How often are you too plugged in to notice the life we are accepting around us and the dangers of that acquiescence? Counting twenty people who were looking at their phones and/or texting and/or scrolling while driving in a two mile stretch. They were not stopped. Their cars were moving, in motion, in front of a school on a busy five-lane highway, past businesses, parking lots, bus stops, etc. Those were only the people who were holding up their phones so that I could see them. I even saw someone looking at a laptop computer. I don’t know if I am more astounded by the people doing it, or that they have so little space in their lives that they feel a need to drive and actually look at a screen/use the screen. The people drove all types of vehicles. I have no idea how many vehicles I passed going both directions and moving in, out, and through the various parking lots along the route. There were hundreds of vehicles in that stretch.
Yet, there weren’t any bicycles. I’ve been thinking about transportation more lately. I used to consider it frequently when I was in my twenties. Visiting Europe and later, very briefly living there, I discovered public transportation and felt a freedom to explore that I had never experienced in middle Tennessee in that way. My ability to get around in TN has mostly consisted of cars, though once out-and-about, the wide-open spaces in nature offer an exploration I have always loved. When I was growing up, we visited relatives with plenty of land, forests and fields, creeks and rivers, to roam. Traveling in an urban environment felt confining by comparison, since there are dilemmas with traffic and parking.
Voilà! European cities–trains, subways, trams, buses, and bicycles. I suddenly had many choices for getting to and from the cities and enjoying them. Traveling by public transport offered an amenity that anyone values who has experienced public transportation regularly–hands-free time when someone else could do the driving and I could relax, read a book, peruse any shopping I had done, chat with friends, and more. Riding a bike brought me down to the sidewalks and streets, the bike lanes, and corners, through neighborhoods and enchanting spaces. Many European cities make travel easy in this way, but the Dutch have the best system I’ve ever experienced with all of these alternatives.
By comparison, here in my home city of Clarksville (similar to many U.S. cities), the last train for commuting left decades ago and all the commuter rail possibilities went with it. I am constantly frustrated and riddled with anxiety as I watch pedestrians strive to cross a five-lane highway without a crosswalk or a stoplight from the shopping center to the bus stop. It is along the two-mile stretch I mentioned earlier. In fact, there are a few of these places where bus stops are across the five-lane highway from the businesses where people work. Pedestrians cross without a walkway or traffic light. AND, the bus stop is nothing, NOTHING, more than a sign that says BUS STOP beside the road. There are no sidewalks, no benches, no covered awnings, nothing–not even a bus schedule. All day, people risk their lives to run across the highway from their jobs to the bus stop, and there are dump trucks, semis, delivery trucks, big trucks with heavy machinery in trailers, and all manner of vehicles speeding down the highway. Some of the people I watch are disabled and/or elderly trying to get across the street. They seem scared, but they don’t have options since we have no other methods of public transportation–no trains, subways, trams, etc. I have definitely witnessed some close calls.
The majority of bike lanes in our city consist of the image of a rudimentary bike with a couple of arrows painted onto the far right side of the street/highway without any extra space. This bike lane painting within the regular traffic lane is on a major industrial highway. I see maybe two people a month risk their lives to ride a bike to and from work in this city. The people who ride those leisurely tourist bikes downtown don’t go very far and so don’t experience these problems–they stick with the sidewalks in a tiny quarter-mile radius of Public Hall and the Downtown Commons. As soon as you move out into New Providence or St. Bethlehem, even down Madison Street proper, you cannot find adequate sidewalks, crosswalks, bus stops, or bike lanes. Pedestrians are in danger in most of this city.
I was a pedestrian when my husband and I first moved back here about fifteen years ago. We chose to live close to the university so that I didn’t have far to walk to class. He worked in Nashville, and we only owned one car after coming back from Europe. Often, here in Clarksville, I was afraid as a pedestrian that I would be struck by a vehicle. The sidewalks didn’t exist in certain sections; they just ended at a ditch. Tennessee is full of hills, rolling along, so oftentimes, it’s difficult to have a clear line of sight for very far. In fifteen years, plenty of businesses and shopping centers have opened, but not much has changed regarding pedestrian-friendly incentives and modes of public transport. Shouldn’t these businesses contribute to the overall lifestyle of this city? Shouldn’t they link up to a sidewalk, bike lane, crosswalk system, and maintain their own sidewalks/bike lanes/etc?
Daily, I watch those pedestrians playing “Frogger” with their lives, and my heart beats faster, I shiver, and sometimes, I hold my breath…a few times, I’ve had the opportunity to hold the line for them, braking in my car and holding back the traffic to allow them to cross one side of the road in peace while the other vehicles wait behind me. Most of the time, the other drivers don’t care anyway–they use it as an opportunity to check their phones and send texts. Then, they get annoyed and beep at me if I let too many pedestrians get out of the middle of the road at once. Usually, the on-coming traffic won’t stop at all.
This question!: How often are you too plugged in to notice the life we are accepting around us and the dangers of that acquiescence?