While flipping through the digital pages of the Guelph Mercury's Editors' blog this morning, I came across something I thought was worthy of re-publishing here. It's a letter/opinion piece from a concerned citizen that caught my eye because it reflects a lot of the problems I've encountered on local roads and streets lately.
Mike O'Dwyer says a lot of the things that have been shuffling around in my head for a while, but he says it with a great deal of eloquence, or at least more eloquence then I have when I'm nearly run over crossing the street, obey the traffic signals, just trying to get from one place to another like everyone else.
The full text of O'Dwyer's letter is below:
An avid Guelph walker’s screed about uncaring citizens
Mike O’Dwyer, Guest column
My wife was almost killed the other night — and that was the tipping point.
My wife and I were raised in Guelph, moved away many years ago, and have been back in the city for seven years. I had vowed never to write a piece for the letters page mostly because I think it’s a waste of time. I wonder how much influence they manage. And many of the letters published in this newspaper seem to come from the same small group of people who are afflicted with the burning need to ride their personal hobby horses (too) hard and (too) often.
But after my wife was nearly splattered by an idiot driver, I saw the light and I am now one of those people.
Here’s the backstory. My wife and I run or walk long distances almost every day — always on the sidewalk and always heeding traffic signals. A few nights ago, as my wife stood at the corner of Gordon Street and Stone Road, ready to cross the intersection as the light turned green, she was grabbed and held by another pedestrian, who had seen a car speeding toward the intersection and thankfully prevented my wife from taking a possibly fatal step. That car did not even slow down — the driver blithely sped through the red, heading west on Stone Road, perhaps looking for less elusive prey. If it hadn’t been for the other pedestrian — whose name, unfortunately, we do not know but our sincerest thanks to her anyway — my wife would have been road jam.
I had a very similar experience at the same intersection. On that occasion, it was a pickup truck that turned right on a red light, at speed, on wet pavement. I saw the truck just as I was about to step off the curb and, if I had, there is no way that truck could have missed me.
If these were isolated incidents, I would still be steamed but not impelled to write this opinion piece. Unfortunately, we’ve both experienced this rude and dangerous behaviour many times over the past few years. Drivers who cut you off because they simply must get around that corner or through that intersection without having to wait a few seconds for pedestrians to cross; drivers who block crosswalks and sidewalks and lay that contemptuous “screw you” look on you as you are forced to navigate around them; and, of course, drivers who would rather kill you than have to give up a few seconds of their oh-so-important lives by obeying traffic laws and stopping at red lights.
Now, I’m an old guy, and this is going to sound like a cranky senior blaming the young. But in my experience, most drivers who exhibit this dangerous behaviour are youngish. Gender does not seem to be an issue. Both men and women drivers are equal opportunists when it comes to being criminally self-absorbed jerks as motorists.
I suppose it’s because of the trait that has become so dominant in many of us, these days: a firmly entrenched sense of entitlement. What I do is much more important than what you do. I should always be first, always come first, and I simply can’t comprehend why you think this shouldn’t be so. Oh, and, really, I actually couldn’t give a flying fig for what you think.
According to Mayor Karen Farbridge, Guelph is a caring, giving community. But you couldn’t prove it by me — at least for that apparently sizable portion of our population for whom caring means caring for number 1, with zero consideration for the safety and rights of their fellow citizens, caring to do the wrong thing at every opportunity, and freely and flagrantly giving the finger, literally and figuratively (and dangerously) to those who have the temerity to expect just a modicum of humanity, common courtesy and adherence to traffic laws.
And don’t get me started on the many bicyclists who believe they have been granted the divine right by the great Eco-god Green to (illegally) ride the sidewalks of the city while scattering mere pedestrians like the nuisances they are. And what about those űbermothers who arrogantly clog the sidewalks and store aisles with Hummer-sized strollers, tunnel-vision- targeted on moulding their little creative geniuses into the next generations of The Entitled?
Well, that’s my rant. I doubt that it will change anything — especially where sidewalk bicyclists and űbermothers are concerned. But at least I feel better for having gotten it off my chest. And maybe — just maybe — it will change the behaviour of at least one motorist. And maybe that will be enough to save my wife’s life at some point in the future.
Mike O’Dwyer is a resident of Guelph and self-described registered curmudgeon.
O'Dwyer's frustration is palpable, but I think it's part of a bigger problem in the culture. If you walk past a fast food restaurant and see more people eating in their car than eating in the actual dinning room, or if you watch Parking Wars or any of those repo shows where people are five months behind on their car payments yet think it's a huge injustice when the repo man comes for their ride, you come to understand that we don't just own cars anymore, we live in them. We fetishize them. They're now a part of ourselves rather than just being tools or conveyances we use. And thus, people have no problem misusing them and even thinking that because they own an automobile, their travels, and their right of way takes priority, whether that's true or not.
I don't necessarily agree with O'Dwyer's comment on bicycles though. Ideally, it would be great if all bike riders could ride on the road, or at least on streets with bike lanes, but I understand the reasons people don't want to. As illustrated by the rest O'Dwyer's letter, the roads are a dangerous place to be, and if I've said it once I've said it a thousand times, in the battle of car versus bike, no matter who's in the wrong, car always wins. Scream and yell at bicyclists all you want, but there are more cars than them on the road, and I'd bet that the chances of getting hit on any given day are about 5-to-1.
The city does exert a lot of effort and energy espousing the philosophy of a Royal City open and friendly to all modes of transportation, but they forget that it's a top down proposition. Unless you can figure out a way to convince drivers to be more willing to share the road, and perhaps even get out of the car more often not, the entitlement culture will continue and that people like the O'Dwyers, and myself, will have to keep our heads on a swivel in order to stay alive while doing the pedantic daily activity of crossing the street.