An area of American life that baffles me is the traffic light system and the wider rules around how cars and pedestrians interact. Now initially I thought turning right on red was a genius idea as it increases the flow of traffic, however, in busy towns this is not so and further still you can’t even turn on a green in these places. Take a standard afternoon in San Francisco traffic as an example; you can’t turn right on red as there is traffic coming from your left, then when your light actually turns green, the pedestrians are on green, so you can’t drive then either therefore rendering any attempt to turn right futile.
Even more concerning in my mind is that at any time, no matter what colour the lights are on, pedestrians still have right of way and indeed take this wondrous opportunity to frequently walk out in front of traffic causing sudden unexpected need to brake. I will never understand a traffic system that invites both cars and people to move at the same time – I’m rather fond of the British approach, whereby I once saw a poor fellow get knocked down by a van in London, yet all agreed (including himself at a later time I’m sure once out of A&E) that it was unquestionably his fault since the pedestrian sign was on red.
As a British pedestrian in America it is equally stressful – we believe we are being courteous (and arguably protective of our own wellbeing) by politely waiting at the side of the road when cars are imminently arriving at a junction at speed, yet in fact it causes outrage as drivers freak out having had a near heart attack and slammed their brakes on presuming you’d do a last minute death defying walk of doom, only to be furious to find when they look up that you are in fact still stood there looking gormless.
Having done a little research into the rate of pedestrian related road incidents in California, I found that data from the Governers Highway Safety Assn in 2015 alluded to troubles with the pedestrian vs car game rules; 1/3 of road incidents in LA involved pedestrians and more pedestrians were killed on the roads in California than any other state. I am thus thankful to find that at last someone is perhaps starting to see the madness in the idea of having both pedestrians and cars on green lights at the same time as amongst other things the timings of signals is being reviewed in the Downtown Los Angeles area at least. In the meantime I’m sticking to my British ways and will be approaching all road crossings with caution and a fond liking of my two little short and stumpies whilst also endeavouring to avoid right turns at all cost.