Think of the modern city as a human body, its streets and sidewalks equivalent to the various natural processes that go on inside of us: respiration, circulation, elimination. Each of us is but a tiny corpuscle in the vast, throbbing corpus.
But some of us are cancer cells.
I thought of this Monday morning as I attempted to drive just a few blocks across downtown Washington. A few metastasized pedestrians seemed determined to thwart my every move.
I know it’s tough being a pedestrian in the big city. I’ve been there, man. If a bike isn’t knocking you off the sidewalk, a car is threatening your life. Sidewalks are often shut down for construction, forcing you into the street. The occasional unsecured grand piano or office safe plummets from overhead. Sometimes, walking in the park is not a walk in the park.
But occasionally pedestrians contribute to the problem.
I’m talking about the reverse stopwatch of the crosswalk. Every major D.C. intersection is now like an NBA shot clock, with the digits counting down to tell how much time pedestrians have to cross safely.
A lot of walkers ignore these digits and the glowing sign that goes from an ambling man in white lights to a halting hand in red lights. The result is that motorists hoping to make a left or right turn back up like over-rich food in the colon, especially during rush hour.
On Monday, I was waiting on K Street NW to make a right turn onto Connecticut Avenue in front of the Farragut North Metro entrance. Just as I got the green arrow — the green arrow intended for motorists — two women stepped right in front of my car. I honked my horn, in irritation as much as in warning. One woman stepped back on the curb. The other kept crossing.
I rolled down my window and said, “Lady, the green arrow is for me.”
She barely acknowledged my presence.
At the next intersection, I wanted to turn right onto L Street. Traffic was clumped up because of pedestrians scurrying across L as the shot clock counted down its final seconds. Then, as I was preparing to finally turn, a woman crossing Connecticut against the light ambled in front of my bumper. I honked and raised my hands in a “What gives?” gesture.
The woman was on the phone, but she lowered it briefly to say, “You’re not going anywhere anyway.”
Well, I’m not if you’re going to walk in front of me as I lose the last few precious seconds of my green light.
I know that cars are dangerous. I understand that basically the moment a pedestrian steps into the street, he or she has the right of way. I’m not declaring open season on pedestrians. But won’t traffic move more smoothly — more efficiently, more healthily — if we take turns, cars stopping for pedestrians when the light first turns green, then pedestrians stopping so cars can make their turns? If only one car gets through per light cycle because pedestrians are scurrying across to beat the buzzer, that means more cars clogging the streets, their engines idling as they await the next cycle.
Now when I’m walking, I remind myself to wait at the light when the red hand starts flashing, indicating I shouldn’t start crossing an intersection. Will others do the same? Or do we need a public information campaign, with massive posters that read “War Is Peace,” “Ignorance Is Strength” and “Pedestrians: Please Exercise Crosswalk Etiquette”?
On Saturday, hundreds of people flocked to the Fillmore Arts Center in Georgetown. It sounds like a place Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix would have headlined in the ’60s, but, in fact, it’s a little jewel on the third floor of Hardy Middle School that this year turned 40.
In 1974, neighborhood parents, concerned that the arts were suffering in D.C. schools, lobbied to transform the empty Fillmore Elementary into a place for theater, painting, dance, music and more. Today, about 1,400 elementary school students from five schools each week spend a half-hour at Fillmore, now located in Hardy. This is possible because the schools have pooled their arts positions — and because of support from the D.C. public school system and the PTAs, volunteers and donors who are invested in the program.
The Fillmore boasts some professionals among is former students and teachers — the tap-dancing Manzari Brothers; Michael Cotter and Judith Cayo Cotter, founders of Blue Sky Puppet Theatre — but, said Fillmore director Maggie Meenehan, “that’s really not our focus, to make little artists. Our focus is to give them a broad spectrum experience with the arts so they can find something they can use for the rest of their lives.”
Happy birthday, Fillmore.
8 For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.