An Open Letter to the Student Body at U of L
First off, I’m glad you’re here. You bring a lot of vibrant coolness to a neighborhood not far from mine. Your presence has also brought in some cool local shops, like Comfy Cow and Home Run Burger. You keep things moving, and sometimes you have cool events that I get to attend. I’m glad you’re there.
I think we need to talk about what happened this morning when I rolled through campus on my way to school (I go to Indiana University Southeast, just across the river, by the way).
So, to recap (though I’m sure those of you who were there haven’t forgotten), here’s what happened.
I was en route to IUS, rolling about 23 MPH on my bike approaching the spot where Third and Second Street branch off (in case you’re wondering, the speed limit there is 35 MPH, though I think it should be less).
At that particular juncture, you guys have not one, but two crosswalks, both amply provided with buttons so you can bring traffic to a halt at your whim (I’m all for that, btw). Those buttons make the lights change, so drivers and cyclists and other people barreling down the street have to stop.
Normally, sight lines in that area are pretty good — normally, someone approaching on the road can see what’s going on in the crosswalk from quite a ways off.
Right now, however, that’s not the case. Right now, there’s a big construction fence that frankly disrupts the sight lines like Godzilla disrupts business in Tokyo: which is to say, “Quite effectively.”
In short, right now, those of us on the road have little to go on as we approach your crosswalks.
What we do have is the traffic light.
This morning, as I barreled down the road at 23 MPH, doing my best to stay out of the way of the Cardinal Shuttle (another handy thing you guys have brought to the neighborhood), I saw that the light in question was green. I was relieved by this, as it meant I didn’t need to slow way down and break my momentum.
Imagine, then, my surprise when I shot around the corner only to discover a trickle, then a flood of y’all pouring out into the crosswalk, against the light (you guys have a button, you know that, right?), eyes down or on your phones or on the back of the neck of the cute guy in front of you or whatever.
I did not have time to stop, and I wasn’t about to throw my bike on the ground* and seriously injure myself (and my bike) and, more importantly, miss class as a result. So I did what I could: I braked hard and shouted, “Heads up guys! I can’t stop that fast!”
Fortunately, enough of you were heading to class sans earbuds that a good number of heads did perk up, and a bunch of you stopped. Thank you for that, by the way.
I slid through the opening in the stream in the first crosswalk (I’d like to thank whichever one of you said “Sorry!” as I sailed by), continued to slow as best I could, and slid through a very, very narrow gap in the second crosswalk (some girl, I am not kidding, screamed — seriously).
In the end, nobody got hurt, I made it to class, and I guess I could leave it at that, if I was some other person who knows how to leave well enough alone.
Instead, I’m writing you this letter.
So, here’s the deal. You’re college students; I’m a college student. I realize that the “college student” demographic isn’t exactly famous for making great decisions all the time. Needless to say, I make my mistakes. However, there are some kinds of mistakes I try really hard not to make.
That said, the college student demographic is famous for a couple of things: namely, for using its brains, and also for generally not being sheep.
So why do I bring up those points?
Well, first, it doesn’t take a lot of brain power to figure out that your school spent a lot of money installing those two crosswalks**, which are a little more than a year old, for a good reason. That reason isso this sort of thing doesn’t happen. U of L cares about you (and also would like to continue existing and not have its pants sued off by angry parents), so they gave you a couple of really nice cross-walks with super-fast response buttons.
You guys, those crosswalk buttons give you the power to stop traffic. That’s almost like being able to stop time, you guys!
Moreover, as a person on foot, you actually have the greatest agility in the human kingdom***. On foot, human beings can sidestep, back-step, stop on a dime, leap, do pirouettes — in short, there are a lot of ways you can dodge a projectile (in this case, me and my bike).
Sure, cars are faster, but they only really do backwards and forwards (seriously, when cars do “sideways,” it’s usually a Very Bad Thing).
Bikes, meanwhile, really do only forwards, unless they’re fixies powered by people who really know what they’re doing (and you won’t catch me riding a fixie on my particular commute). Bikes can’t sidestep at all. Some of us who are really good at bunny-hopping can bunny-hop sideways a little bit, but that’s it. Everything else we can do is a diagonal variation on the “straight ahead” concept****.
Even rollerbladers aren’t as agile as walkers and joggers. Pretty cool, huh?
Neither cars nor bikes stop very fast, either.
So, in short, there are times that you can, with impunity, totally give the finger to people zooming through the crosswalk on their bikes or in their cars: in this case, when you guys have the walk light, which you can get within seconds by pushing a button, and said people on bikes and in cars are running the light.
When you don’t have the light, though, I’d like you to do one thing: stop, look (both ways! Even one a one-way! This is the 502, people be drivin’ like they on crack), and listen.
