In D.C. Crosswalk Doesn't Necessarily Mean Cross or Walk

From May to November a fabulous part of Saturday morning in my D.C. neighborhood is the Mt. Pleasant Farmers' Market, a cozy place to chat with neighbors, gush over babies and nosh on muffins. A couple Saturdays a month, I'm luckily enough to work there. Though I can't honestly call it "work" because most of the time I'm chatting with neighbors, gushing over babies and noshing on muffins.

This past Saturday, however, one dark question dominated market conversations -- what's up with all the police tape?

The police had cordoned off 17th Street where it borders the market and intersects with Lamont Street. Two tripods and a professional team of surveyors measure distances. Uniformed police and members of the Special Operation Division mill around a city sanitation truck and a Metro bus that are parked within the confines of the yellow tape.

It looks like a crime scene. But it's not. It's a re-enactment of a woman getting hit by a trash truck, which doesn't, by the way, involve a bloody actor writhing about on the street as if she's been hit by a trash truck. In case you're wondering.

The woman's lawyer arranged the re-enactment to demonstrate culpability and to jar the memory of any potential witnesses. He maintains that in August of 2010 a trash truck allegedly struck his client and then backed over her as she attempted to cross the street, crushing her chest and pelvis. She is still on a steady cocktail of pain medication a year later and is unable to have any more children. And she's young.

When people at the market hear this story, they gasp, covering their mouths. Many know her quite well. One woman's son takes karate with the victim's son. Several know her from the neighborhood public school where her son attends. Others know her mother who used to work at the Curves across the street from the market. Mt. Pleasant is a pretty tight-knit community.

There's an uneasy awareness that this could happen to any of us, as we all share stories of our near hits in D.C. crosswalks. Some stories are from the driver's point of view. And one scene, in particular, is reoccurring. You're sitting at a green light, letting people cross the street before making your turn, only to have the car behind you lay on the horn. What exactly does that driver want me to do? Plow through a horde of pedestrians? Or maybe just pick off one or two? Sorry to delay you another four seconds, but I've decided to not run these people over today.

At these times, I think of Canada. My husband and I chose Vancouver for our Baby Moon, a trip you take right before losing all your personal freedom by becoming a parent. While crossing the street, my big pregnant belly leading me a good two inches, a man riding a bicycle went through the crosswalk coming close to me. Within seconds, he's pulled over by an off-duty police officer. Bikes and cars both stop for pedestrians at crosswalks, he scolds the cyclist.

My husband and I still talk about that one.

In D.C. forget crosswalks, you can't even trust that drivers are going to stop at red lights or stop signs. Once while waiting at a stop sign before turning right, I let a mother pushing a stroller cross the street. The man behind me, in a hurry to get to the red light fifty feet down the street, sped around me to make the same right turn. He came within a foot of running them over. He didn't see them, which is probably why it's illegal to pull a bonehead stunt like that. I locked eyes with the mother and communicated nonverbally. "I can't believe what just happened. That was close. Are you okay? Good. That driver is a stupid jerk with a bloated sense of self-importance." I have a very expressive face.

So when I cross the street with my son, I remind him that a "Walk" sign doesn't mean walk. It means wait a couple seconds. Then look both ways. Then look again. In fact, just keep looking as you cross, in a group if you can. And try to look big. Maybe bounce up and down a bit. Waving your hand high above your head is a good idea.

He's going to look really foolish crossing the street in Canada one day. But that's a risk I'm willing to take.


I thought that was the end of the story. But just as I sent this to my editor, my husband and son came home from their walk in their neighborhood.

"Did you hear those sirens just now?" my husband asks as he comes through the door.

He tells me that he just saw a woman in a Jeep Cherokee hit a man and his dog on Mt. Pleasant Street while they were dead center in the crosswalk. The man rolled over the hood and the dog went under the vehicle. Amazingly, neither was seriously hurt. Or maybe it was just adrenalin that gave the man the strength to block the car as he dialed 911 while the woman tried to make a getaway yelling "you're not hurt" out the window.

You just can't make this stuff up.