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Originally published August 7, 2013 at 7:53 PM | Page modified August 7, 2013 at 7:57 PM

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What can make streets safer? You

Walking, riding or driving, everyone has a responsibility to make streets safer.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Cars are not the only danger on the road, but they are the most deadly, which places an extra burden on drivers to watch out for people on foot or on bicycles as well as for other motorists.

When I wrote about collisions in Monday’s column, I emphasized the role of courtesy in preventing tragedies like the one that moved me to write, in which a teenager was hospitalized after being hit by a car in a crosswalk.

I didn’t mean just being nice, but rather taking other people into account, instead of just one’s self — a way of thinking that should preclude not only rudeness, but driving while intoxicated, while texting or while otherwise distracted.

A number of readers wanted to emphasize the many ways in which some pedestrians or bicyclists put themselves and others at risk. We’ve all seen examples of that many times. I have my own pet peeves, among them people who walk slowly across the street in the middle of a block, or ignore a red light because they’re in a rush.

Bicyclists who weave between cars or turn across traffic are irritants as is the bicycling guy (always a guy) who blocks a lane unnecessarily and flips the bird at cars who go around.

They are as bothersome as drivers who don’t signal, or who cut other people off in traffic, or, well the list could get quite long.

A reader named Carol reminded me that it’s not just cars vs. bicyclists or pedestrians. She left a phone message saying, “I do a lot of walking and I try to get my neighbors out to walk. ... I’m more afraid of the bicyclists,” she said. “You don’t hear them, and they are nasty as heck. I’ve never met a nice one.” She said a person could be killed by a bicyclist almost every day.

A few months ago I was hit by a bicyclist while I was walking on a sidewalk downtown. He sped past from behind, clipped me and kept going. But most people who bike aren’t like that at all. And it isn’t really likely someone would be killed by a person on a bicycle, though it’s possible.

The day Carol called, the paper carried a story from San Francisco about the sentencing of a software engineer who rode his bike through three red lights and into Sutchi Hui, who was crossing a street with his wife. Hui died, and the bicyclist pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter. He was sentenced to probation and community service.

It was a rare case. What is more common, and what I worry about, is that a pedestrian or bicyclist might do something that I would not react to in time to prevent a collision. No one wants to be behind the wheel of a car that hits and injures or kills a person.

Reckless drivers, walkers and bikers all make it necessary for the rest of us to be more alert anytime we travel by foot, bike or car. They have in common that they are all people behaving badly regardless of their mode of transportation. And most of us have in common a tendency to see things from our perspective at the moment and make judgments accordingly.

Many of us walk, bike and drive, but we can easily condemn a whole group of people based on the actions of a few folks using whatever means of transportation we are not using just then. I’ve caught myself doing that.

There are jerks on foot and on wheels, and there are the rest of us, who sometimes make errors, who sometimes are distracted. We all need to do better and always be prepared to compensate for the shortcomings of others, because in a collision no one wins.

For the next two weeks police in King County are using extra patrols to spot drivers who are distracted by cellphones. A few days ago the federal Department of Transportation said that after decades of decline, pedestrian traffic deaths have risen over the past several years. The department said part of the problem may be pedestrians walking while intoxicated and more people walking while carrying on phone conversations, texting or listening to music.

On foot or on wheels, technology is enabling us to have more collisions.

Wednesday, I read in the journal Psychological Science that an analysis of word-use frequency in English shows a cultural shift toward individualism and materialism and away from social responsibilities, and that maybe technology is one driver of that shift.

However modern the cause, the solution is ancient: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you — which in this case means walk, ride and drive defensively and responsibly.

Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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