Hey, what the fuck, I'm walkin' here
June 1, 2011 8:56 PM   Subscribe

How can I emphatically persuade the drivers in my 'hood to not kill me with their automobiles? Also, help me (rubs hands wickedly) exact my revenge.

Me: Transplanted NYer in Philly area in wheelchair. Them: Drivers who make turns without yielding to pedestrians like me, often while talking on their cell phone. Me: Has a fun time wielding the f-bomb in situations like these. Them: Still talking on their phones so they can't hear the colorful yet somehow charming epithet I've screamed at them.

Me: Is trying to NOT hatch a revenge plan that involves somehow keying their cars as they screeeech past me. Not because I wouldn't key their car, 'cause hey, fair's fair. No, there's a good chance I'd get clobbered, and that would fuck up my chair, and make people sad and shit.

So what's a good plan here? In my limited dealing with the cops (Upper Darby) they seem to be not terribly helpful.
posted by angrycat to Human Relations (38 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Welcome to 99% of America. I have the attitude of ALWAYS yielding to cars unless I am in a crosswalk and the walk sign is actually on.
posted by Electrius at 9:02 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you have a couple large orange flags on your chair? An airhorn close to hand. Paint ball gun? Pencil and notebook to write down license plates and vehicle description? Cell phone to immediately report them for reckless driving?

Roll on, angrycat, roll on.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:04 PM on June 1, 2011 [19 favorites]

An intersection I used to walk through every day was notorious for having cars speed through the turn, nearly clipping pedestrians. I was almost run down several times. Once, I had actually made it about five feet off the curb when a cab (who clearly was paying zero attention) came whipping through and had to screech to a halt a mere two inches from me. And then the jerk had the audacity to yell at me for being in his way. I punched the hood of his car so hard it left a dent.

Now, while that made me feel awesome, it really didn't accomplish much in the long run. But hopefully Mr. Bat-Out-of-Hell cab driver will think twice next time he decides to start ramming pedestrians.

If I were you, I would consider carrying an air horn, and be ready to blast it while crossing the street. If the drivers aren't paying attention, you'll have to be super-vigilant. Watch the drivers carefully, and if you can't see their eyes, blare your horn. It's better to disrupt someone who sees you just to be safe than to assume you're seen and get hit. You've got to make sure you're protected.
posted by phunniemee at 9:05 PM on June 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

I've had my fair share of close calls. I've had the green light and a walk signal, and I'll get drivers making blind turns or even blowing through reds.

The only thing that I've found to work was, unfortunately, letting them go. The drivers who inattentively (or willfully) do this either don't notice anything or it just escalates into confrontation. Sometimes I think about an air horn, but I believe it would cause them to only look around and not stop, if my experiences taught me anything. Other cars might honk and these drivers just keep on going; perhaps the music's too loud or they prefer to hear the person on the other line.

And sometimes, particularly when I'm dealing with over-sized vehicles like lifted trucks or semis or buses, I just have to take for granted that they can't see me. I've had to console myself with the fact that I can never win an argument against a two- or three-ton vehicle, even if I technically have the right of way. If I'm caught in the middle of the road with a car barreling towards me... well I just have to hope I'm quick enough.
posted by CancerMan at 9:28 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know someone who gave his cup of coffee to the cause as he sprinted out of the intersection. He just sort of tossed it into the air as he evacuated the car's pathway, leaving it to splash across their windshield. I'm not sure anyone could regularly pull that off, though.
posted by salvia at 9:30 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Focus on solving the problem, not on escalating the conflict. Continue calling the police. Make sure you're talking to the law enforcement division responsible for traffic issues. Provide them with increasingly supportive evidence, such as photos or videos of distracted drivers, license plates, car make/model/color, etc. Talk to the local media and alert them of the problem. Find out whether different types of distracted driving (such as driving while holding a mobile phone) is illegal in your area, so when you contact law enforcement to complain, your complaint is about a specific law being violated. Find out what it would take to have key intersections monitored by law enforcement. Find out if any organizations in your area are focused on pedestrian rights, and get involved with them.
posted by germdisco at 9:31 PM on June 1, 2011 [8 favorites]

