Crosswalk or crosshairs?

P1020632There’s been another hit-and-run at the intersection of St. Paul’s and Liberty Avenues. It’s the third this week. I saw the victim this morning as I approached the intersection, crossing myself before crossing St. Paul’s Avenue during the morning rush. The victim was twisted into an unnatural angle, marked with tire tread prints, and leaned against the side of the multifamily house on the corner. I didn’t witness the accident but I knew the victim had been in the exact center of the pedestrian crosswalk at the moment of impact. I didn’t know if the force of the impact had thrown the victim against the side of the house or if the driver had moved the victim to that location.

The victim at this intersection is always the same: the pedestrian crosswalk sign. The sign is three feet high (the height of an average three- or four-year-old), bright yellow for high visibility in all weather, and states on both sides “Stop for pedestrians in crosswalk.” Its body is crash-tested and approved, and the base is made of recycled materials so it’s environmentally friendly and sturdy enough to withstand wind gusts. The city’s Division of Engineering, Traffic and Transportation had painted crosswalk crosshatches and placed the sign at the busy intersection in early 2014, which had been the site of a fatal hit-and-run in 2012. A pedestrian was struck at night and died later in the hospital of the crash-related injuries. As far as I know, the driver never came forward nor was apprehended.

The sign and painted crosswalk are supposed to decrease the hazards of being an urban pedestrian. However, I’m more afraid of crossing that intersection than I was before the safety “improvements.” I feel like I am willingly placing myself in the crosshairs. If such is the repeated fate of the crosswalk sign, I fear my fate as a flesh-and-blood pedestrian. The intersection at St. Paul’s and Liberty Avenues has a high volume of high-speed traffic, especially during the rush hours. In the mornings and early evenings, cars accelerate to beat the traffic light at the east end of St. Paul’s Avenue that leads to Kennedy Boulevard, and the traffic light at the west end that leads to Tonnelle Avenue. This is the traffic pedestrians confront to cross St. Paul’s Avenue to head toward the Journal Square transportation hub to catch their bus or train.

Yet who is foolish enough to cross? I believe drivers intentionally take aim and head straight for the crosswalk sign. There are no cameras at that intersection to capture the moment of impact or the identity of the driver. I’m just a small woman, only two feet taller than the crosswalk sign. My only barrier against the metal and fiberglass front-end of an oncoming vehicle is my non-reflective brown skin, and it’s not tough enough to protect my not-impact-resistant tissues and bones. What chance do I have of getting across the street safely?

Why did the chicken cross the road? is no longer just a corny grade school joke. It’s a tale of survival, my daily curbside contemplation. On days when I see the dinged and dented crosswalk sign against the side of the building, I can’t think of anything that is so valuable on the other side of St. Paul’s Avenue. On those days, this woman doesn’t want to cross the road because she’s too chicken.

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