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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Fearless Pedestrians

By Silvia Uribe

I love pedestrians. I love them because they are fun to watch, but not so fun to watch out for, if you know what I mean. It is true that most of us go from being drivers to being pedestrians, much as we go from suffering the latter when we're driving, to inflicting suffering onto drivers, when we're walking. The question here is, are we aware of our behavior as pedestrians?

As someone who comes from one of the most populated cities in the world, Mexico City, when I'm walking, I'm used to being extra alert. Whether it is in Mexico City, New York, or any other big city in the world, pedestrians are very vulnerable. They not only have to take care of themselves, but they also have to calculate, and predict, what each driver, in the ocean of cars, is going to do.

In Santa Barbara, the story is different. Pedestrians own the streets, or at least, they think they do. They are some of the most fearless, and maybe even careless, human beings that I have ever crossed paths with- literally. I understand that they have the right-of-way according to our traffic laws, but that doesn't mean their safety is guaranteed.

People walk into a fast-moving river of motorized vehicles without looking around to consider whether they can cross safely. I'm not sure if these people are too trusting of drivers and cars, or too oblivious to the fact that they're risking their lives, or both.

These are the most common types of pedestrians found in Santa Barbara. Maybe you've seen them too:

The ambivalent walker: is the one who seems almost ready to cross the street, but not quite yet - even though he/she's been standing at the corner for a while. Once you're close enough to the crosswalk, they start walking in front of you, pretending they never saw you coming.

The snail pacer: you cannot believe how slow they walk. You would think this is their normal pace, but inexplicably, once they get to the other curb, they start walking faster. I must confess that this kind of pedestrian is particularly irritating to me.

The efficient commuter: they are always distracted, wearing a headset in their ear, and handling their phone, as if what they're doing could not wait a minute longer, at least until they have crossed the street.

The confused tourist: the ones who always look unsure as to where they want to go. They frequently stop in the middle of the street to look around with a startled expression on their face, just to walk their steps back to the curb they were at; they do all this while looking at you with a friendly smile on their face.

The balancing defiant: Oooooh…Scary! This character is commonly portrayed by a juvenile. This is the kind that stares at you with a provocative demeanor as he/she slowly crosses the street balancing the body rhythmically, from side to side.

Sound familiar?

Why pedestrians so trustfully put their lives at the mercy of a stranger behind a wheel is beyond my comprehension. No one ever told them to look both ways before stepping down from the curb, or to spend the least amount of time in the middle of the street, to reduce the chance for an accident to happen? Or, perhaps their attitude is the result of a gross miscalculation - that all drivers are paying attention to the road at all times, and all cars have good brakes.

Whatever the reason, pedestrians in Santa Barbara appear to cross the streets under the spell of this mantra: "Cars should stop, and they will."

And cars will stop…most of the time… until one doesn't. When that happens, it usually ends with a headline on the news and an obituary in the paper.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latina perspective.

Cross-posted at

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