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Consider Consideration

Amanda Knox, our local lass who’s murder conviction is on appeal in Perugia, Italy, won’t be in court again until September 5th, so while we are recessed I’d like to chat about something that has been on my mind as I have researched Amanda’s case; her plight has continually reminded me of personal safety and awareness of surroundings.

Safety abroad is not what I’d like to highlight rather personal safety on our Island roads. I guess you could call this a Road Rant, because I often wonder, when we are so kind in person, why Islanders are so rude on our roadways?

I speak of the Drivers, Walkers, Runners, and Cyclists who are waging a turf war on these winding byways. While we all have a general grasp of the Rules of the Road (Washington State Law, Chapter 46.61), there are parts that are decidedly vague when it comes to some of the stickier situations on Vashon’s country roads. By stickier situations I mean the blind spots on the hills and corners. I’ve experienced many instances where a sense of entitlement (imho) trumped safety. My Safety, in particular, so of course I was perturbed and certainly you can understand my concern!

And you can bet your sweet bippy that I have been given the Evil Eye when I stayed in my lane on a hill or corner while some pedestrian or cyclist or runner yelled at me or shook their fist or pitchfork. From my POV, it’s clear that they have no idea how close they are to that hill or corner and that it was not safe for me to be in the oncoming lane. Call me superstitious, but I know if I get into said oncoming lane a car will appear and there will be an accident. I don’t think the pitchfork shakers get the physics either, that both cars will likely slide toward them and then we will all be in an ugly mess. Sorry, I am polite, but not stupid and I’m staying in my lane, pitchforks be damned.

Don’t laugh but I’ve actually calculated my personal experiences over thirty years for your reading pleasure—4600 incidents of someone else putting moi in danger. That’s an average of three times a week; some merely annoying, some downright terrifying. The last fifteen years have seen a marked increase. Now multiply that by everyone reading this and you’ll realize a frightening statistic. That would be a zillion times that we have put each other in danger! Well, maybe not a zillion, but a helluva lot! You get the point. And that is just on our weensy, little island.

In 30 years of communal griping, our stories are all the same, it didn’t matter what we were doing, be it driving, walking, running, or biking, we have all dealt with incompetence or arrogance or inattentiveness. Not to suggest that Islanders are stupid, only that those pesky Rules of the Road can be subject to interpretation in a given situation. It is obvious that we do not see eye to eye in many instances, in fact we are usually giving each other the Evil Eye!

All them Evil Eyes lead me to believe that Our Island has become so crowded that we need to elbow each other out of the way. Or are we becoming more ‘citified’ than we want to admit? Has status and personal space become more important than courtesy? It seems that cars are ‘expected’ to move over for everyone in every situation. Sorry, sometimes that expectation is just plain dumb and arrogant to boot. If your personal bubble is that big, someone is gonna take a pin to it and no one is impressed by your taxpayer status if you just put them in danger.

Ours is a beach-bound neighborhood and we live 6-degrees of separation everyday (Hey, Kevin!). So it is important to treat each other with respect and be concerned for community safety, because, sooner or later, you will see ‘that person’ in the aisle at Thriftway.

Passing a cyclist on a hill or corner, for example. The law states that a car cannot pass a cyclist until the driver can see the roadway ahead, but I bear witness to hundreds of cars passing a bike on a hill or corner. Real life that some idiot’s car is in the oncoming lane IN A BLIND SPOT! Helooo idiot? That is I coming into said blind spot wondering exactly what your excuse is for being in MY lane, endangering both the cyclist and moi?

Cyclists also bear some of the finger-pointing. While Rules of the Road clearly say that bicycles enjoy the same laws as a car, there are also laws that expect a bicycle to get off the roadway in certain unsafe circumstances. The law specifically names tunnels and construction, but leaves open any place where a cyclist is in obvious danger. Yep, that would definitely be the many corners and hills on Vashon. The first thing is that everyone needs to do is slow down the moment you are aware of each other. The second is that the cyclist should be competent enough to ride in the rough if need be. And the third is that cars should not force bikes off the road, so take a deep breath and be patient.

