Wanted: Common Sense, Courtesy

File photo    Pedestrian safety is not a new issue for Alameda. Frank Muñoz (center, with cane) crossed Lincoln Avenue with some help from friends: (from left to right) Cindy Zecher, Laura Hudgins, Gary Lym and Sean McPhetridge. The crossing in February 2017 drew attention to the fact that Muñoz had been struck by a car after three other cars had stopped at the crosswalk on Lincoln Avenue near Benton Street.

Part one in a series 
A number of incidents involving pedestrians, motor vehicles and bicyclists have recently marred Alameda’s tranquility. Many of these — and those in the past — involve people, young and old, misunderstanding the city’s ordinances that govern how we all must interact safely. 

The key to making and keeping Alameda safe involves both obeying these ordinances and using both common sense and common courtesy. The speed limit may be 25 miles an hour on most of Alameda’s streets, but common sense calls for driving slower when children or the elderly are nearby. 

It may be legal to ride bicycles on most of Alameda’s sidewalks, but that does not allow bicyclists to force or frighten pedestrians to move “out of their way.” Ringing a bicycle’s bell, or yelling “on your right” does not require pedestrians to step aside. It may be legal for pedestrians to “jaywalk”--- cross the street in the middle of the block — but that does not give pedestrians the right to dart out in front of oncoming cars. 

Pedestrians must understand that the driver of an automobile traveling at 25 miles an hour needs not just braking time, but reaction time to stop. These factors add up to 85 feet, the height of an eight-story building. Pedestrians who jaywalk must always take the speed of oncoming traffic into consideration. In a study he did for the American Automobile Association, Bill Tefft found that average risk of severe injury for a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling below Alameda’s speed limit at 23 miles per hour (mph) is 25 percent. Tefft says that this increases to 50 percent at an impact speed of 31 mph and rises to 75 percent at 39 mph and finally to 90 percent at 46 mph. 

In a story he wrote for www.quartz.com, University of Maryland professor John Rennie Short noted that car manufacturers have built safer vehicles and pointed out that “in the United States, driver fatalities fell from 27,348 in 2006 to 23,611 in 2017.” However, he also stated that in those same 11 years, pedestrian and cyclist fatalities increased from 5,567 to 6,760. 

An average mid-sized car weighs in at 3,500 pounds. Drivers of these safer vehicles must take this weight into consideration when they see a 45-pound child, a bicyclist weighing in at 170 pounds or an elderly 150-pound man or woman crossing in the street in front of them. From the other point of view, that same child, bicyclist and senior citizen should bear in mind that a machine weighing almost 2 tons is coming at them. 

Drivers must take a bicyclist’s “door zone” into consideration before blowing their horns at or nearly sideswiping people and their vehicles that weigh on average 200 pounds versus their 3,500-pound behemoths. That bicyclist is riding (or should be riding) a distance equal to an open car door away from parked cars. This door zone protects the bicyclist from someone in a parked car opening a car door and knocking the bicyclist to the ground. 

Anytime a driver sees a bicyclist riding “in the middle of the road,” that driver must allow the bicyclist the “door zone” space. And that driver must remember that it is not illegal for a bicyclist to ride in the roadway. On the other hand, bicyclists must respect all rules of the road. These include allowing the space a much-bigger automobile needs on the roadway, signaling their intention to turn and, yes, stopping at stop signs.

In this entire mix, pedestrians are the most fragile, Alameda’s children and senior citizens, the most fragile of all. Everyone on foot, from youngster to oldster, must act with the same caution as drivers and bicyclists. Yes, pedestrians have the right of way, but that does not give those on foot the special right to simply walk out in front of a 3,500-pound vehicle traveling at them at 37 feet per second (25 mph).

The next story will put common sense and common courtesy aside and look at the ordinances and laws that attempt to insure proper behavior on Alameda’s sidewalks and streets.