I think I saw something like this on Curb Your Enthusiasm. My only advice is, wheelchair or not, to be very careful when abusing strangers. There are a lot of crazy people out there and most of them own cars.
posted by smithsmith at 9:38 PM on June 1, 2011

Yeah, thanks guys.
The airhorn is an idea worth pursuing, as well as taking down license numbers and calling the cops.
I do fear the crazy; in one of the Townships around these parts some old fellow started yelling at a kid for speeding. The kid stopped the car, got out, and stabbed the guy. I'd rather avoid that.
posted by angrycat at 10:00 PM on June 1, 2011

Like Electrius said. Except strike the "unless" part.

We pedestrians are bugs on the windshield of a Mack truck. There is no victory. I also hate arrogant drivers chatting away on their phones, but big deal. What matters is to not get hit, not who is most righteous or correct. That's a battle with an extraordinarily low likelihood of victory.

Instead of revenge, you can work with a neighborhood or ped organization to target problem intersections or improve conditions. Or at least throw them some cash.
posted by quarterframer at 10:04 PM on June 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm in a wheelchair, too, and I try to establish eye contact with drivers before I make any move to cross. I smile and wave A LOT. Many drivers with helpfully block other cars from running over me. Mostly I'm cautious as hell and very patient about waiting until I have a clear run. The air horn sounds mighty tempting though...
posted by a humble nudibranch at 11:14 PM on June 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

ask you city council to install traffic cameras that mail tickets to cars that fail to yield to pedestrians.

Or maybe they can station an officer there for a week and hand out tickets or warnings.
posted by at at 11:26 PM on June 1, 2011

Oh I forgot an important thing. Get a red blinkie or two (like cyclists use) for the back of your chair. and use a flashlight or bike headlamp at dusk or after dark. You can wave the light around and attract the drivers attention. My street chair is black and totally invisible so I have stuck reflective stickers on the struts and wheels. I have to roll in the street a good deal where there aren't good sidewalks so I light up like a Christmas tree.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 12:12 AM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

megaphone + f-word
posted by Infernarl at 1:04 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding a humble nudibranch. I have to cross the street at a non-street-light pedestrian crossing that only has "pedestrian crossing" signs on either side. No stop sign, no yield, it just depends on the good will of people driving hurtling piles of metal to follow French road laws and stop as soon as they see a pedestrian "engaged in a crosswalk" as it's put here. Hahahahahahaha yeah right. Some of them speed up to try and get past you... while you're in the middle of the road.

I used to get angry, but got tired of it. Tried eye contact instead, and decisively putting up my hand in a sort of "hey there! How ya doing! I'm crossing the street, please slow down a sec, okay! Cool! Thanks!" way. I almost never have problems any more. (There's just one dude in a black Porsche 4X4 who may get a rock scratched across his precious monstrosity if he tries gunning it past me again... but I don't see him often.)

Turns can be a different story, this is true. Often, drivers just don't look at all :-/ Eye contact is good there too, though. I've found that the more proactive I am about looking straight at the driver, the more likely it is they'll slow down or stop. In a way it's annoying because you realize they are in fact making a choice to just risk killing you when you don't look at them, and that their decision to slow down is (seems to be) based more on guilt/shame than personal responsibility, but, eh, it makes a difference. It also helps for the dipwads who gun through anyway, since by looking at them it's usually obvious that they're off in la-la-land.
posted by fraula at 1:07 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

For particular problems and intersections, you could look into traffic calming measures, and work with your local public works and/or traffic engineering offices to implement them. Unfortunately, this approach can take time, and some political involvement and effort; furthermore, in a financial climate where local budgets are often under tremendous stress just keeping current infrastructure in repair, new construction projects may not be funded.

