You are driving your car in the left-center lane of a busy four-lane street. Suddenly ahead, you see the car to the right has stopped at a crosswalk with no signal. What do you do?
Far too many motorists plow right ahead. The result, all too often, is a collision or near-collision with a pedestrian or bicyclist whose visibility has been obscured by the car stopped in the right lane.
It was this kind of situation that led to the death this month of Michelle Murigi, a 16-year-old student at West Campus High School. At dusk on Jan. 19, Murigi was struck by a car that failed to stop at a crosswalk at Fruitridge Road and 58th Street.
Her death adds to a toll of pedestrian carnage in Sacramento that is nothing less than appalling.
As The Bee's Tony Bizjak reported on Tuesday, more than 200 pedestrians in Sacramento were injured or killed by vehicles in 2009, the latest figures available. An advocacy group, Transportation for America, ranked Sacramento as the 21st most dangerous region for pedestrians among metropolitan areas that have 1 million or more residents.
City officials say that pedestrians and drivers need to take equal responsibility for crossing safely at intersections. No doubt, pedestrians who jaywalk or dart into traffic are putting their lives at risk, along with those of others.
Yet drivers have an extra responsibility. Unlike pedestrians, motorists are moving at high speeds in extremely powerful machines. Not enough of them seem to remember that they are legally obligated to give pedestrians the right of way when people are attempting to cross at a crosswalk.
To its credit, the city is experimenting with new safety tools to help pedestrians at certain dangerous intersections. These include pedestrian-activated flashing lights at crosswalks with no traffic signal.
City officials say the costs are not excessive about $14,000 per intersection.
Still, more needs to be done to prioritize the needs of pedestrians over the mantra of most transportation departments keeping traffic moving at high speeds.
Even more than it has, the city and region should embrace traffic calming, reduced speed limits and construction of narrower, more easy-to-cross roadways. California should also consider following in the footsteps of states such as Maryland, which have installed extensive signage at intersections reminding drivers that they must stop when a person is waiting at a crosswalk.
Yes, we all lead busy lives. Many of us are in hurry. Yet impatient drivers who blow through crosswalks risk killing or injuring kids or elderly people who can't move quickly.
Nothing is so urgent that you can't slow down and yield for pedestrians.
How you can help
A fund has been set up to assist the family of Michelle Murigi, the high school student killed this month crossing in a crosswalk.
Donations to the Michelle Murigi Memorial Fund may be sent to Safe Credit Union, P.O. Box 1057, North Highlands, CA 95660-9985, or to any Safe Credit Union office. For branch locations, call (916) 979-7233.