Rick Wamre: Braking for pedestrians — how to make Dallas walker friendly

New blood needed to ensure crossing the street isn’t a blood sport

We were standing at a crosswalk, not one with a light but one with a “yield to pedestrians” sign, waiting to cross the street.

A car on the opposite side stopped immediately, the driver making eye contact with us so we knew it was safe. But the car in the lane nearest us kept coming and coming, finally blowing through the crosswalk with barely a glance in our direction.

I can’t say I was particularly shocked; this type of thing happens regularly in Dallas. Speaking as a driver, I understand why, too: Historically, there have been so few pedestrians in Dallas, it’s a shock when one pops up.

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In Boston, though, it’s a different story. As one driver blew through the crosswalk, the driver on the other side sent a harsh look in the direction of the offender and an apologetic look toward us.

And therein lies the difference between Boston, one of the country’s great walking cities, and Dallas, which from time to time claims to be so. Boston’s traffic culture is hardwired to protect walkers, even encourage them, while Dallas’ traffic culture is more along the lines of the cult movie “Death Race 2000.”

In Boston, crosswalks are everywhere, they’re all well-marked, and they practically beg people to cross the street. In Dallas, we have more of an “I dare you” attitude toward pedestrians — good luck finding a convenient, well-marked crosswalk, and Godspeed getting across.

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Also, the timing on Boston’s crosswalk signs can be almost hilariously long — more than a couple of times, a walk signal seemingly lasted 30 seconds on a secondary road, with major intersection times even longer. Here in Dallas, I’ve stepped into an intersection the instant the walking dude flashed on, only to see the “Don’t Walk” indicator flashing literally one second later. Not exactly that Texas hospitality we brag about.

Somewhere along the line, Boston made a conscious decision to encourage pedestrians. We’re only now getting to that point here.

The quickest way to build upon some of Dallas’ nascent steps is to ensure the next city manager we hire is someone who currently works far, far away from the City of Dallas.

We need a fresh look at pedestrians, bikers and potholes here, and if history is our guide, it’s not going to come from anyone currently drawing city paychecks.

We need to find the second- or third-in-charge in Boston, in New York, in San Francisco, in Chicago — somewhere oriented toward pedestrians and residents. We need to pay that person the “world class” money we needlessly found for the current city manager.

Those of us who live here need to be the priority going forward, not flashy bypass roads and bogus river park plans. The only way that’s going to happen is if we find someone who isn’t already here, supply them with a butcher knife, and tell them to have at it.

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