It was a warm, clear, delightful October afternoon, one more typical of spring than fall. It was a perfect day for my ritualized walk to the post office to collect the mail. It was a relatively short distance, only seven small-town blocks. It very nearly was the last day of my life.
By nature I am a cautious person, particularly when walking on city streets. I do not jaywalk. I do not cross against the light. I do not challenge cars and trucks for street space. I have always been aware of the dangers inherent in being a pedestrian. But I never expected the risk to become reality.
As I left the post office and approached the intersection, the traffic signal turned green. Cross-street traffic stopped. And I stepped into the crosswalk. I had taken only four or five steps when I heard the sound of an engine accelerating and found myself facing the front of a car hurtling toward me. I remember throwing out my hands -- to stop the car, of course - - and nothing more until I came to my senses lying on the pavement several feet from the crosswalk. I was not certain what had happened, but I knew I was in trouble.
This experience is filled with irony and frustration. For years I have spoken out regarding pedestrian safety, or lack thereof, the indifference of local officials, the absence of adequate enforcement of traffic laws, the lack of wheelchair ramps at critical intersections and other safety issues. Neither letters to the editor nor conversations with city council members, the city manager and the chief of police have elicited action. Much too often the public attitude also has been one of indifference. Occasionally indignation prevails, as it did when one driver took exception to my presence in a crosswalk when he was turning into the street I was trying to cross. He stopped his truck in the middle of the street, rolled down his window and shouted at me. His words in a printable context: Get out of the street before you cause an accident! Hopefully, he is a minority. Yet just one careless, indifferent or aggressive driver can inflict irreparable harm.
One could argue that my accident was a statistical aberration, a fluke. While this may be true, the argument needs closer examination. Statistically, it is unlikely that I will be struck by another automobile. Statistically, blind and visually impaired pedestrians are a blip on the population radar. Statistically, we are involved in relatively few accidents with vehicles. Statistically, we would be hard-pressed as a community to shape public opinion. Statistically, we are not among the economically affluent. Statistically, we are safe and secure. Such reasoning is not uncommon. However, it begs the question: How does one value the life, health and safety of any person, statistically?
Statistically, we have a fight on our hands. What must we do to prevail? We must identify the problem and the solution. We must elevate the level of public awareness of the problem to a sense of commitment and a willingness to act. We must stand with the greater community of people with disabilities to demand that pedestrian safety and related traffic laws be enforced firmly and consistently. We must insist that necessary and required pedestrian safety enhancements be in place, including ramps, properly marked crosswalks and accessible signage and signals. We must hold public officials accountable for the level of pedestrian safety in our communities. We must never surrender our rights!
As I lay on the pavement that October afternoon listening to the sound of the approaching ambulance which would transport me to the hospital, I thought of so many things. How serious were my injuries? Would I live or die? Would the pain racing through my body ever subside? Why did the driver hit me? More than anything I thought of my daughter who, in only nine days, was to deliver her first child, my first grandchild. If I could do nothing else in this world, I wanted to see and hold my granddaughter, talk to her and experience another of life's miracles. Would I take my last breath before she breathes her first? Alexis Nicole Adams arrived on schedule and in good health. I have held her. I have talked to her. I have indeed experienced another of life's miracles.
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