I cringe when I hear cyclists complain about our ungroomed country roads, all I can say is the Burke-Gilman they ain’t, but if you are afraid of gravel then why are you riding over here? And the number of cyclists who insist that they have the right of way in every situation astounds me, tempting Fate to show you that a bag of bones is no match for a car is not impressive and only demonstrates a severe case of myopia. Oh, and a titch of arrogance too.

Lest you think I am jumping only on cars and bikes, I have room to rant about the pedestrians and runners that will not step into the grass on those dahm hilltops and corners. The law clearly states that pedestrians are required to get off the pavement when a car passes and that a car must give said person at least three feet. That means that when a car is in your ginormus personal bubble, By Law, you and your kids and your pets have to get out of the road. Of course most cars will be polite and move over as much as possible on the precious few straight-aways on the Island. Operative words being ‘precious few straight-aways.’ And I have no patience for the folks claiming a preferred tax status or trying to get insurance money. For the record, those are lame excuses for forcing a car into the oncoming lane.

A special shout out to folks with baby strollers, do I really need to spell it out that your baby will be on that car’s grill a split second before you are? You are the group that I really want to lecture, shame on you for putting your punkin head in danger!! I have met you on a corner and I am not happy!

Dappled sunlight filtering through trees is also a big safety hazard over here; cars cannot see you in the shadow when there is bright sunlight on the windshield. And since we are not going to cut the trees down again, just be aware that the car coming toward you may not see you until they are in the shade.

The four-way stop in town, Oh My Friggin’ Gawd!! What is up with pedestrians not looking both ways? Slap the blinders and a neckbrace on, I am a pedestrian at the four-way and I only look straight ahead! And we can’t blame it all on the tourists, I have been given the Evil Eye by people that I know, usually when I’m sitting in the middle of the intersection, trapped because someone just stepped in front of my moving car.

Never would I ‘hope’ that a car could ‘stop in time’ to save me from my own stupidity. After decades of observing the ever-increasing danger at the four-way, I can only surmise those pedestrians are purposely ignoring drivers and counting on them being able to see and react to everything. That is SO misguided, especially in our busy intersection. Don’t be hatin,’ but it’s time for a traffic light uptown because it’s evident pedestrians have no clue how to use a four-way. I vote for a walk-all-way!

I’ll bet by now I have conjured up all the times you have felt threatened. I’ll bet you’ve given the Evil Eye a time or two thousand. I mean really, who would purposely force a car into the oncoming lane on a blind corner or hill, speed past a cyclist or pedestrian or step into a crosswalk without looking? Well, honey, it is gonna be your friends and neighbors or their family and friends. We can try to blame it on Off-Islanders, but that is too small a percentage to be realistic. Except for summer.

The sad part is that Vashon is the rare place where we DO have time to wait on traffic--because it always goes away! So the Battle of the Enormous Egos doesn’t make any sense here, neither does pitting yourself against a car. And just in case you think that I think that I’m all that and a bag of chips, I freely admit that I’m not perfect. Gots soma them stoopid human tricks in my closet, same as ever’body, taught me to be very careful, they did.

So, I am the driver who regularly backs off cyclists so they can chug up hills; I feel your burn baby! I’ve patiently sat in the middle of the intersection uptown, hoping that some impatient driver doesn’t bash me before the person who stepped in front of my moving car gets outta the way. I stay in my lane on the S-curves. I’m not afraid to walk in the grass when a car is coming toward me; I am smart enough to wear sneakers and not Manolo Blahniks. I know the distance from corners and hills, so would never force a car to go around me. And I am acutely aware of the physics behind flesh and bone verses cars and trucks.

I remember the old rhyme: “Keep your ears alert for traffic as you travel to and fro and zigzag as you walk on country roads.” Always, always put yourself in the safest place and that means use both sides of a country road because of blind spots.

My hope is to inspire my neighbors to be aware of, first, their own safety and, second, the safety of the community. If that is good enough for firefighters and police, it’s good enough for us. Islanders often talk about rural ideals, but do we have the guts to leave indifferent city ways overtown? I would like to see a departure from thoughtless entitlement to a true sharing of the road topped with a smile and friendly wave. Hey, a girl can dream, right?

And a personal message from me to the safety conscious Drivers, Cyclists, Runners and Walkers. Thank you! I notice; I appreciate and I am always delighted to be on the road with you because my safety and your safety are intertwined in the beach-bound community called Vashon Island.