A Metrobus almost ran down William R. MacKaye and two of his children recently.
The incident took place as Bill and the children were crossing upper Wisconsin Avenue in a well-marked crosswalk at an intersection that is not controlled by a traffic light.
"There was no question that the driver saw us," Bill says. "He simply did not choose to yield the right of way."
This was no isolated incident, says Bill. He thinks the refusal to yield the right of way is now widespread.
"I frequently cross M Street in the crosswalk at 33d Street, in Georgetown," he says. "Often I am with one or more of my children. It is a rare occasion when cars, including police cars, pause to let me pass.
"When I drive, I do yield to pedestrians in the street, whatever or not they are in crosswalks - and I am often subject to angry honking from other drivers for my obedience to what I understand to be the law."
"I will find it much easier to sympathize with the current campaign against jaywalking when it is accompanied by an equally stringent campaign in defense of the pedestrian's rtights. The streets belong at least as much to walkers as to riders."
Yes, I suppose that's a fair statement, Bill. But heaven only knows what its practical effect is these days.
The law in the District of Columbia and in most jurisdictions is that motorists must yield the right of way to pedestrians who are legally in the roadway, and must attempt to avoid striking even those pedestrians who are illegally in the street.
Example: You have started across the street on a "Walk" light or, in the absence of "Walk" signals, on a green light. Motorists are required to yield the right of way to you. The motorist, too, may have a green light, But if he's turning, and as a result will be driving through the crosswalk you're in, he must wail until you are safely out of his way.
Example: You have started across on a "Don't Walk" sign, or on a red light. The motorist has the legal right of way, but that does not give him the right to run into you. He is required to "exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway."
However, it would obviously be foolhardy to rely too heavily on that driver's skill or alertness. So the proposition comes down to this: drivers and pedestrians have a shared responsibility to respect each other's rights and to avoid accidents.
Sad to relate, thousands of District Liners act irresponsibly. As pedestrians they're impatient to cross, and their illegal intrusions impede the flow of traffic.
But when these same people get behind the wheel, they're furious with those who are guilty of pedestrian violations.
A rational discussion of the problem is therefore frustrating and perhaps wholly impossible. How does one conduct a rational discussion of irrational conduct?
Bill MacKaye is dead right in saying that the bus driver should have yielded the right of way to pedestrians legally within a crosswalk. But if he were to stand his ground against a scofflaw driver, he would risk being just plain dead instead of dead right.
We are not going to cut the accident toll or expedite the flow of traffic until both drivers and pedestrians learn to obey the rules of hte road, share the right of way and live together in peace. I do not expectthis to happen in my lifetime.