Last month in ISHN’s August issue I wrote about New York City’s “Vision Zero” campaign to dramatically reduce traffic, bicycle and pedestrian injuries and deaths. So far in 2019 in NYC, 100 people have been killed in traffic crashes – including 51 pedestrians.

In 2016, 5,987 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in the United States -- one crash-related pedestrian death every 1.5 hours. Almost 129,000 pedestrians were treated in emergency departments for non-fatal crash-related injuries in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


Reality hits

Days after writing that piece, I went for a morning jog on the trails that curve along the Schuykill River in downtown Philadelphia. Only five minutes from my apartment. I walked a couple of blocks and waited for the light to change and give the “pedestrian go” signal on Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s a broad street about 100 feet across, divided by an island. On both sides of the island traffic flows in multiple lanes. The white stripes of a pedestrian walkway guide you across. Pennsylvania Ave is the main division, or obstacle, between my Fairmount neighborhood, those river trails and the Philadelphia Art Museum with the famous “Rocky” steps and statue.

At 10:30 in the morning the avenue is not busy. Rush hour has passed. The light changed, I got the pedestrian right of way signal, and started to casually walk to the island in the middle of the road. A line of cars and trucks waited at the intersection to turn left onto the avenue once pedestrians were all clear.

I saw an SUV or pickup, I can’t recall, beginning to make its turn early – heading straight at me. The vehicle had tinted windows. I thought the driver would see me and stop. No. He kept turning and ran into me. He was just beginning his turn and probably wasn’t going more than 5 MPH. Still, the impact lifted me up on his hood and I landed on the asphalt on both knees and my elbows. Luckily my head didn’t hit the street.

I got up quickly. It felt like a running back being popped by a linebacker. Stunned more than feeling any pain, I was angry more than anything. The driver wound down his tinted window.

“Are you OK?” He was shook up.

“How could you not see me?”

“I never saw you,” he said behind sunglasses.

It’s broad daylight. Sunny and clear. I was five feet from his vehicle. You idiot, I thought, what were you looking at? It sure wasn’t me. Was he texting, daydreaming, otherwise distracted, or was I somehow in his blind spot? No matter, with those tinted windows I couldn’t tell.


Emotions take over

I was too angry to follow the proper protocol. I should have called the police, using his phone because I was not carrying mine, and asked him to write down his name and information. Should have used his phone to photograph his license plate. Should have gotten myself checked out at a hospital.

But I wasn’t bleeding, wasn’t in pain, and let my emotions get the best of me. I wanted nothing to do with this guy, didn’t want to borrow his phone or pen and paper. The drivers waiting at the light probably thought, whoa, that guy just got popped and he’s walking away. No confrontation. No conversation. I was wrong to cut short the encounter. Just wanted to go for a jog, and that’s what I did. No harm. Definite foul. The harm could have surfaced later, days later, after my adrenalin wore off. But caught by surprise in the moment, I just reacted as I did.

If you ever become one of those 129,000 pedestrians hit by a vehicle, get emotions under control and follow the protocol. Don’t assume because you’re not bleeding, didn’t hit your head, you’re not hurt.


Don’t be complacent

To avoid becoming a statistic, take nothing for granted. This applies to the shop floor the same as crossing a street. Call it defensive walking. People, drivers, are unpredictable; easily distracted; driving or working on auto-pilot. You can’t assume anything about their behavior or state of mind. This holds true dealing with forklifts, walking a construction site, or working a production line.

I have my head on a swivel whenever walking in the city. You need that situational awareness. Lights change quickly. Drivers run yellows. Cars, trucks, bicyclists, baby strollers and runners can come out of nowhere. Your view can be obstructed by large parked vehicles, trucks loading or unloading, and suddenly a double-decker tourist bus is coming at you.

I thought it was “all safe” when I got hit. I was (I thought) in plain view and had the right of way. That’s when we’re vulnerable. You cross a street a thousand times and assume it’s the same as always.

Random incidents

But there is no accounting for random acts. According to the dictionary, randomness “is the lack of pattern or predictability in events. A random sequence of events has no order and does not follow an intelligible pattern or combination.”

Google “life is random” and you get results like, “Is Life Just a Sequence of Random Events?” “Life is Random, Get Over It.” “The Unavoidable Randomness of Life.” And you’ll learn about the Butterfly Effect, if you don’t know it already.

The Butterfly Effect takes the view that life is chaotic and we can’t predict the future or control powerful complex systems -- like city traffic or fast-paced workplace activity. A routine act like walking across a street, which we’ve done all our lives, can be exposed to small influences (a driver doesn’t see you) and the routine turns chaotic, maybe catastrophic.

I was lucky not to become a statistic. And I was reminded how random life can be.


—  Dave Johnson, ISHN Editor,