Walking Around Boston

By Phineas J. Stone

There’s a great deal of energy and excitement nowadays for walking in the City of Boston.

Fancy that.

Those stirring up the excitement approach it as if we’ve never heard of the term ‘walking.’

Those of us who have suffered through the nightmare of parking in the downtown neighborhoods for decades can likely show strings of worn out shoes to prove that even though they drive, they likely put more miles on their shoes than their radials.

But I see the point, and despite the new monikers thought up by paid consultants for the idea of making better crosswalks and nicer sidewalks and common sense roadways (such as “Vision Zero” and “alternative transportation infrastructure” and “traffic calming” and “shared pathways”), I can agree that some of the senseless relics of Boston’s walking past could use some re-thinking.

But while we’re doing that, let’s not crown the pedestrian as the savior of the modern world. Let’s teach them a little bit about how to walk in the city. This has to be a cooperative effort, as a lot of the accidents logged could be prevented if BOTH parties were practicing better safety and common sense.

Pedestrians for the most part now don’t know this common sense, likely never knew, and with modern technology, have gotten far worse.

Boston pedestrians could be the worst in the world, and they carry a chip on their shoulders and a sense of entitlement that they have a moral high ground because they are walking and you are driving – and somehow they have become superior for having chosen to use their feet. Everyone knows what I’m talking about. If you don’t, then you just got to town.

It doesn’t help that the state crosswalk laws are so accommodating in that all one has to do is step to the edge of the crosswalk and everyone must stop. That’s quite a bit of power, and in other places, drivers must respect the crosswalk, but pedestrians must wait until it is clear to venture out into the street. Here, they dare you to make the decision as they deliberately walk in front of you.

It’s a high-stakes game, truly, and if you are driving and don’t happen to see them for whatever reason, nobody ends up being right or wrong – but someone ends up hurt.

One of my favorites is when pedestrians stand at the light and wait and wait while the light is in their favor. They look around as if they’re confused. Of course, once the light turns green and you can drive – they walk right in front of an anxious column of drivers striving to be let loose.

Of course, you now have the cell phone gawkers who walk across the street without a clue while having their eyes affixed to the glowing electronic screen. Red light, green light, yellow light, right on red, watch for cars – none of that matters when walkers are in the cell phone mode. It’s simply a matter of head down and feet forward.

I’ve had a few cardiac situations as well from the group that likes to emerge from behind an MBTA bus into the travel lane, or sneak out from behind a parked car either running or walking fast. They rarely realize they have committed an atrocity upon the driving public, and sometimes they even blame the driver with their eyes or their gestures.

Finally, you have the truly morbid idea by some of having “case.”

“Case” is a phenomenon brought mostly to the table by young people and those on the fringes of society – naturally some of the largest populations of walkers.

To have “case” means you intentionally try to get hit by a car – but preferably by an MBTA bus or some other official City or State vehicle. Once hit and injured, one has a court case – or “case” – as it’s popularly called. Because the laws in Massachusetts favor pedestrians so heavily, State and City entities nearly always settle for a tidy sum – as I’m told. Private insurance companies apparently are harder, but more lucrative once the check comes. I’ve seen people with three or four “case” just waiting for the checks to come in like a business that waits for accounts receivable payments to hit the bank account so they can make payroll. It’s a cottage industry built upon the dysfunction of many, but not all, walkers in Boston.

Why not ticket some of these folks described above as we have rightly begun ticketing drivers who don’t respect pedestrians?

A jaywalking ticket is nearly unheard of in Boston and I was told by a D-4 officer that the fine is not even worth the effort. As part of our pedestrian-worship effort, how about introducing some real tickets with some real meaning? I recall getting a jaywalking ticket in another state many years ago. I crossed with a large group against a light, and though I had the power of numbers, I was the last one in the group and the cop singled me out.

I was furious and I actually never paid the fine – crying out for justice.

The whole situation was long forgotten until years later when I put my number in the phone book (remember the annual published phone book? I hear it still exists). Somehow, five states away, that registered on someone’s computer screen.

Soon I had a call from the Sheriff’s Department out there telling me I had an arrest warrant outstanding in that state for many years due to not paying a jaywalking ticket. Of course, it was all cleared up with a simple $300 payment, which I gladly made.

Now that’s enforcement with teeth!

I’m not against the new emphasis on walking as a solution to traffic. Our outdoor environment is truly inhospitable for most of the year, so I don’t think hoofing it is the golden ticket. But I’m a walker much of the time, and I see the value.

That said, let’s also curb the abuses of the pedestrian crowds – abuses that have been coddled by generations of entitlement and bad attitudes and habits.

If we don’t, we’re simply showing zero vision.

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