Yet, the good news is that many effective traffic calming measures are fairly cheap to implement, and by changing the dynamics of traffic flow hundreds of feet or even yards before a problem intersection, can actually improve the overall flow of traffic in a neighborhood. The basic theory of traffic calming is to change the road environment drivers negotiate, in such a way as to change their behavior as motorists. Doing that can permanently improve your odds as wheelchair user, regularly navigating a neighborhood landscape.
posted by paulsc at 1:31 AM on June 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

While living in Philly, I actually had a car speed up to try to hit me in a crosswalk at an intersection with all way stop signs.

Try to make friends with the local cops - find the place (coffee shop/pizza place/hoagie place) where they hang out in your neighborhood - and go there once a week, say hi, and eventually bring up your problems with the local traffic.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:11 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Welcome to 99% of America. I have the attitude of ALWAYS yielding to cars unless I am in a crosswalk and the walk sign is actually on.

I was nearly killed by a motorcycle in this situation the other day in Arlington, VA, which is supposedly the most "pedestrian friendly" town in America. You can't even rely on them to follow the most basic rules and police hardly ever enforce them anyway. Pedestrians are the enemy in this country.

Agreeing with others that you have to make eye contact or at least triple check that the car sees you and is stopping before moving off the curb.
posted by the foreground at 4:08 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I work out in West Philly and I find that the West Philly/Upper Darby driver is typically oblivious, entitled, reckless, and aggressive.
DO NOT do anything to confront them. They won't see things your way and they'll probably overreact to your assertiveness. If they're small minded enough to almost run you over, then it's a very short step to getting out of the car and getting physical with you.
You might not get anywhere with the cops, either. If they had to follow up on every oblivious cell-phone driver in Upper Darby, they'd be completely swamped. And it's only a matter of time before you're almost run over by a police car, too. They're not immune to the disease of oblivious driving, either.
My advice, wheel carefully when crossing the street, don't make a scene, but make and carry a bag full of these guys and throw them under the tires of the offending vehicle. Because fuck those jerks.
posted by Jon-o at 4:13 AM on June 2, 2011

Traffic calming is total crap. It just means they have another excuse for why they didn't see you (because a giant shrubbery was in the way or because they had to concentrate on weaving through this stupid slalom or because no one knows how to drive through a roundabout). And the medians make it harder for wheelchairs and bicyclists to cross. I'm a normal driver who honestly tries to pay attention and I've almost been involved in accidents because I was trying to figure out wtf traffic calming traffic patterns.

If you go the opposite direction and make a nice, clean, open intersection then people are more likely to notice you. The bad news is that if someone's distracted for other reasons (phone) they're likely to be going faster when they hit you, so I'm not sure that's the ultimate solution.

I think the most useful thing I've seen so far is large safety flags to increase your visibility and height and lights at night.
posted by anaelith at 5:15 AM on June 2, 2011

Sadly, there's not much pedestrians - on foot or wheel - (or cyclists, for that matter) can do about inattentive drivers. I like the air horn idea, and I tend to think people are basically decent enough that they're unlikely to get out of their car and hurt someone in a wheelchair. (Of course, I've been known to overestimate people before.)

I'd be tempted to print up bright orange stickers that say, "I almost killed someone in a wheelchair today!" and if they get close enough to you for you to reach their car during their turn- it's fair game.

However, do be careful. My wife's old boss was riding his bike (in pedestrian/cyclist-friendly Santa Barbara, California), when a driver nearly hit him. Her boss kicked the car (which means the car was clearly violating California's 3 foot role), and he ended up getting a ticket/having to pay for repairs to the car.
posted by JMOZ at 5:39 AM on June 2, 2011

Maybe you could get a camera setup on your wheel chair and then call the cops and show them the video.
posted by Paris Hilton at 6:31 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Depending on your community, the local news, a neighborhood watch or community group, or a community safety officer might be resources worth contacting.

