Broward News

Florida's Death-Wish Jaywalkers: Now Interesting to the New York Times

The New York Times likes to discover things around the country, allowing hemmed-in Manhattanites to observe a little of the goings-on around our fair country without crossing the Hudson. So are born trend pieces on Portland's coffee, Chicago's restaurants, Pennsylvania's Dairy Queens. As for us swamp-dwellers, an occasional huckster makes the news, but what about cultural trends?

Finally, the paper has noticed a local South Florida phenomenon: our suicidal jaywalkers and the staggering rate of pedestrian mortality they produce. You know the ones: crossing six-lane highways in western Broward, milling around the bus terminal in downtown Fort Lauderdale, seemingly waiting for the worst possible moment to somnambulate into traffic, causing horns to blare and tempers to break, all with the silent, unspoken challenge: I dare you to hit me, motherfucker.

And sometimes, people do. The top four rankings for dangerous pedestrian areas in a new study by Transportation for America all go to Florida, with the Orlando-Kissimmee area coming in first, followed by Tampa, Jacksonville, and then the South Florida metro area (including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Pompano Beach).

The Times made note of this -- hardly a surprise, since Florida routinely wins such contests -- and ventured to Orlando's Semoran Boulevard to witness some of the cringe-inducing foot traffic firsthand. Writer Lizette Alvarez followed residents like Cindy Berdeguez as she tempted fate out of necessity:

Lugging plastic bags and a backpack, she frantically dashed across Semoran Boulevard, a six-lane state road where some cars and trucks whiz by at 60 miles per hour (the speed limit is 45). She paused briefly at the median and raced again. She and a friend had just left the food pantry at Catholic Charities, which sits squarely across the wide road from the bus stop.

Florida was built for cars. Nobody will deny that. Many areas, especially in Broward County, didn't even exist until a couple of decades ago, by which time walking to the store was as unthinkable for those who made the plans as traveling by horse and buggy. Never mind the fact that some people can't afford cars.

Bang on a pedestrian-crosswalk signal button sometime and see if it works. See if the eight seconds you're allotted to dash across the road are ample time if you're lugging all your possessions. Just for kicks, get a friend to drop you off between two stoplights on a desolate stretch of suburbia. Now get to the other side.

That's right: This is war. This is hundreds of thousands of cars a day air-conditioning themselves and their owners. This is a little old lady trying to survive. Soon, it's a guy staring you down, stepping into the road, thinking that there must be a God, or at least a legal system.

In Rome, the jewel of Western civilization, there aren't even any crosswalk signals: You just step into the road, make eye contact, and walk ahead. It's an understood system. The drivers almost always stop.

This ain't Rome.

"Oh my God, the traffic here," Ms. Berdeguez said. "People have no courtesy, no patience for human beings, no respect."

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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph