Friday, December 25, 2015

Editorial: All I want for Christmas...

It seems almost cliche to write a wish list for this time of year, but given that this is the first Christmas I am spending in my newly adopted home town of Long Beach, I thought it appropriate to share a few things that I would like to see happen in coming months. Most of this is borne of experiences since moving here in February, much of it slightly harrowing to say the least. I certainly do not expect any of this to change on its own and am working to participate in the civic process to try to help improve things, but it takes more than one person, even one organization, to really effect the kinds of change necessary to make things better.

So, all I want for Christmas is:

1. Drivers to respect pedestrian crosswalks. Seems like a pretty straight forward and simple one, but it is anything but. Since California's vehicle code uses rather vague language about "yielding right of way" rather than concretely defining what expected behavior should be, many drivers abuse the heck out of this, often passing way too close or failing to yield altogether. The problem is that the legal precedent on this matter is also divided since there are cases that go both ways on the matter. To make things clear for pedestrians, drivers, and law enforcement, clear rules should be defined to ensure that there is no gray area. This makes enforcement more cut and dried and leaves little to no room for unnecessary interpretation.

2. Better education and enforcement around biking on sidewalks. In Long Beach, the guideline is apparently that riding bikes on sidewalks is against the law on the streets within any "business district," but fails to clearly define any boundaries or legal definition of what that means. To make matters more complicated, much of Long Beach is mixed use, meaning seemingly residential streets are often dotted with businesses, either on the first floors of apartment buildings or with formerly residential homes converted to business use. This lack of clarity creates chaos for pedestrians and cyclists alike and makes enforcement difficult. To just have a clear definition of the boundaries of the "business district" would make things significantly less confusing for cyclists and safer for pedestrians.

3. Drivers turn on your lights after dark. It is almost a daily occurrence now. Walking down the street or riding along on one of my two-wheeled conveyances, I will see drivers print around town or, good forbid, cruising the freeway without their lights on. When I can, I try to flag them down and let them know, but sometimes, that just is not possible. Driving around after dark without lights is extremely dangerous, especially for pedestrians who may rely on the presence of headlights to be able to determine that there is a vehicle approaching. This is one of those due diligence moments that every driver needs to pay extra attention to because the consequences could be most dire. Plus, the average driver is terrible enough behind the wheel when they can see so the thought of them driving around with even further reduced visibility is downright frightening.

4. Accountability. Yes, whether it is a driver, a cyclist, or a pedestrian, it seems that many people have simply become a bunch of entitled jerks. Rather than owning up and apologizing when they make a mistake, they dig in and go off on the victim like a 5-year old throwing a temper tantrum. Too often people simply refuse to admit their wrongdoing or take personal offense to being called out for making an error and instead of doing the right thing, they explode.This kind of behavior is simply absurd and often escalates the situation further, potentially leading to road rage or worse. I fully understand that mistakes get made, but by owning up to the error in question is often the best way to quickly diffuse a potentially tense situation. 

Some of these things are easier to resolve than others. A bit of enforcement and attentiveness is all it would take to correct some while others will require a major shift in our culture. Still, every one of these things has the net effect of making road user safer for everyone. At the end of the day, isn't that what all of us want?

Happy holidays to everyone and walk/ride/drive safe!