I'm imagining a local news segment that leads with grim accident statistics and features footage from a camera installed on your chair. If there are any kids who walk to school in the area, that might get people's attention as well. Basically, I'm thinking that the same driver who speeds past one pedestrian thinking, "Outta my way!" could get home, turn on the TV, and be persuaded that his kids are in danger on their walk to school and the town had better do something about it. Individuals rationalize their own bad driving, but people still want to be safe--you might be able to drum up pressure for better safety measures (cameras? police presence? I'm not an urban planner, so I don't really know what will solve the problem) if you can get people to imagine themselves or their kids in your place.

Likewise, a neighborhood organization might be able to help you pressure local police or city government to make things safer. A community safety officer might have tips for how to get more help from the police, or suggestions for organizations or officials to contact about implementing better safety measures and more responsive law enforcement.

Slightly more outlandish idea: any chance you might be able to bring in some kind of disability rights group to pressure local officials to do more (either through lobbying or even some kind of lawsuit)? It seems to me that you're more negatively impacted by this situation than walking pedestrians, so perhaps that would be an option to explore.

I do sympathize with the desire to stand up to invidual drivers yourself. I have had that feeling many times, and occasionally acted in ways I now see were breathtakingly foolish. It sucks, but being alive matters more than getting the right of way.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:57 AM on June 2, 2011

One time I was walking through a parking lot, where drivers are supposed to yield to pedestrians and a driver whipped right past me in his SUV. I was a little pissed, and clunked my hand against his car as he drove by (after he nearly ran me over) -- no damage done. He slammed on his brakes, jumped out of his car and shoved me to the ground. He exclaimed to other bystanders that I hit his car. My friend offered to call the police, as he had the license plate number. But I was too shaken to do anything. I feared that if I called the police, it would be more trouble that it was worth. But it still haunts me (on occasion) to this day.

Perhaps we should have called the police. And on a broader scale, perhaps I should be more directly confrontational and assertive in my life.

Unfortunately, many drivers see their cars as extensions of themselves and don't think at all about their surroundings -- other cars and pedestrians are merely obstacles to where the driver is trying to go.

Cameras, air horns, getting license plate numbers and descriptions of cars -- these are all directly confrontational strategies. And in the end, calling the police may help you feel better about this one driver, but there will be countless other drivers who are assholes that don't see you or think that they have the right of way. If you call the police on enough drivers maybe this will affect real change in the neighborhood.

It really comes down to instituting broader changes in the mindset of all drivers. Until then, unfortunately, it's up to everybody else to be extra vigilant about drivers that don't pay attention. I think the brightly colored flag is a good idea.
posted by indigo4963 at 7:21 AM on June 2, 2011

I came here to say what Paris Hilton said - rig up a camera to your chair and use one of those bulb thingies (I guess they are called cable releases) to trigger it (not sure if you can do that with video cameras). I'm 100% sure someone from here would help you figure out the technical parts.
posted by desjardins at 7:22 AM on June 2, 2011

"Traffic calming is total crap. ...
posted by anaelith at 8:15 AM on June 2

Horses for courses, anaelith. Traffic calming measures installed several years ago at entrances to my sub-division have made a world of positive difference for pedestrians here, mostly by eliminating a lot of "cut through" traffic from a 6 lane arterial road nearby, especially at morning and evening rush hours. In conjunction with large 20 mph signs near the same entrances and exits, and the once-every-six-weeks-or-so loan of an automated "YOUR SPEED IS ___ MPH" cart from the sherriff's office, good things have happened, all around.

Amazingly, one thing I hardly ever see now, when I'm out walking the dog, is people talking on cell phones while driving in the neighborhood. And if we stand at the most used entrances for what remaining "cut through" traffic we get, we can actually see drivers coming off the arterial road, where they were driving 50 mph, pull out and buckle their seat belts, to drive 20 mph in our sub-division!

Apparently, anaelith, the little bit of navigation that so annoys you when you encounter traffic calming measures, effectively breaks the mental pace of most rush hour drivers around here, just enough to get them to pay attention to the neighborhood surroundings, and maybe put down their cell phones, too. Result: no pedestrian/vehicle accidents, that I know of, in the last 3 years, in this neighborhood.
posted by paulsc at 7:29 AM on June 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think the air horn is a good idea.

