Crossing a road is always an adventure

Running is always an adventure. (And thatʻs what I wanted to write about now; letʻs save that for later).

But so are so many other mundane things as well. Crossing a road safely as a pedestrian is pretty basic, isnʻt it? No matter where in the world, thatʻs something the parents teach to a child once they start to get to an age theyʻll want (and should) roam around where they live. I remember my cousin teaching me to look left, then right, then left again.

Itʻs served well – then of course when you live in a country where they drive on the other side of the road, like in UK and Ireland, that brings a whole which way am I supposed to look again problem. A few weeks and the brain will get used to it.

Then thereʻs the road culture. Oh, this brings so much variety into equation. Iʻll have to break this into much smaller nuggets.

In Finland pedestrians stop at the traffic light, even when there are absolutely no cars coming (that you can see or hear). That drove me always nuts – if the road is long, and itʻs so quiet you could hear any car drive around… no sounds of any car. No sounds of traffic. Just quiet. And then you hear this nervous group of thirty people around you. Well, you could cross it based on your sensory information (sound environment; the lack of traffic signs from any direction), or you can just wait for the beep beep beep to become beep beep.

In Finland they do have a great safety thing on the roads. Reflectors. Many decades ago they realized many children died in fall when they were walking on the side of the road (back then, in a poor country and in rural areas you wouldnʻt have had those separate pedestrian lanes). Cars didnʻt see them early enough in the dark. What they did was educate the people. Wear reflectors. Anything reflective in the dark. Donʻt allow your children to be in the dark either without something reflective, ideally on car height. In the dark you are out of luck if a car canʻt see you. And they have kept this reflector thing going.

Now this is something that the US could learn too. Itʻs a simple, very low-tech solution, and cheap. But the only places where I find anything reflective in USA is in the sports shops, in the running section. Of course itʻs good for that too, BUT for the safety of everyone on the road, why not do a campaign on the TV about road visibility? On many roads of course there arenʻt supposed to be any pedestrians or bike riders either, but be prepared no matter where you are. Stop safely. Wear reflective items and have some lights in addition. In fact, Iʻve got reflective items hanging both on my purse and on person, whether running or walking in daytime or night.

In Finland all the pedestrian crossings are clearly marked. Cars DO stop there. Drivers are taught to be prepared to anticipate that there might be someone in front of or behind of something they canʻt see. Itʻs unthinkable a pedestrian would get killed in Finland by a car when crossing a road on a crossing.

In Italy… crossing a road is muscle memory. When youʻve lived long enough in a city that has a market that has been around for centuries and where you go to shop for your fresh produce, um… well, letʻs just say that you know how to cross a road. Because you also know if the fish you are buying is fresh from that vendor, what those fruit with that gorgeous color or scent are – or how you could cook whatever that grandmother to your left is buying. When you can navigate in the city you live in by foot and by public transport, well, youʻll know how to cross the road. And crossing a road is different in the north and the south. Gosh – I donʻt even remember what kind of visual or tactile indicators a pedestrian crossing has in Italy – except with absolute clarity, when I lived there, nothing was accessible if youʻd have been in a wheelchair. There is always a huge drop between where you walk and where cars drive, otherwise the cars would be parked exactly where you walk. And then talking about cars – sometimes there are three rows of parallel parking on the side of the streets. Good luck getting your car out…

So I donʻt remember how a typical place for a pedestrian to cross a road in Italy looks like any more. In the center I do remember they had these lights, as there were really long patches to cross. But if I went to just my street market, Iʻm sure there wasnʻt a crossing where I had to go, and I surely took the straight route (narrow roads, a lot of noise, a lot of traffic any time of the day, but also on day time a lot of people so you would be safe). Now on the next trip Iʻll have to see differently: do they have texture on the road? Is there something that blinks or beeps or makes a sound or flashes? Are the crossings usually raised, or painted, or not-indicated like in USA?

In USA crossing a road is often more of an adventure.

I went to Dallas a few weeks ago. The downtown is lovely. I saw this great statue of a 30 foot tall eyeball. It was on a big square, covered in pavement, and it was fenced off. I would have wanted to see that giant eyeball – but from the perspective of a “visual tourist” who would have absolutely wanted to see that eyeball closer, touch it, try to see what the surface and material looks like, it was closed to me. The eyeball is open, but when you canʻt access it, see it, touch it, take a nice selfie with it, Iʻm sorry, let me repeat it: THE 30 FEET TALL EYEBALL WAS CLOSED. But… well, the pedestrian crossings were nice. They had often these giant flashing lights. Like white big flashing lights so cars could see you. That was nice as Iʻm used to just the regular beep beep beep beep beep kind.

Soundwise downtown Dallas was a huge adventure. Everything is so loud. Buses make actually sounds, like you can hear that oh thatʻs a piece of public transport arriving – thatʻs nice. But when there are just generally so many cars everywhere, itʻs loud. Then even when itʻs a sunny day, they have so tall buildings that itʻs windy. And the temperature on the street level with all that shadow and wind is so different from what the temperature would be if you were fully exposed to sun and in an area without tall buildings and wind tunnels.

Perhaps not surprisingly, after a lovely evening in Dallas with walking in town and having some food and wine (and finding that eyeball), the next morning I had a bad migraine. (Fortunately we visited a nice Russian sauna, so the remains of my bad migraine stayed there. I have a life-long history of migraines, and Iʻve been to numerous saunas, so let me just tell you that place was miraculous. Mix good hot and cold showers with some Finnish sauna, Russian sauna, and Turkish sauna, steam, rinse, repeat, hydrate, eat some food – it worked. I threw up massively in the car five minutes before we arrived in the sauna)

So back to crossing roads… it took me years in USA to find out what an actual legal crosswalk looks like. Where I live and walk and run, there is ONE pedestrian crossing with a button. Itʻll talk, tell the location, and it then tells “walk sign is on”, and it counts the last 15 seconds of crossing time for you.

All the other places where one has to cross a road around here need a better description. So, they have these tactile squares in this city, so you find one, and itʻs like “ooh, thereʻs a crossing here”. The problem is often that itʻs in places where you can cross the road in multiple directions. Like youʻre walking straight, and it can either mean that thereʻs this entrance or exit to some place, and the road continues. Or then thereʻs also a way to cross the road there, as thereʻs a pedestrian path on the other side of the road too. Of course, I could show it for you on a map, but thatʻs not the point. The crosswalk signs are there, but lazily, and without always indicating which way to cross the road. Itʻs a residential area mostly though, so donʻt worry – you can hear when itʻs doable to cross the road.

The talking crossing is fun. Often cars donʻt realize that maybe someone is actually waiting there for the sign to walk, especially if you go for a run in broad daylight. With my selection of clothing and eyewear thereʻs still a surprising number of cars that stop where they are not supposed to. – And itʻs time for another walk. As itʻs nice and warm outside, and the sun is shining, itʻs perhaps time for a darker, bright shade of eyewear. 🙂


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