Pedestrian rights need extra help

Published 12:09 am Sunday, September 26, 2010

Standing at the edge of the sidewalk, trying to figure out which direction we needed to go, suddenly Julie and I realized we’d stopped traffic.

While we each think the other is the most beautiful person on the planet, we had the common sense to realize it wasn’t our good looks that had caused traffic to come to a screeching halt.

Although had any of the Bostonians heard us say “y’all” or “hey there” it would have been a clue to our foreignness, our Southern roots were certainly not visible to passing motorists. We probably looked like tourists, but our origins were not evident.

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Then we quickly realized, Massachusetts state law, apparently, requires motorists to stop and yield to pedestrians at a crosswalk when there are no traffic lights or other controls. In this case, we were standing, albeit a bit oblivious, to the mid-block crosswalk and there were not traffic lights nearby.

After scurrying across the street and watching traffic quickly resume normal speed, I started noticing the streets and pedestrian crosswalks more. Many of them, in addition to being painted on the ground, also had small vertical signs popping up in the middle of the crosswalk reminding drivers of the law.

As we walked along the streets of Boston, following the Freedom Trail, a walking tour connecting early American history locations, I quickly realized how well pedestrian laws worked.

And, in a way, how welcoming and safe it made us feel by walking the streets and knowing those motorists — or most of them anyway — adhered to the law and yielded to walkers.

The fine for not yielding in Massachusetts is $200. Interestingly, Mississippi has similar laws, but we seem to rarely consider that a pedestrian has the right-of-way.

In fact, drivers here often act just the opposite. Pedestrians and bicyclists are just obstacles in our four-wheeled pursuit of quick transportation.

But it’s not because we care less or are in any bigger hurry than drivers in Boston. It’s just that we lack a bit of paint and a few signs.

After we returned from vacation, I’ve been paying attention more to pedestrians, crosswalks and how people maneuver around downtown Natchez.

As I’ve thought through it, wouldn’t it be nice if our downtown were just a little more pedestrian — read: visitor — friendly?

For example, we could use a little paint to add a crosswalk across Canal Street between the Natchez Convention Center and the convention center hotel.

At the moment, when convention goers exit the middle doors on the bluff side of the convention center, they must either dart straight across traffic to return to the hotel or walk to the corners and catch the traffic light.

So long as its not burning up or raining, I suppose that’s not too bad, but we all know it gets pretty hot here and it rains a good bit, too.

Just a little paint and maybe a sign or two would be a great place to start making it easier for visitors to get to and from the convention center.

I’d bet if we all thought through it, we could think of some additional locations that could use a clearly designated crosswalk and a reinforcement that the law says yield to pedestrians.

Besides, stopping traffic shouldn’t just be something left up to the pretty people.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or