I used to live on a small residential street that some motorists used as a high-speed cut-through to avoid a slow-ish intersection. Some of my neighbors decided to install some DIY traffic-calming measures and used pickaxes to create potholes in the street. So, that's another possibility.
posted by adamrice at 7:51 AM on June 2, 2011

My grandfather used to enjoy whacking misbehaving cars with his cane. I'm not sure it ever came to it, but the nice thing about that approach is that if anything ever Went Down, all he had to say is "that fucker hit my cane and almost ran me over".

There is a fine line, as people mention. You never know when someone is going to lose their shit when confronted by their own bad choices. One key is to make your actions seem non-deliberate. Responding to aggression with aggression hits a kind of reset switch and in the minds of many people, makes you the asshole.

For example, when I am driving and someone makes an ignorant move, I try to scare the fuck out of them. If they cut me off, I don't blow my horn or flip them off. I will, however, come as close as humanly possible to hitting them as I can muster. "Oh, you wanted to blow that red light? Well, good thing my reaction times are so good, or else you would have gotten t-boned."

That's why the airhorn is a bad idea. To the ignorant driver, and bystanders, it might look like you were spoiling for a fight.

However, try to find a cheerful car horn. Or one of those low-tone "err err" electronic horns some squad cars have in place of their horns. It has a non-aggressive "wake up" kind of tone to it.
posted by gjc at 8:10 AM on June 2, 2011

You could try something like this magnet, tailored to read "wheelchair user" or "person with a disability" rather than "cyclist." It would probably give you a lot of personal satisfaction at the moment without unduly inciting anyone to violence.

One thing that helps me stay calm(er) and productive when I encounter horribly dangerous driving is to be very proactive about reporting it when the driver is in a publicly-owned vehicle or a truck with the name of a business on the side. I call or email the city or the business and calmly tell them exactly what happened. I can then live under the fantasy that when eventually that driver maims someone, there will be a record of him driving recklessly and of his supervisors knowing about it, hopefully helping the pedestrian take him for all he's worth.
posted by juliapangolin at 8:21 AM on June 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Re: Traffic calming: I will grant you that traffic calming is good at convincing people to not drive on certain roads, but an easier fix would be to install a card swipe gate or just live on a cul-de-sac! Otherwise, if you install them in places where people legitimately need to go or on major roads which should legitimately be carrying most of the traffic, then they are crap. Doubles the amount of attention that people pay to the road, but triples the risk of accidents. Lowers the safe speed by 25 mph but only lowers the actual speed by 10 to 15 mph. And really, really, really pisses people off. There are already enough triggers for road rage, please don't artificially introduce more!
posted by anaelith at 9:29 AM on June 2, 2011

I really believe that smiling (and waving and using polite hand gestures like thumbs up) at drivers is part of the key to success at interaction. No matter how mad you may feel, yelling and cussing at them won't make them less inclined to mow you down.

If you are on a regular travel schedule, you will see many of the same drivers every day. If you have a friendly ongoing relationship, they can even help you by stopping and blocking other drivers. I would rather be known as that sweet, friendly lady in a wheelchair than as the rock throwing, cussing impediment to traffic.

I don't know if lobbying for traffic calming is worth your time. Despite paulsc's praise of traffic calming, I agree with anaelith that many times the implementation makes things worse. For example, next to an unusable stretch of buckled sidewalk, the city installs a chicane narrowing the street which you now have to share with the cars. Maybe it would work for a subdivision, but retrofitting an urban area is much trickier. I just wish the city would fix the goddamn sidewalks.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 9:43 AM on June 2, 2011

Getting them to install traffic calming would be the best thing in these types of situations.

And really, really, really pisses people off.

You know what would piss me off more? People being hit by cars.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:50 AM on June 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

You asked for revenge. Here's revenge:

Squeeze bottle of paint.
posted by gurple at 10:21 AM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

My city sets up stings where a hired pedestrian crosses a busy intersection for a couple hours, back and forth. Anybody who drives too close gets a ticket from a lurking cop. Revenge!