I know, I know. I can hear you now, “What is this, grade school?”
Well, think about it. Did you get to University by forgetting everything you learned in grade school? No. You use most of those skills — reading, writing, passing notes, arithmetic, uncanny imitation of your instructors’ and fellow students’ personal idiosyncrasies — every day (okay, maybe not on weekends and holidays).
So, yes, you probably heard a lot of “stop, look, and listen” in grade school — and, yes, it’s probably something you should still do now.
I’m not going to tell you not to jaywalk.
If I did, I’d be a giant hypocrite. I jaywalk all the time and so does pretty much everyone else. Last I checked, Kentucky’s laws are written in such a way that if you’re not crossing inside a marked crosswalk (and, if there are traffic signals, with the correct directional signals), you’re jaywalking, and that pretty much means that if you ever want to get across the street in enormous stretches of Kentucky (indeed, in my very own neighborhood!), you’re jaywalking.
The key is to make sure you have enough time to jaywalk without getting ended, and the way to accomplish that end is by pausing to look both ways (and then continuing to pause if there’s a semi or a Prius or even a bicycle in close range). Listening helps, too, because sometimes there’s a blind curve (see above) and you can’t really see what’s coming ’til it’s, like, right there.
So don’t stop jaywalking, just use your initiative and scope out the terrain before you do.
…Which brings me to point the second: the sheep part.
We college students are supposed to be free-thinking mavericks, right? That’s part of what makes us awesome. We dance to different drums (even without earbuds), think for ourselves, go our own ways — all that good stuff.
So why, then, would you blindly follow the stumbly dude up front who either hasn’t had his coffee or has recently become a zombie when he meanders into the road without looking?*****
…Because that’s what I saw today. I saw a bunch of college students — presumably the free-thinking mavericks of the Western World — blindly following someone else — in most cases, someone who was himself or herself blinding following yet another person.
I mean, literally. I saw (in the couple of seconds that I had to contemplate the situation) like thirty-six pairs of eyes trained everywhere but towards oncoming traffic. None of you even paused at the curb to glance up and check.
You just followed the herd — until I shouted.
That’s what sheep do, and I think we can all agree that sheep might be awesome at producing wool (and milk, and tasty lambs), but they are not good at being radical free-thinkers.
Come on, guys. You’re better than that! You’re smarter than that! You’re supposed to be cooler than that!
In short, you’re supposed to be all about not being sheep.
So, you know, don’t just follow the herd. In this case, literally.
For what it’s worth, it’s probably a good idea to take a quick glance at the road even if you have already pressed the Magic Button and made the traffic light turn red. Sometimes mechanical problems happen and cars’ brakes fail. Sometimes (in fact, frequently, from what I can tell) people are asshats, speed up at the yellow, and blow through the red (as Everybody’s 11th-Grade English Teacher Ever said: YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE -.-).
Sometimes, people even mean well and just screw up (I should know; I do it all the time).
In the future, when the Big Freaking Fence comes down, it will be possible for people like me to see you guys sooner and slow the heck down if there’s a quorum in the crosswalk. That will help prevent situations like this.
It’s my job to watch for you just like it’s your job to watch for me. Just as importantly, I like being alive and uninjured (it’s funny how not having a 2-ton roll cage wrapped around your body makes you think of stuff like that), so I’ll do my best not to slam into any of you, ever, under any circumstances.
However, it will be a whole lot easier not to reduce the lot of you to mince pie if you’ll also use the gifts that evolution gave you (namely, your eyes and the muscles that let you stop and sidestep and backup and do handsprings and also those ones that let you press that Magic Button) instead of behaving like sheep.
So, anyway, this is officially TL, and I’m sure half the internet DR, but that’s what’s what. Maybe I’ll write a shorter version and submit it to your student paper, assuming I don’t get obliterated before I have a chance.
Your Humble Blogger and Fellow Student,
*Just to be clear, I will take a dive for two groups of people: small children, who probably don’t know any better, and people who are clearly incapacitated — suffering from dementia, on drugs, drunk out dey gourds, etc. I should hope that you’re not already incapacitated on the way to your 9:15 or 9:30 class, but if you are, um … help is just a text message away?
**Believe me, I would love, love, love it if IUS would spend some money on some fancy crosswalk facilities so we could walk over to get lunch at Taco Bell without getting creamed by semis.
***Actually, the folks with the gazelle prostheses might actually have the greatest agility, because they can do all the stuff the rest of us can do, only higher and faster. Smug-faced bionic jerks.
****There’s also the 90-degree emergency turn, but that’s a dicey proposition. I have used it with success in the past, but only under extreme duress.
*****Seriously, Duder here is not a good role-model, and definitely should not be elected Student Jaywalking Leader.