Where Pedestrians Feel Invisible to Drivers
I hadn’t planned to be a number. But on Oct. 7, I became one of 287 pedestrians in the city of Cincinnati involved in a crash during 2019.
Downtown that morning, I approached Fifth and Broadway streets. The “walk” signal flashed. I headed east across Broadway at the crosswalk. In full stride, I saw a glint of silver. The next few seconds blurred – the car bumper ramming my knee, my body lurching across the grill, falling to the ground and rolling out of the way.
A long, guttural scream came from my throat then I shouted, “I had the signal!”
I was no stranger to prolific and defensive walking. At the age of 8, I crossed a four-lane highway to reach the municipal pool. For the past six years, I had lived in Over-the-Rhine, and walked most of the urban core and all of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods. People asked, “Did you feel safe?” At the time, they weren’t referencing pedestrian safety, but personal harm in the way of violence or guns.
Now, after the first seconds of impact and my ear-piercing wails, I was cold, wet and bleeding. I heard a female voice, trembling, from behind my back say, “I didn’t see her.” I had never felt so vulnerable, invisible in all my life.
Over the past years, I had witnessed driving habits worsen in the city. Every step I took on the sidewalk or street was calculated. I once told my husband, “If something happens to me, know that I was intentional and it will be the other person’s fault.” Now, I begged for my phone to call my husband, reluctantly tell him, “I was hit by a car.”
Our city is slowly acknowledging this disregard for pedestrians, fast becoming a national crisis. As part of the Paints the Street program, South Cumminsville is painting a mural, a pilot project funded by private donations, in an intersection to slow drivers. Advocate Derek Bauman uses social media to push for #VisionZeroCincy (www.cincinnati-oh.gov/visionzero), a national movement that our city now supports, to “eliminate all fatal and severe pedestrian crashes,” according to the city’s transportation department.
Hours later, I was released from the ER with swollen toes, a knee inflated like a pumpkin and fractures within. I incurred nerve damage to my cheek and teeth. One half of my face was covered in abrasions, five fingers bandaged and my ACL torn.
An even greater challenge arose later. Commenters on social media advised me to “walk defensively,” make eye contact or look over my shoulders. And I wondered if they would have counseled the vast number of employees on the streets that morning to do the same or wear a reflective vest, too?
I hadn’t planned to be one in a long line of injured pedestrians, though thankfully my life was spared. Others, including schoolchildren, were not as fortunate. Despite crutches, I am slowly staking my claim on the streets again. I will not accept blame aimed at pedestrians by well-intentioned people who tell me, “Look over your shoulder.”
It’s far past time to demand better policing of traffic violations, support the #VisionZeroCincy movement or follow @CincyPedsNBikes on Twitter.
And we should all advocate for a different number – section 506-51: “It shall be the duty of the operator of any vehicle to grant the right to proceed to a pedestrian lawfully crossing the roadway within any crosswalk when the pedestrian is upon the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, or the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger.”