I've also considered getting some white spray paint to mark some dangerous crossings near me / fix worn bike lane markings. Don't let lines on the road give you a false sense of security, though.
posted by momus_window at 10:33 AM on June 2, 2011

Ho paintball gun/spray paint soooooooooo tempting. Revenge without the subsequent beatdown? I like, I like.
posted by angrycat at 1:20 PM on June 2, 2011

I had an air horn on my bike for a while. This one uses compressed air you make with a pump or compressor rather than (non-chlorinated) fluorocarbons. I became mad with "power" and used it too much, even for minor infractions. I yell now. I quit smoking a few years ago & have been biking more, so I can yell pretty loudly when I need to. YMMV.

The best way I found to encourage cops to enforce traffic laws was pointing out a "trap" opportunity. Running down violators is a pain, but there was a right turn lane into a parking lot that people would use without stopping (or even slowing much) when the light was red that was a hazard to crossing peds. The beauty was that the officers could sit in the lot watching cars and wait for violators to park before confronting them.

> I know someone who gave his cup of coffee to the cause

I've done that. So very satisfying. Lucky, though, that the wind didn't blow the coffee back at me or (worse) a friend. Top was on & stayed on until it landed on the windshield. Beautiful.

> My grandfather used to enjoy whacking misbehaving cars with his cane.

My dad did that (umbrella not cane) and accidentally broke a side window. Spent a night in jail. In Baltimore, it used to be that cars only had to slow down and honk to alert pedestrians in a crosswalk.
posted by morganw at 6:34 PM on June 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

> [traffic calming] "triples the risk of accidents"

First, do you have a cite for that? It may "feel" more dangerous to you, as a driver, but that's the point. People who feel endangered pay attention and exercise caution.

The other thing about accidents is that the severity is highly dependent on speed: link. So even if it is the case that the chance of an accident is increased, it would take a lot of 20mph collisions to equal the risk of a single 40mph collision.

And "traffic calming" doesn't even have to be particularly onerous. It can be as simple as 10-foot lanes on neighborhood streets instead of freeway-standard 12-foot lanes, or sharper corners which prevent drivers from taking turns at high speed (one of the more dangerous maneuvers to pedestrians, since they're harder to predict).

So, yes: do everything you can to encourage the traffic department to look at ways of designing and redesigning streets for lower speeds. Attend meetings, write letters. It's a long shot but it's also the most effective.
posted by alexei at 6:56 PM on June 2, 2011

I have to assert my right to cross streets every day enroute to work -- and I know damn well it's some of the same jerks looking all surprised that YES, motherfucker, I'm going to expect you to at least pause at the stop sign after you saw me starting to cross the street from a half-block away.

Eye contact is key. I aim for "confident but not abjectly bitchy."

I step into the street prepared to assertively cross, but also ready to pause if they totally don't see me. This is obviously a little more dangerous and awkward for you. But i did want to pipe up to say that no, you're not crazy for wanting to cross the damn street without having to back down.
posted by desuetude at 10:51 PM on June 2, 2011

Regarding the camera rig suggestions... Are those all solely with the intent of possibly showing them to cops later, or is it also to freak the driver out about being more careful?

Because as far as the latter goes, you could keep your cell phone in hand and raise it, and it doesn't actually have to have anything on. But I suppose this can be seen as confrontational, and a driver who's insanely "defensive" might just get out and hurl your camera.

On the other hand, if you're at a busy interaction that has traffic cameras, you could point up at it in outrage to scare the driver. And maybe laugh as you leave.

But yeah, I just can't trust drivers to notice me in a crosswalk, but I fear inattentiveness more than malice. Sometimes I feel safer jaywalking when there's little traffic, than going further to use a crosswalk amidst several turning lanes. Then there's the jackasses who yell at you while driving away. I was once very tempted to follow a car as it pulled into the parking lot, whack it, and run like hell. Probably better that I didn't.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 3:15 AM on June 4, 2011

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