BISHOP JEFFREY R. HAINES
In the past, when the question was raised – “Are the streets of our city safe?” – there was a presumption that it concerned the danger of robbery, assault and other threats of violence. Unfortunately, I think it is just as possible these days to ask that question in relation to the safety of our travel.
In my own journey on the roads and sidewalks of the city of Milwaukee and vicinity, I have witnessed a significant rise in the number of behaviors that are making driving and walking more and more hazardous.
- The signs which post the speed limits are largely ignored, and in many cases, the violation is excessive.
- The yellow signal of a traffic light more regularly causes drivers to race through an intersection rather than slow down or stop, often resulting in the car running a red light.
- Many vehicles pass on the right at high speeds in intersections, which creates precarious conditions for cars seeking to make a left turn.
- The precautionary signs beseeching drivers to lower their speed and to be careful in construction zones are rarely observed.
- Instead of waiting until a car moves past their recently parked car alongside the curb, passengers exiting a vehicle more often than not simply fling open their doors and infringe upon the lane of traffic and/or bicycle lane.
- Pedestrians now seem to be becoming bolder in crossing an intersection with a signal light even when the time of the “walk” designation is rapidly dissipating or the “don’t walk” stipulation is clearly evident.
- Pedestrians also seem to be more prone to cross in the middle of streets rather than using a crosswalk. The matter becomes even more problematic when they are wearing dark colored clothing at night.
- There seems to be a growing trend for cyclists to enter into the flow of traffic rather than utilize the marked bicycle lanes.
- In addition to the problems caused by scooter drivers who are traveling on sidewalks, many also seem to operate them more in a recreational manner than seriously observing the standards of vehicles in the midst of traffic.
- Traffic is suddenly disrupted by Uber and Lyft drivers who simply stop in a traffic lane at the address of a passenger who quite regularly is nowhere in sight. The tardy arrival of passengers often causes a lengthy backup of cars or a dangerous pattern of vehicles seeking to merge into the nearby lane, which has not stalled.
- There is a severe problem with inattentive drivers and pedestrians who are distracted by their cell phones, smartphones or iPhones.
I realize that my observations may come across as a series of cantankerous complaints, and I apologize if I have conveyed a tone of arrogance in my remarks. I would never pretend to be the best of drivers, but I do strive to follow the rules of the road and demonstrate an attitude of courtesy. The main purpose of my pointing out these troublesome matters of travel is not just an opportunity to vent my frustration or engage in an angry rant. Rather, my real concern is for safety.
I truly am becoming more and more fearful about the risks people are now facing when they get behind the wheel or venture out on the sidewalks. I cringe when I think of a pedestrian being threatened in a crosswalk by a car which is running a red light or imagine an elderly person out for a stroll who stumbles and falls when a scooter abruptly dashes past them. I tear up when I imagine a van with a family inside crumpled and overturned by a car motoring far beyond the speed limit.
Even beyond the possibility of loss of life or severe injury, I lament the moral deterioration, which is at the root of the growing threats to our safety in travel. The foundation of safety in transportation ultimately is grounded in a special agreement of people to abide by laws which protect the common good. In religious language, we would call this a covenant, a sacred promise, to uphold the regulations which secure the transportation within a society as a means of demonstrating our belief in the sacredness of life. Ultimately, traffic safety is a Pro-Life issue.
Sadly, the fabric of this cohesive net of safety is being threatened, seemingly being ripped apart by those who presume their personal wants and desires are more important than others. Apparently, some people think they are above the law or who consider themselves smarter than those who developed the laws which govern safe travel. They want to set their own speed limit or make their own exceptions to what is illegal. So often, it would seem, those who trespass the laws of the road simply are in a hurry or do not want to be inconvenienced. While no one enjoys being detained or coping with things onerous or exasperating in travel, the safety and protection of all drivers are more important than our own personal frustration.
It would be nice if there were an easy way to fix this growing problem. However, I do not think that is possible. The solution likely will not be easy. We cannot expect an already burdened police force to patrol each and every roadway and sidewalk. Rather, the remedy to this very challenging situation is a conversion of heart. Each one of us needs to do an examination of conscience about our driving habits and the attitude that we assume when we get behind the wheel. We need to re-dedicate ourselves to a more honest effort honoring the laws and regulations of driving. This is more than a matter of travel etiquette. As already noted, safety on the road and sidewalk is a Pro-Life issue.