-push-the-button activator for the flashing lights::
Metuchen Crosswalk

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