Walk Smart, Drive Smart 

Progressive cities are pedestrian friendly, and drivers need to wise up.

One night, not too long ago, I was merging onto the interstate near Downtown. I was going a solid 45 miles per hour and out of nowhere a man dashed out in front of me.

Okay, he didn't actually run in front of my car, but it sure looked like he was headed straight into my path. He stopped only after I beeped my horn. I then looked at him with utter confusion, and he looked back at me waving, mouthing an apology.

It was by far the closest I've come to actually hitting someone. But this isn't the first time a person has come dangerously close to my moving car. I see so many people, young and old, attempting to make their way across the middle of the city's streets with the heaviest traffic. I'm talking Poplar, Union, and yes, even Sam Cooper.

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I see kids no more than 8 years old crossing the street sometimes alone. I see people in wheelchairs (bless their hearts) riding in the street because there is no sidewalk. And the worst is the night walkers in dark clothes who are practically invisible from any distance.

I understand folks have to get places, but c'mon.

And I know that everyone jaywalks from time to time, but meandering in the middle of the street while looking directly at the oncoming traffic basically daring them to hit you is a whole 'nother ball game. That's just reckless walking and a little unfair to the folks behind the wheel going the 40-miles-per-hour speed limit who have to dodge pedestrians, in turn risking everyone's life around.

Time out. I hope this doesn't sound like an angry rant bashing pedestrians. Because it's not.

I realize Memphis is not the most pedestrian-friendly city in some areas (though it's getting better). People traversing around the city have many hurdles, like broken or missing sidewalks or no crosswalks at crucial crossing points.

All I'm saying is walk smartly.

On the other hand, Memphis drivers, we can do better.

Confession time. I only recently started stopping for pedestrians at non-intersection crosswalks. I know. It's horrible, right? But in my defense, until the city recently installed a sign saying that the law requires drivers to stop and a crosswalk light on Front Street near the Flyer office, I had no idea that it was mandated by the law to stop. I guess I thought it was optional or just a strong suggestion.

But, my ignorance is not an excuse for my negligent driving, and it shouldn't be for you either. So whether there is a sign reminding you of the law or not, at a crosswalk, if people are waiting to cross, drivers are supposed to yield. In other words, we're supposed to stop and wait (because I know some Memphis drivers haven't yet learned that concept).

After some of the reckless walking and driving I've witnessed, it doesn't surprise me that one study named Memphis as the country's 11th-most dangerous city for pedestrians in 2018. The study, Dangerous by Design, was done by the National Complete Street Coalition and Smart Growth America.

According to the report, Memphis had 297 pedestrian deaths between 2008 and 2017. What's more, Memphis' Pedestrian Danger Index, which measures how deadly it is for people to walk in a certain place, was 184 for that period. That's a 31 point increase from the number reported in the organizations' 2016 report.

This is a number that should be dropping, not rising.

The newest report also states that certain demographic groups are more likely to be hit by a car than others. Two of those groups reflect a large part of the Memphis population: people of color (a little over 70 percent of the Memphis population) and those living in low-income communities (just under 27 percent).

A city where people can walk in designated pedestrian areas without the fear of being struck by a careless driver is a progressive city. Progressive cities are not only walkable, but promote walking (and cycling) as a means of transportation, creating the infrastructure to support that.

I sometimes hear people whine "Memphis is for cars" or "people don't walk in Memphis." But as the city moves into its third century, city leaders are looking to make the city more walkable. That's a big part of the comprehensive Memphis 3.0 plan. Basically, drivers, just need follow the law and respect pedestrians' right to cross the street. And it's on pedestrians to cross the street wisely.

We all might as well start practicing now.

Maya Smith is a Flyer staff writer.

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