I grew up in a small town where there were no sidewalks unless you counted 4 sides from 3 blocks downtown. As children, we didn’t pay much attention to the rule that required us to walk on the left facing oncoming traffic but we did make sure that we were on the edge or even off of the pavement when a vehicle drove by. Most neighbourhood streets were our playgrounds and we shared with other road users as the need arose. That system worked well for us and I can’t recall anyone being hurt aside from one girl who had been clipped by the mirror of a passing pickup truck.
This system probably worked well for us because people parked in their driveways rather than on the streets. There was always room on the sides to be seen and walk safely. The village council did not see a need to build sidewalks so when roads were paved or rebuilt none were constructed. Some municipalities followed suit, at least in the quieter areas.
Fast forward 40 years.
Needs and expectations are quite different today. Drivers call the police to report children playing street hockey. Neighbourhood streets look like parking lots. Health conscious people walk and run on and beside the roads. Pedestrians are being hurt in collisions. The sidewalks that are needed may not be there or are expensive to add so await road reconstruction budgets.
What do we do in the meantime? Being accountable for our actions and sharing with others comes to mind.
If you are a pedestrian, you must use the sidewalk if there is one available. Walk on the left facing the traffic if not. Stop the game and move off of the street when a vehicle approaches.
Use crosswalks. Follow the traffic or pedestrian signals and never run out in front of approaching vehicles. Hopefully drivers are expecting to find you here and will yield, but don’t bet your life on it. Make eye contact and never walk out in front of a driver unless you are sure they will stop.
If you don’t want to follow the rules, at least be responsible for your own life and limb! Pay attention to your surroundings and stay out of the way when necessary.
If you are a driver, first and foremost you are responsible to exercise due care not to collide with pedestrians who are on the highway, legally there or not. Warn the pedestrian when necessary by sounding your horn. The reasonable use of your horn is actually a legal requirement. Remember, it’s a warning, not a claim to right of way.
Where there is no sidewalk, the pedestrian is required to use the shoulder, or if there is no shoulder the extreme left side of the pavement. This means that you must surrender the use of the edge of the roadway to the pedestrian where circumstances demand it.
Think of a sidewalk or the sidewalk area as a stop sign. If you are exiting a driveway, parking lot, lane or alley you are required to stop before crossing it and yield the right of way to approaching pedestrians.
Never pass a vehicle stopped for a pedestrian! This may require you to think about why that vehicle ahead of you has stopped on the road for no apparent reason.
Safe road use is not a contest to make sure you get what you feel that you are entitled to. Occasionally you might be required to give up an entitlement to remain safe or provide safety for other road users. Doing so is the sign of a truly safe and smart road user.
To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca.
Constable Tim Schewe (Retired)
DriveSmartBC: Where better than average drivers satisfy their curiosity.