If you've ever lived in Los Angeles, you have experienced the amazing miracle of stepping into a crosswalk and seeing the traffic stop for you, in both directions. I did this for the first time in my twenties on Wilshire Boulevard, and it was like seeing the parting of the Red Sea. Pedestrians had the right-of-way. By law, traffic had to stop.
But when I moved back to Phoenix, I had forgotten that it's different in Arizona. I made the mistake a few times of stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks and nearly got them killed as the rest of the traffic whizzed by. I even made the mistake of walking out into a little side street in Scottsdale once, and my girlfriend grabbed my arm and pulled me back, asking what was wrong with me! This isn't California!
Being a pedestrian was deadly in Arizona. It still is, but over the years I've seen it get better, as attitudes have changed.
After the invention of the horseless carriage, Phoenix streets were adapted to handle cars, the amount of which just grew and grew. A tiny little strip of sidewalk was built along the main streets, but only people who were a lot braver than me, or had no choice, used them. If you've never walked along a sidewalk like that, or stood at a bus stop, I gotta tell you, it's unnerving. There's nothing between you and cars driving at freeway speeds, most of whom aren't thinking of pedestrians, let alone looking for them.
But, like I say, attitudes are changing. People getting hurt, or killed, by trying to walk across a street in Phoenix are no longer considered taking a risk that nothing can be done about. No, it's not perfect, and Phoenix has a long way to go, but I am seeing more pedestrians.
Image above: 2nd Street and Washington in 1908, looking west.
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