Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Hazards of a Good Walk

Tourists. God bless 'em.

I'm fortunate to be working a mere stone's throw (or within easy looting distance, for anyone who measures distances that way) of the National Mall, with its numerous museums and mostly car-free walking. Although I would take daily walks when I worked further up town, and that area gave me a more varied set of routes, it's really delightful to take 30 minutes, once or twice a day, to get out of the office and stretch my legs. Less delightful when the temperature is below 35 or above 85, but that's still a good chunk of the year to spend communing with Mother Nature - or at least zipping through the great outdoors before the office beckons. Three things put a bit of a damper on my enjoyment.

First, the drivers of cars, trucks, and, most especially, buses who don't obey traffic controls. I don't mean cruising through a light that's been yellow for a while, I mean people who refuse to believe that right turns on red are to be done *after* a stop, that "no left turn" means it, and, most importantly, that pedestrians in a crosswalk with the light have the right of way. I know it's congested, I know you're in a hurry and want to make the light, but sheesh, you're in a climate-controlled vehicle. Besides, your day would go downhill rapidly if you were involved in a pedestrian death.*

Second, bicyclists who ride, generally illegally, on sidewalks as though pedestrians don't exist. Yes, I know it's dangerous for cyclists to be on the roads with cars. When the sidewalks are largely empty, I'm all for looking the other way. When the sidewalks are choked with pedestrians, however, walk your bike or pedal very slowly. Zipping along ringing your little bell does nothing to improve safety. 

Third, hordes of tourists, especially group tours, especially school groups. I have nothing against tourists: I like going places, so I know what it's like to be in a strange city trying to enjoy the sights. Furthermore, tourists spend money, which is good for the city's economy. But let's all play nicely. If you want to take a picture, I'll walk behind you. In return, don't stand on one side of the sidewalk taking a picture across the sidewalk so that I have no chance to walk behind you. (And no, I'm not walking in the street.) If you're ambling along, I'll go around you; no need to change your speed or direction. But if you're in a group of four or more, please don't spread yourself across the sidewalk so that no one can get by. If you're in a group of 20 waiting for your tour on a crowded sidewalk, please stay to one side, rather than milling across the entire sidewalk. (The Crime Museum on 7th Street is particularly bad for this.) And school groups on the Mall should take up some reasonable amount of space - let's say 95% rather than 100% of the width of the sidewalk, leaving just enough room for one crotchety middle-aged person to get by.

Ah, who am I kidding? Bad drivers are going to drive badly, some cyclists are going to ride unsafely, and tour groups are going to do whatever the heck they want to do. Some days I even remember this, and try to smile as I make my way through the throngs.


* Always look drivers in the eye if possible. That way you might be able to tell if one is already having a bad day and just doesn't care any more. Let that driver go.**

** The other day I was driving down the highway and passed a car that was moving a little erratically. It turned out that the driver was sobbing uncontrollably. Not good.

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