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Polis Report

Crossing to Safety

By Traci Hukill

During rush hour on Winchester Boulevard, a few quaking pedestrians speedwalk across the street while hunks of metal hurl by at 50 mph. Around the time they reach the median strip, that Red Hand starts flashing on the traffic light.

In what feels like the countdown to Armageddon, a brave few straggle across the asphalt to reach the safety of the sidewalk, mindful that to be caught solid-red-handed, so to speak, is to forfeit 55 smackers to the Common Good.

City fathers, we are not all blessed with fast-twitch muscles. Some of us are elderly or infirm. Others of us are sore from step class. Several of us were stubbing out cigarettes when the signal changed, and one or two were busy scratching. And none of us can make it across that intersection in those few protected seconds of Walking White Man.

Charles Felix, senior traffic engineer for San Jose, feels our pain.

"Probably the No. 1 call we get is from citizens saying they could hardly get across the walk before [the signal] turned," he says. "The 'walk' signal means it is OK to leave the curb. That's all it really means. Then what we call the 'protection interval' comes up, and that's the flashing 'don't walk.' No motorist should enter the zone at that time."

In the hope of clarifying crossing-signal confusion, many agencies are looking at new symbols. Sacramento is experimenting with a digital countdown to put pedestrians' minds at ease. San Jose is considering a change to the same green-yellow-red progression so familiar to motorists.

Metro's suggestion? A hare, then a tortoise, then a flattened version of the tortoise with a tire mark across its back, indicating that it is not safe to cross at this time.

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From the July 24-30, 1997 issue of Metro.

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