- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

As difficult as it is, Metro and city officials are attempting to eliminate stupidity from the human condition, whether it be found in bus drivers or pedestrians.

The call to improve safety has been prompted by a recent series of fatalities involving Metro buses and pedestrians. Four pedestrians have died after being hit by Metro buses this year, seven in the past nine months.

The death toll has aroused the do-good sensibilities of Metro and D.C. Council members. The number, they say, is unacceptable.

To be fair, it is no small miracle the number is not considerably higher, given the high density of the city and the high number of lapses in judgment by pedestrians.

The overly aggressive bus driver is the exception. The nonthinking pedestrian who crosses a busy thoroughfare without the benefit of a crosswalk or a crosswalk signal is a routine occurrence.

Jaywalking, it seems, is one of the principal pastimes of the city. The only person more vulnerable than a jaywalker is a jaywalker with an IPod in one ear and a cell phone in the other. The latter might as well be wearing a sign that reads: “Run over me.” The fact that more pedestrians are not struck by bus drivers and motorists is a testament to the latter.

The proclivity of pedestrians to view a thoroughfare as their private artery was exacerbated in the past week by icy sidewalks in front of all too many residences, the residents undoubtedly too afraid to leave their homes because of the fear of falling ice. This resulted in pedestrians taking to the cleared-off streets.

Fortunately, a warming trend is bringing relief to the city’s residential sidewalks, although the threat of falling ice from rooftops has not passed. Perhaps D.C. Council members should consider passing legislation that requires residents to wear cycling helmets during the icy periods of winter.

The cycling-helmet measure should apply to the technologically addicted at all times of the year. The inability of the technologically addicted to go anywhere without a contraption glued to their ear is an imposition to the self-preservation instinct, whether the danger in the environment is a bus driver gone wild or a mugger seeking an easy mark.

John B. Catoe Jr., Metro’s new general manager, notes the safety of a transportation system that travels more than 1 million miles a week, usually without incident. Yet it is a record that hardly assuages the grief of those who must bury a loved one.

It is not unlike airline industry executives pointing out after a crash that flying is the safest mode of transportation.

Human error, of course, is an impossible element to eradicate from life, although city officials feel obligated to give it the good old political try. They could start by urging pedestrians to exercise a modicum of common sense. The pedestrian who plays chicken with oncoming vehicles — seemingly testing the wills of motorists — is a peculiar species endemic to city life.

So is the driver who, after parking the automobile, opens the passenger door in front of an oncoming vehicle. The distance between the passenger door and moving vehicle is sometimes inches.

Countless missteps are made across the city each day, none more absurd than the recent sight of a man and woman, with two infants in tow, crossing the middle of busy Wisconsin Avenue at night to reach their parked car. They obviously were too busy, or lazy, to take the extra 100 steps that would have been necessary to use the crosswalk.

If they had been hit by a bus — and there they were in the middle of the avenue as traffic passed on both sides of them — there would have been all kinds of hand-wringing and investigations.

Alas, city officials cannot devise a transportation system or implement a law that saves people from their own stupidity.

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