One of the reasons given for New Albany’s street conversion last year was to slow traffic, making it safer to not only drive in the city, but to walk, jog and ride a bike without the fear of being hit by a speeding car.

But city government can’t legislate distracted driving or those motorists who ignore traffic signals and crosswalks. Unless the police see it, not much can be done. So, a year later, are the streets safer?

Let’s say things have improved.

As a regular walker and jogger I see people every day ignore basic principles of driving on a downtown street. The main ones being pedestrians have the right-of-way, and don’t block crosswalks with your vehicles. 

Here is what I see regularly at crosswalks: A motorist will pull up to the stop, ignore both me and the crosswalk, and wait for an opening before pulling out into traffic. Even though I was there first, and already had a step in the crosswalk, they just go on as if I were invisible. This one drives me crazy. Crosswalks are there for a reason, to allow walkers a safe path to cross a street.

This happens regularly in the morning as I  cross Eighth Street. I usually have to jog behind or between cars because the crosswalk is covered up by a vehicle. It’s like I am invisible as they prepare to pull out onto Spring Street.

My favorite intersection is the one at Graybrook and Daisy Lane. Even though I will not cross that intersection unless I have the green walking signal, some drivers ignore me and the signal and turn right on red. A legal move yes, but not when someone is in the crosswalk. And of course, those are the same drivers who stare me down like I did something wrong. All I did was legally cross a street.

Last week New Albany City Councilman David Aebersold talked at the council meeting about the dangerous intersection at Spring and Vincennes streets. He said he regularly sees a near accident, or someone trying to cross safely without being run over.

“Do we look at it, take a study, or do nothing and wait for someone to be killed?” Aebersold said to his fellow council members.

Last year an elderly woman was killed while trying to cross that intersection, which can be very confusing to pedestrians. There seems to be no safe time to cross Spring at Vincennes Street.  

Aebersold was expected to share his concerns with the New Albany Board of Public Works today. Hopefully something can be done at that  intersection to make it safer. But there are no regulations or safety measures that can solve distracted driving; only those behind the wheel can solve that problem. People dialing a number on their cell phones or texting while driving create such a huge problem across the country. How to deal with distracted driving?

There is a law prohibiting drivers from texting, but like the seat belt law, police officers have to be at the right place at the right time to catch the offenders. No text is worth running over a jogger or causing a wreck. And it’s much easier to call someone back after you reach your destination, than to call the police after causing a preventable accident. 

I know some people have no respect for the law or other human beings. They are in their own little worlds, ignoring everything around them. And like you and me, they have a driver’s license. So I get it, some people don’t care. If you are in their way, it’s your fault, and you better move or get hit.

No matter what is done to make our streets safer, you still can’t fix stupid. But you can, as a pedestrian or driver, be more aware of your surroundings and always be on the defensive. 

For the most part, converting Spring, Market, Elm, Pearl and Bank streets to two-way traffic has been a positive move. It makes getting around the city much easier, and I think it has slowed traffic.

I hope the city can take a study or come up with some kind of plan to make walking and jogging in the downtown area a little safer. I have enough problems keeping pace without having to worry about being run over at a crosswalk.

— Chris Morris is an assistant editor at the News and Tribune. Reach him at chris.morris@newsandtribune.com and 812-206-2155.

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