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Mad Max territory

December 29, 2009

I am always fascinated when people run into traffic rather than waiting a couple of minutes for a light to change – you wonder what could possibly be so important that they need to get there two minutes earlier. But today I did it myself, and I wasn’t going anywhere in particular, just the subway, and was certainly not in a hurry.

But it was very cold, and I was at Bay and Lake Shore, an intersection that I have loathed for 10 years – partly because of its overall obtuseness, partly because there’s often some assclown on the corner trying to buy or sell me tickets.

The final straw was the trick light – one of many in Toronto. Pedestrians crossing Lake Shore Blvd assume the crosswalk signal will change when the light turns green – but in the late afternoon it won’t unless you hit the button. If you fail to do that, cars are given an advanced green to make right-handed turns onto Lake Shore. About a dozen of us were hudded in the cold, waiting for the crosswalk sign to change. But no one pushed the button.

I was disgusted enough with the situation that I couldn’t abide standing in freezing cold for another three minutes, so me and another guy just started to cross with a car approaching to make a right-hand-turn – I had my eye on him, of course, and though I hoped he might stop he instead honked his horn and barreled around the turn in front of me.

A few smattered thoughts

— crossing was pretty stupid; there’s no getting around that. I think I had all the traffic pretty well gauged, but it’s a dark, busy corner and you never be 100% sure that you see everything, or that drivers see you

— as a pedestrian, I’m a lot more aggressive around this area of the city than in others. Probably because I’ve been walking it for such a long time. Also because it’s an area that’s been under constant construction for several years; I’ve had to share my sidewalk with various types of large machinery, cement trucks or whatever. Sometimes a long flatbed will get stuck in the middle of an intersection, and prevent all hope of pedestrians getting by it until the jam clears.

Vehicles take up enough of my space that I don’t feel bad taking up some of there’s. I’ve long felt that the area of Toronto below Front St. is Mad Max Territory; you do the best you can to survive and to hell with what the actual traffic rules are (assuming that there are any rules – at the nearby corner of Bay and Harbour, the traffic light died for about nine months a couple year ago; everybody just had to learn to get along during that time).

— I fail to understand lights that signal that they are about to change… and then don’t change. I understand that planners want to keep traffic moving… but pedestrians will inevitably try to cross anyways. There’s a sense of entitlement, that we waited patiently for the stupid light to change and it tricked us.

— I did a walking tour of Montreal in 2002, and was jealous of the pedestrians there who completely ignore traffic signals. Red, green, didn’t matter – they just kept walking and cars just had to sit and wait until they has passed. I’ve wondered if pedestrians in Toronto could do the same – that if we just started ignoring traffic signals, maybe we could force drivers to slow down and watch out for us (others have apparently thought the same thing)

The answer would appear to be no. Since I was last there, police have cracked down on jaywalking while tensions rise among drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.

And besides, it’s probably not such a good idea to offer myself up as a speed bump (and it may be that, rather than ignoring traffic signs, the best solution could be to remove them altogether). Tomorrow, I think I’ll take a different route – it might take longer, but it might be better to cross a section where I don’t have a long history of frustrations or a sense of entitlement to the pavement.

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