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10 February, 2009

Pedestrians in Seattle

This is a topic that has been a long time coming.

There are many ways in which Seattle is a fucked up city. The street signs, the highway signs, the lane designations, the exit ramps, the taxation, the public transportation, the weather, the road maintenance, the drivers, people's complete inability to parallel park, the fact that gasoline in Madison Park is 40 cents more expensive than gas in the Central District, 1.5 miles down the road...

The list goes on, and on, and on.

But what bothers me as much, or more than any other thing, are the pedestrians, crosswalks, and the asinine system of traffic regulation at intersections in the Rat City.

Here is the situation, in a nutshell:

In Seattle, at every traffic light, there are pedestrian crossing lights. That is nothing unique to this city. And each time the light turns green for cars, the pedestrian crossing light turns "green" for people crossing the perpendicular street. This crossing privilege is granted on every light cycle, and its duration is the entire length of said light cycle. This creates a very maddening predicament at traffic lights, because it means that when the light for cars turns green at a busy intersection, you very often have a situation where nobody can go! This is because the left lane is at a complete stand-still, waiting for someone to take a left turn, while the right lane is at a complete stand-still waiting for people to cross the street before those cars can take a right turn!

Basically, if you want to go straight in Seattle, you're fucked. Or right. Or left.

The only way you are not fucked is if you are walking, because 50% of the time, you can mosey your lazy ass across the street at leisurely will.

That brings me to part two of this "bifecta".

The pedestrians.

I would like very much to mount a snow plow on the front of my Honda Civic, and shovel up and collect all of the pedestrians in this city and push them into one giant garbage pile of ignorant, self-centered, entitled assholes. People in this city behave as if crossing the street is a right. This is not the case. Crossing the street should be a rite. A rite of survival. You should recognize that stepping off the curb is entering the territory of "large metal objects with powerful motors capable of inflicting lethal force". And, being as such, you should scoot your ass across that intersection as quickly as is humanly possible. 

But no. Not in Seattle. 

In Seattle, people treat that taunting white hand of crossing as an invitation for them to bring their party out into the crosswalk, and saunter across the street, perhaps while eating a sandwich. And if a pretty bird flies overhead, by all means, do stop to have a look. I have even seen people crossing the street in Seattle who, when they see you arrive at the intersection in your car to make a right turn, they slow down, as if to say "This is my turn to be here! And you'll just have to wait!".

You know what I say to that?

Fuck 'em. We should be able to run them down. That crossing light needs to be a flashing white gun, instead of a flashing white hand. And it should only be on for 3 seconds, randomly, at some point during the period which the light in the other direction is green. And when you see that flashing gun, you dash across the street, thankful to be alive.

I would venture to say that 15% of the traffic problems in the city are caused by pedestrians. I have absolutely no source for that data, except that I spend 15% of my time wanting to run people over, so that seems about right.

What I really don't understand is why they don't just do it like we did it back in Boston. Back East, if you want to cross the street, there was a button that you had to push. Seattle has that button too. But Seattle didn't read the instructions for how this thing works. In Seattle, the pedestrian pushes that button, and giant magnets immediately bring all traffic in an eight block radius to a screeching halt. This is what I like to call "the wrong design". 

In Boston, the button works differently. 

In Boston, you push the button, and one of two things happen: 
  1. Most likely, nothing happens. You push the button several times. Nothing happens. You wait 3 light cycles. And then you say "Fuck it" and you run across the street, dodging cars, the way humans were meant to cross streets. 

  2. The less likely thing is that eventually, after 4 light cycles, the crosswalk light comes on (usually right after you have played Frogger with your own life, at the intersection of Causeway Street and North Washington Street). Then all the cars are sitting still, in both directions, watching you go into the pizza place. There is usually lots of cursing and shouting out of windows of cars, berating you for having pressed the button at all.
The strange thing about the good people of Seattle is that, while they are completely obnoxious, oblivious, and disruptive while crossing the street legally, they will strangely never cross the street illegally. It can be 2:15 on a Sunday afternoon, with no cars in sight, and you'll see people standing at 85th and Greenwood, in the pouring rain, waiting for that crossing light to grant them permission to do the snail dance across the intersection. It's so utterly illogical, it's mind-boggling. 

If you ask me, people should cross the street when there are no cars coming. And if there are cars coming, they should not cross the street. And if there are too many cars to cross the street, you should go home, get in your fucking car, and drive.

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