Tuesday afternoon I was sitting at the stoplight at Cherry and Washington waiting to turn left from Washington to Cherry. The all-walk was lit and a man in an electric wheelchair was trying to cross the street from the corner next to the Cherry Tree restaurant to reach the ramp in front of the church across the street.
For those who may be unfamiliar with it, this is a huge stretch of asphalt that, according to Google Maps, measures roughly 60ft across. Including the parking lane, there are 6 full lanes devoted to cars. This man was trying to do the diagonal, which is roughly 80ft.
The catch is that the road is a mix of patches and potholes, meaning it was pretty slow going for him and he was still shy of the center lane when the light changed and the folks waiting at Cherry Street got the green.
This is where my mother-in-law exclaimed, “Oh, that poor man!” The cars, led by a landscaping truck pulling a trailer, took the left, avoiding him, but still coming kind of close. He kept moving along, but you could see him furtively looking over his shoulder. You don’t need to have been in a wheelchair to know the fear he experienced at that moment. The line of cars followed.
My light turned green. I hesitated and waited for him to reach the ramp, then went, by the time the light cycle reached me he was almost there. We all act this way when we’re in a car. We’re in a hurry, we have a place to be, we’re in our own world and need to satisfy our own needs first.
Thankfully, you’re not going to see this man on a casualty report, this incident is not going to show up as a safety concern. His fear doesn’t leave a mark or show as a physical injury, but it is real. It’s the same fear that causes people to run across streets (we’ve all seen that) and that makes parents afraid to let their middle school-aged children walk on their own.
To be entirely fair, W. Newton Square will soon be rebuilt with some better pedestrian access. But every time the idea comes up of taking away space for cars so we can make way for people, there is an uproar.
I just wonder why we want to keep building our world this way.