Opinion

Drivers, take note: It’s a scary world for walkers

The sun was shining on a recent weekday — and apparently, it made drivers on Vashon think the speed limit had doubled. As I walked to work, fully three-quarters of the drivers were clearly driving over the speed limit. Not 5 mph over the limit, but more like they thought they were driving on the freeway. This makes walking difficult on Vashon, where the county seems more concerned with the drainage of rainwater off the road than the safety of pedestrians. The only “shoulder” is at best a slope steep enough to shorten one leg of anyone walking regularly, and often marginal enough to be dangerous. Three times in the last few years I have literally had to dive into the ditch to avoid being hit.

A couple of weeks ago, as I was walking home from work, I was almost hit by two teenagers in a truck peeling out of a driveway in order to get in front of a couple of cars coming up the hill. The driver never even saw me. He didn’t bother to look to his right to see that he had come within a couple of feet of driving right over me. The girl with him looked at me wide-eyed as he cut me off.  A half a mile down the hill, as is the practice of four out of five drivers, a car cut the corner well on the inside of the white line and nearly took me out.

I frequently have to brace myself against garbage trucks and gravel trucks blowing me off the side of the road and throwing gravel into my face. Countless drivers are on their cell phones as they mindlessly blast by others on the road and fail to determine whose turn it is at the few four-way stops on the Island. While driving at the speed limit, traveling on the highway to the ferry, I have been often passed by cars who cross the double lines on hills or corners to get one car ahead in the ferry line. Commuters coming home from Seattle with “get-home-itis” have little regard for anyone who might slow them down.  

I’m concerned not only for my own safety but also for children in the school zone by Chautauqua and McMurray, where three days a week I walk by during the time children are arriving to school. There are always children walking as well as arriving on bicycles. There, I see not only frantic-eyed parents trying to get their kids to school on time speeding into the school driveway, but also school buses drivers — apparently facing greater demands because of budget cuts — racing into the school to keep on schedule. Last year, walking felt safer — at least in the school zone, where there was a vehicle-activated radar speed sign, which temporarily slowed cars down. There was also frequently a police officer monitoring the school zone.

But just the other day, as I was contemplating what to do to get drivers to wake up and make life safer for children and adult pedestrians, I experienced the straw that broke the camel’s back. Ironically, it was “ride your bike to work” (and/or school) day. There were a couple of kids walking, and three or four more, escorted by an adult, riding their bikes in the school zone. Walking, I stopped at the crosswalk at Chautauqua. The car that was stopped pulled out in front of me, even though I technically had the right of way. The next car in line pulled up to the crosswalk and stopped, so I started across the crosswalk. As I stepped in front of the car, it began to pull out. The driver was looking down at her cell phone. I had to bang on the hood of her car to get her to stop before she ran me over.  

Driving while texting or using a cell phone without a headset is illegal in Washington. It’s illegal because it’s dangerous. Speed limits, too, are created for public safety.

Wake up, Vashon. Slow down. Pay attention. Pull over to use your phone. Leave you house two minutes earlier. Does it really matter if you get home 30 seconds later? 

I wear bright colors. I walk on the proper side of the road. I make sure I’m paying attention to what the traffic is doing. I use lights in the dark. Maybe it’s time that Vashon drivers pay attention to their responsibilities.

 

— Gail Murphy is a Vashon midwife and the manager of The Minglement.

 

 

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