Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pedestrian Bill Update with My Take

The pedestrian safety bill wending its way through the halls of the Virginia legislature is starting to sound like the plague-infected serf of Monty Python’s “Holy Grail.”

“I’m not dead, yet.”

“Yes you are, you’ll be stone cold in a moment.”

“I feel happy!”

The bill (HB1270), sponsored by Democrat Adam Ebbin (D-49th, Arlington/Alexandria), lost by one vote in the full House Feb. 11, but an identical bill (SB644) passed through the state Senate, Friday Feb. 9.

Therefore, the Senate bill crossed over to the House where it was taken up by the House Transportation Committee, once again, and that committee sent it down, once again, to “Sub-committee #2” where it will be discussed as early as Monday.

The bill has already made its way once out of the sub-committee and full-committee to the House floor. That could happen again, although the votes in committee were close.

The main thrust of the bill is that it requires cars to “stop and remain stopped” for pedestrians in crosswalks on the car’s side of the street. (That is, a southbound car must stop for a pedestrian in a southbound lane.) Supporters of the bill say that this is more clear than the current law which requires drivers to “yield” to pedestrians in crosswalks.

Also, it defines more clearly what “marked” and “unmarked” crosswalks are. Finally, it says that pedestrians must not enter either type of crosswalk if the car does not have time to stop for the pedestrian.

That bill has had cross-party support. Republicans in pedestrian-heavy northern counties, among others, have voted for the bill.

The real thing is this: it lost by one vote on the House floor on a day when three Democrats (including one sponsor of the bill) were absent from voting. (A tie vote, by the way, loses.)

My take:

I like the bill. It’s not perfect. The Republicans I spoke with said it would not really change much, and might still be as tough to convict the idiot driver who blasts through the intersection, pedestrians-be-damned. For instance, who is to say that the pedestrian did not step off the curb too late and not give the car time to stop? That will remain as unclear as it ever was, say detractors.

Potentially an "unmarked crosswalk." (Click to enlarge the image.)

Still, I think everyone can see the difference between “yield” and “stop,” and it’s a significant difference to me.

Walking my dog this morning, I noticed a spot on N. Quincy Street at N. 5th Road that would be a perfect “unmarked crosswalk.” The sidewalk at the corner has a nice skirt that slopes down to N. Quincy at the intersection. On the opposite side of N. Quincy is another skirt that slopes up from the road. N. 5th, however, does not cut all the way through at that point, and there are no striped lines marking the crosswalk on N. Quincy, so it does not look much like a crosswalk, but under the SB644, I think it would be.

I wondered if I would be legally right to consider that a crosswalk, and if I stepped out into it would a car on my side of the street have to stop for me or risk a ticket? (If the driver actually hit me in a cross walk, marked or no, the driver is actually at fault).

Since the “crosswalk” there is not readily apparent, that would mean drivers would have to be even more vigilant, constantly looking for pedestrians crossing at these places.

And that is why I like the bill.

A few drivers (even myself if I was not paying attention) would get tickets for failing to stop for a pedestrian in an unmarked crosswalk even though they might not have known the law and might not have hurt or risked the life of anyone. So be it.

What this county needs is a shift in attitude. We have to change the mentality of drivers that says “hurry up and get out of my way foolish pedestrian” to “it won’t cost me but a few seconds, on average, to stop and wait for the person to get out of my way.”

If the law can get us to the point where people think that way (the same way seatbelt laws got everyone to think about using seatbelts), then I am all for it. I think this law will do it.

We’ll see what happens, and you know I will keep you posted.

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