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Altus Street Commissioner measuring the block from Main Street (Highway 283) to Hudson Street on W. Broadway (Highway 62) in Altus.
Say the term “jaywalking” and people may think of the man-on-the-street feature on the Tonight Show. But the term regarding pedestrians crossing a roadway was developed in the early 1900s when vehicles changed our world. The term “jaywalking” showed up in an article in the Chicago Tribune in 1909 and and by 1917, it made it into the Oxford English Dictionary. Originally, the term meant an inexperienced person, a jay or a rube, who didn’t know how to navigate around city streets. Now it’s a North American term for illegal or reckless pedestrian crossing of a roadway usually between intersections.
Jaywalking is often viewed as a Barney Fife-type of infraction, a ho-hum law for sticklers, but here in Altus, we’re at the intersection of two State Highways, Highway 62 and Highway 283. At the nexus of those two lies the Jackson County Courthouse, a point from which things are often measured in town. On Highway 62, or Broadway, pedestrians often forget that is also a common truck route. Between Main Street, or Highway 283, and Hudson on West Broadway, lies the Bermuda Triangle of jaywalking. People routinely cross from the Courthouse to law firms, and people visiting stores park in the Courthouse parking because there’s so little parking by the stores. It’s the proverbial accident waiting to happen.
Since the New Year, this reporter has witnessed some risky jaywalking incidents . Once a mother with stair-step little children scurried across the street from the Courthouse parking. Her youngest, about three, was the last one across, as he ran from the approaching vehicles. Finally, an older sibling grabbed his small hand and the two made it across the street to their mother who was was waiting on the sidewalk. I guess she hadn’t heard about the Raquel Nelson case. (See Jaywalking’s heavy price for her story.)
This reporter has also seen at least one law enforcement officer and a courthouse official jaywalking in that block. One walked in front of me and one waved me on and walked behind me in recent weeks. Several lawyers and assistants jaywalk across this stretch every day. Sometimes they can’t make it across all four lanes and are forced to wait in the middle of the State Highway with trucks whizzing by. One day I had a truck behind me and a woman was in the middle of the roadway waiting to cross. If I had stopped for her to cross, I’d would have been hit from behind. I had to proceed as she stood there looking at me rather helplessly. I still see her crossing the roadway almost every day.
Something that those and other pedestrians may not be considering is the position of the sun, or rather the earth to the sun. On Broadway in the morning, drivers headed east have a difficult time seeing a person crossing mid-block. It’s likewise for the driver headed into the setting sun in the afternoon. Wouldn’t you know it? Those are exactly the most common times for people to be headed across Broadway, morning and late afternoon.
Could this jaywalking ever result in any accidents? That’s what happens elsewhere. According to wisegeek.com, “Individuals who choose to cross the road at either an intersection where there is no crosswalk, or do not cross at an intersection at all, comprise the largest group of pedestrians killed by motor vehicles. These individuals are often not paying attention to oncoming traffic in the roadway, and may attempt to dart between vehicles in order to cross. Pedestrians may also be prone to step in front of vehicles if they are talking while crossing, eating, or playing.” The darting between vehicles is typical for jaywalkers on Broadway. Add texting to that list of inattentive behaviors and we have a potential for possible injuries or worse.
Street Commissioner Holmes Willis measured the Main to Hudson block on Broadway at 349 feet for this article. That distance means the most that anyone would have to walk between crosswalks is just short of 175 feet. Each person, at least every adult that needs to cross the street, has a choice to make. The pedestrian-activated crosswalk signals are there waiting to be used.
Do pedestrians think about the example they’re setting for others? Even if they’re holding on to their child’s hand, are they preparing them to make wise decisions when the students on their own walking to school? Commissioner Willis said that children jaywalk across streets to get to almost all of the Altus schools. He asked why students don’t know they’re supposed to cross at the intersections. He is also concerned about drivers disrespecting students by exceeding the 20 mph speed limit through our Altus school zones.
What about our community leaders that are jaywalking? Are they setting a good example for youth and the citizens they represent? No man is an island; our decisions often affect others.
There’s at least one more person that’s involved in this situation with jaywalking, the driver who hits the pedestrian. Even if it’s not the driver’s fault, they can still suffer because of a decision made by someone else. They can be injured and/or encounter financial hardship for lost work time or vehicle damage. They may have to go to court, have legal or insurance costs for a decision that was out of their control. Psychological trauma is probably the hardest ramification to handle from such an event.
Altus Police Chief Tim Murphy said, “I like, many others have had pedestrians at one time or another cross the street in front of me at a place other than at a cross walk. This poses an extreme hazard for every motorist who follows behind the first motorist. If the first vehicle had to stop suddenly for a pedestrian, who was crossing at a place other than at an intersection, it could cause a chain reaction traffic accident situation, not to mention the possibility of the pedestrian getting seriously injured.”
Chief Murphy explained the law in Altus regarding pedestrian roadway crossings. “The Altus City Ordinance Section 17-127 reads: (a) every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked cross walk or within an unmarked cross walk at an intersection shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway.”
Considering the jaywalking in Altus, Chief Murphy said, “It could very well be that some pedestrians believe they have the right of way on any portion of the roadway at any time. That’s simply not true. Pedestrians should cross the roadways at intersections. Most intersections are marked for pedestrians to cross, some intersections are not marked. Pedestrians should always cross at intersections, with caution, if traffic control signals are not in place.”
Applicable to the area by the Courthouse, Murphy said, “Many of our downtown intersections have devices that will signal when pedestrians can or cannot cross intersections.” He concluded with “The bottom line is safety. We want pedestrians, as well as motorists, to be safe.”