This past December, the City of Schertz began construction of sidewalks lining both sides of the roughly 3.1 miles of Roy Richard Drive, known to me as FM 3009. The presence of sidewalks will hopefully encourage more folk to take to foot and traipse about all or a part of those sidewalks as a means of visiting friends, neighbors, and shops dotting the main corridor cutting through Schertz. Additionally, sidewalks will open up an additional avenue for family fitness, especially for running. But adding in pedestrians where there have traditionally been none may pose problems for those afoot and those in-car alike. As a lifetime Schertz resident and longtime runner and cyclist, I felt bringing up some helpful reminders to ensure safe use and sharing of Three Dub by us all would be a good idea now, before the sidewalks are free for use.
Throughout, I’ll be referring to the Texas Transportation Code, which is available to read in its entirety at www.statues.legis.state.tx.us/?link=TN. It’s a ridiculously huge document, though, so we’ll just be focusing on sections 541 (definitions), 544 (vehicles), and 552 (pedestrians).
Because of sheer volume, size, and speed, I’m going to start with motor vehicles. Here, I’ll generically refer to motor vehicles as cars, but a vehicle includes cars, trucks, vans, motorcycles, buses, and any other form of motorized transportation traversing 3009 covered in Section 541.201; bicycles will be addressed in greater detail some other time–-but just be aware that bicycles are classified as vehicles in the state (Sec. 541.201.2) and enjoy the same rules and protections as any other vehicle, which includes riding on the road itself and not on sidewalks. But enough about bikes. Let’s get back to cars.
Gary Numan once waxed about how, in his car, he felt “safest of all,” which is not a far cry from how most of us feel when we’re behind the wheel of our multi-ton modes of transport. Because we tend to be seated comfortable with so many variables at our control: Speed, climate, audio, and even who is sharing the experience with us. However, our feeling of safety and comfort tends to remove us from the world beyond power windows and bucket seats. It’s too easy to forget about everyone else having their own experience in concert with our own. It’s too easy to forget to share the road.
If turning onto a side street or business of 3009 from the main roadway, it will likely be pretty easy to spot a pedestrian or two or six. This is made easier if scanning the sidewalks before and after the side street and not just the street itself. Coming out from the side streets or businesses and onto the main roadway of 3009, though, is where things can get tricky.
Each intersection of roadway and sidewalk should have a marked, designated crosswalk. These are the large, white rectangles painted on the road surface where many may stop before making their turn, oftentimes with the whole front end of the car occupying the whole of the crosswalk.This is not only not cool but also not legal as it blocks the right of way given to pedestrians outlined in Section 552.003. Vehicles are to “stop before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection” (Sec. 544.007.d & 544.010.c). If the car’s seat is adjusted properly, it is perfectly possible to be able to make the requisite left, right, left again visual sweep of the roadway—and sidewalks—before executing a turn. Sure, we may have to lean forward a bit, but a moment’s discomfort far outweighs the risk of running into or over someone, regardless of who’s “right.”
A pedestrian is defined by the TTC as “a person on foot” (Sec 541.001.4)—regardless of how fast they are moving, running or walking or anything in between. The TTC generally grants pedestrians the right of way when it comes to sidewalks, regardless of if a crossing signal is present. That said, this “right of way” does not give us as pedestrians a free pass to act without regard to the safety of ourselves or other users of the sidewalk or roadway, including motorists. It is critical—literally a possible matter of life or death—to be aware of everyone and everything around us at all times. Consequently, the use of headphones (or earbuds, or anything else that might fit in or over your ears that blocks or overrides external sound) should not be practiced in high-traffic areas like 3009. Being able to hear approaching vehicles by the pitch and volume of a vehicle’s tire rotation can clue you in as to how close that vehicle is, as well as how fast it’s moving—or if it’s slowing down in order to make a turn.
It’s been said that the eyes are the gateway to the soul, so use these gateways to safeguard soul and survival. At every intersection, look in every direction, every time—and not just a cursory glance, either. Visually sweep as broad of a field as possible. Make and lock eye contact with vehicle operators (see Sec 541.001.1) and even use hand gestures to ensure they know that not only you are there but also what your intentions are: Are you letting them go first? Are you making a break for it? Are you turning one way or another? Make yourself predictable and make your intentions known. And also make yourself visible by coordinating clothing and accessories to light levels. (Hint: Bright, flashing LEDs are your friends.)
It may be that, when the sidewalks open later this year, there will be absolutely no incidents involving vehicle operator and pedestrian. However, based on the numerous near run-ins I’ve experienced with vehicles just on Schertz Parkway (which boasts a lower speed limit and lower volume of traffic), the statistics just do not look favorable for anyone. The odds are further compounded if, as a vehicle operator, you’re opting to ignore the cell phone ordinance passed and put into effect back in October. (Oh, and pedestrians: Safe use of your cell phone is also incumbent upon you; don’t plan to walk & text/tweet/what-have-you with your face glued to the screen without consequence.) As pedestrian or vehicle operator, we all need to be aware and considerate of one another, sharing the resources that allow us to freely move up and down 3009.