The road less safely traveled

To be a pedestrian in America is to live life dangerously. People on foot comprise 15 percent of all motor vehicle deaths.
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It’s quiet here, but Jo Ann Avenue in Derry Township can be treacherous for a pedestrian.

I am not built for speed.

I am more jogger than runner. Really, a slogger is what I am, content with 10-minute miles.

Every outing is a battle, against some combination of wind, temperature and, mostly, mental weakness. But none of those worries me like the danger found on the mean streets of Derry Township and much of the rest of the country.

To be a pedestrian in America is to live life dangerously.

Pedestrians comprise 15 percent of all motor vehicle deaths, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

The number of people on foot killed on U.S. roads in 2016 increased 11 percent from 2015. Both in terms of percentage and total number — 2,660 in the first six months of 2016 — they were the biggest increases since such statistics have been kept.

Pennsylvania was one of 34 states that saw increases in 2016: 77 deaths, an increase of 18, or 30.5 percent, from the year earlier.

‘Mental and visual distraction’

Among the reasons cited for the increase:

• More vehicle miles traveled as economic conditions improve and gas prices remain relatively low;
• More Americans choosing to travel by foot for health, transportation, economic or environmental reasons;
• A sharp rise in the use of smartphones “to send and receive multimedia messages, a frequent source of mental and visual distraction for both walkers and drivers.”

Sometimes it seems as though driving is incidental to what motorists are doing in their cars. Now, I want to say to them, while you should focus on piloting that two-ton hunk of steel, you’re on social media? I once spotted a woman behind me at a stoplight flossing her teeth!

Most drivers respect runners or walkers enough to slow down or even steer into the opposing lane when possible. I like to acknowledge those folks with a friendly wave, and I feel a special connection when they oblige with a wave of their own. For them, I am grateful.

And then there are the motorists who seem to have contempt for anyone who deigns to occupy even the edge of the macadam where they are driving. That is their lane, pedestrian safety be damned. They aren’t slowing down, moving over, or even acknowledging a runner or walker’s existence.

Jo Ann Avenue in Derry Township is a particularly treacherous stretch. I’ve gestured or shouted at many drivers on that road, even someone I know who got a little too close to me in her car. She betrayed no hint of recognition, nor any remorse.

Painful and ironic

Not far from Jo Ann in the Stone Creek development, a woman in a minivan recently rolled through an intersection as I approached on her right. That would be the direction in which she didn’t look while continuing through her turn.

I barked, “Hey,” we made eye contact, but she only looked back in bewilderment. What is your problem? she seemed to suggest.

Here’s my problem: I don’t want to be struck by an automobile while trying to improve my health with exercise. That would be painful and ironic.

I try to do my part: running during daylight; running against traffic, so that I at least can see what’s coming; using trails closed to motorized vehicles as much as possible (we are blessed in this regard in Derry Township); and no longer running with earphones.

Of course, I’m often a driver, so I look out for pedestrians. I don’t want anyone else — be it a loved one or total stranger — getting hurt or worse.

I have a special appreciation for the runners, even if they all seem to move a lot faster than I can.

About the Author

Neal Goulet

Neal Goulet, Owner
Having been a journalist, Neal knows writing, grammar and style, as well as the language and movements of a newsroom.
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