17 October 2010

Jaywalking and Pedestrian Lanes

There was a big to-do the other week when, out of the blue, the city started implementing a new jaywalking policy in front of the school’s main gate. Being Pinoys – and BatangueƱos, for that matter – there were those who respectfully crossed the road just a few paces from where traffic management personnel could accost them; and those who did so daringly in front of them, anyway.

The pedestrian lane? Why bother? It is a hundred meters to the west of the gate and such, such a long way to walk! And so people – contrary that they tend to be – jaywalked, anyway, in defiance of – at least, the traffic management people said – a city ordinance against jaywalking that they were simply implementing…

In the early nineties, one of my players was killed trying to cross that very same stretch of road in front of school where jaywalking has become such a source of debate these days. Any city ordinance against jaywalking I will, naturally, support. However...

Any city ordinance – or any law, for that matter – cannot be selectively implemented; else it becomes discriminatory. If the city intends to implement anti-jaywalking, it must do so everywhere, not just in a few select spots. That is why the Subic Base experiment has been such a success; it epitomizes consistency!

Corollary to any law – or ordinance, for that matter – is an information dissemination campaign that such a law – or ordinance – even exists. How can a citizen be accused of anything government failed to tell him about? Small wonder people were defiant that first day of implementation!

To implement anti-jaywalking, the city must have pedestrian lanes; else the matter of jaywalking becomes moot and academic. Think of things another way; what is the point of an anti-littering law if there are no trash cans?

The purpose – or so I would like to think – of pedestrian lanes and anti-jaywalking ordinances will have to be to protect both the pedestrians and the motorists. Therefore, if the city is willing to protect motorists by implementing an anti-jaywalking ordinance, it must also strive to protect pedestrians by forcing vehicles to stop when pedestrians are on the lanes. It goes without saying that motorists do not necessarily do so.

I understand from a colleague that the city council has voted to have a pedestrian lane painted right in front of the school’s main gates. That is well and good; now I hope that if the city can out of the blue decide to implement an anti-jaywalking ordinance, it will also be decisive in trying to protect pedestrians while they are on the lanes.

That said – and as I have written in a previous post – Philippine laws on the lane rather tend to be on the mushy side. If an accident involving a pedestrian and a motorist occurs over a pedestrian lane, it still has to be established that at least one of the parties – the pedestrian, one would imagine – involved took evasive action before a guilty verdict can even be considered. The question begging to be asked is, of course, why have pedestrian lanes on the roads, in the first place?

When I was in the Bay Area in California a decade ago, like any self-respecting Pinoy my companion and I attempted to cross a road despite a “Don't Walk” sign because the road – or at least, as it seemed to us at the moment – seemed totally deserted. From out of the corner came streaking a car with teenagers inside and – because we had stepped on the pedestrian lane – the car came to a full and immediate stop. Despite the “Don't Walk” sign, the young driver instinctively waved us through.

Had we been in the Philippines, I would be writing this from beyond the grave…

Personally, I believe the current location of the pedestrian lane – just to the west of Star Mart and a hundred meters from where the gate leading to the college is located – is perfect. It is at a street corner – where most pedestrian lanes are logically painted – and any vehicles driving out from the perpendicular side street will naturally slow down vehicles from the main road for pedestrians to safely cross.

It’s a Pinoy thing, I believe. It’s the magtitinapay mentality. People seldom use it because they are just too lazy to walk the hundred meters to the gate. Walking is healthy, by the way…

In agreeing to have a pedestrian lane painted in front of the school, the city government wisely sidestepped the implementation of a selective – and, therefore, discriminatory – anti-jaywalking ordinance. In hearing the entreaty of citizens, local government also showed a readiness to address the needs of its constituents. That is also good.

I can argue that the new pedestrian lane – when it is done – condones citizens’ aversion to walking. That said, it is their right and choice if they wish to acquire cardio-vascular diseases early in their lives!

Where pedestrian lanes are located – at the street corner, in front of school or on your forehead – is immaterial if drivers do not learn to respect them, anyway. This the city will have to deal with as well.

At the end of the day, the interests of both motorists and pedestrians will have to be attended to without overly compromising the interests of one party over the other. But then again, that is what politics in a democracy is supposed to be all about, is it not?

For the record, that much-maligned overpass just to the east of the Hall of Lasallian Saints – which although people will never admit it is safer than any pedestrian lane – was something the school actually asked for. But that is another story altogether...



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