For some time, Worcester city officials have been talking about making Worcester a more walkable city. That’s a nice dream, but it’s not one that is going to come true anytime soon.
It’s not going to happen as long as the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles continues to insist on licensing new drivers who would be a threat to themselves and others if they were driving electric golf carts on lonely stretches of Interstate 90 in Montana.
Have you ever tried to cross Main Street at Chatham Street with the “Walk” light?
Your odds of a successful crossing are about the same as those enjoyed by Columbus when he tackled the Atlantic in 1492 — he knew he wanted to reach the other side of the water, but the conditions were often decidedly unfavorable.
Even prior to the rise of the machines — those handheld demons that occupy the attention of most motorists some of the time and some motorists all of the time — such an endeavor was hazardous. Today, it’s more or less a suicide attempt.
On the other hand, many pedestrians are not helping very much. A walkable Worcester is not going to happen as long as city residents continue to read “Don’t Walk” signals as “Saunter into Rush Hour Traffic at Will and Dare Motorists to Hit You.”
There seems to be a belief that pedestrians “always have the right of way.” As a general rule, and in many circumstances where clarity is lacking, yes, pedestrians have the right of way. But this is not always so.
Chapter 13 of Worcester’s Revised Ordinances of 2008, “Traffic & Parking of Motor Vehicles,” covers matters in detail. Section 79 states, “At any traffic control signal location where a flashing red, flashing yellow or flashing green indication is being given facing a crosswalk, pedestrians shall actuate, where provided, the pedestrian indication signal indication, and cross the roadway only on the red-yellow or ‘walk’ indication when such indication is in operation.”
The level of literacy necessary to observe this ordinance is limited to two words — walk and don’t. For motorists, matters are equally simple: Red means stop. Yellow means slow down. “No Turn on Red” means exactly that.
The problem is obviously not one of reading level. It’s a lack of courtesy, willful flouting of the law, and, in the case of many pedestrians, disregard of personal safety and that of others.
As if the walkers and drivers weren’t creating enough problems, the city has in recent months seen the rise of swerving, featuring packs of Epsilon-Minus Semi-Morons — also known as youths (some as young as eight) who amuse themselves by traveling in packs on major thoroughfares, weaving among cars, snarling traffic and fraying nerves.
Worcester police have confiscated some bicycles, reprimanded the offenders, and even reached out to their parents. The problems with that strategy are obvious: Police cannot be everywhere; there is an essentially unlimited supply of idle youths in the city; and if the parents (assuming they exist) truly cared about their children to start with, said children wouldn’t be engaging in such behavior.
It would be easy enough to assert that police should do more — issue more citations to motorists; cite wayward pedestrians for jaywalking (has any such citation ever been issued in Worcester?); and not merely confiscate bicycles, but haul youthful offenders to Juvenile Court.
It would also be easy enough to dismiss the problem by pointing out that Worcester streets are far from the most dangerous in the state.
But no amount of law enforcement will completely solve the problem, any more than the myriad laws already on the books have stopped drug dealing, drunken driving, embezzlement, assault, robbery or murder. And whatever Worcester’s problems relative to other places, we live here.
The pedestrians and motorists killed in this city aren’t statistics, but real people who are missed by their families, friends and the community.
Social ills will always be with us. Laws, taxes, and incentives may help to deter some illegal and antisocial behaviors, but the problem of lawlessness on the streets can be solved only by the people of Worcester themselves — meaning all who live, work, drive, walk and bike in the city.
It will require slowing down, respecting the rules and thinking of the welfare of others. Most of all, it will require patience, a quality in very short supply in today’s world. As long as that remains true, Worcester will remain what it is today — a livable, but often dangerous, and sometimes deadly place.
Chris Sinacola is a Worcester Sun columnist. His observations on politics, current events, history and more appear every Sunday.