Crossing the Street



Crossing the street is serious business. I have a rigor a discipline that keeps me safe and keeps me alive. Sighted people are so carefree so careless, jaywalking, cutting corners, crossing against the signal. I don’t have that luxury, my envelope of certainty isn’t that big. My rule of thumb is never trust a sighted person when crossing the street.

I need a multi-factor authentication approach to crossing the street, risking my neck to the disconnected, distracted, sighted drivers. In the information technology field when you are authenticating a user of your service, it’s always best to have at least two things needed to for the user to gain access. First something they know, ideally something they alone know, and second something they have, a physical token of some sort. When crossing the street, I don’t have the luxury of being able to see and predict traffic patterns, to jaywalk, or cut corners. Discipline and rigor dictate that I go to the corner and the crosswalk, stop, listen, wait for the singles necessary to determine that it’s safe to go. Traffic lights for me are if not meaningless, then absolutely unhelpful. Generally, I can’t see them, making them irrelevant markers for me other than formally denoting the location of the crosswalk.

The most critical thing for me is the traffic patterns. Only when the traffic patterns are right to I venture out into the asphalt tar pit facing the steel monsters that with luck will not one day end my life. I’m not allowed to talk about my demise, it upsets my wife, I’ll write about it though. My thought is that I will go to the next world in an unintended dramatic way. A distraction, a mistake, and a bus, will take me down, and as I am transported to the next world through the front window of the bus, a dramatic cloud of sparkling shards of broken glass sparkling in the sunlight. Taking with me the fare box bus, and transfers, knocking aside and flattening any unintended conspirators of my journey. I will end up a shredded heap of bloody flesh piled past the rear door. likely, I share my most desired departure fantasy with 99% of the male population. Making passionate love to someone at least half your age, but legal, and dying pleasurably in the process. Another scenario my wife doesn’t wish to discuss, I won’t write much about it though, not today anyway.

Crossing the street, at guide dog school they teach you to unabashedly goto the edge of the street and make your presence known to anyone using the intersection. Perching on the curb is not the safest place to be, and there are many times when a transit bus has nearly taken my head off with a side mirror. Announcing your presence to the intersection is totally necessary, it gives the drivers the chance to see you and from your actions determine what your intentions are. In some places since you have a white cane or a guide dog you, technically, own the intersection. All traffic must take their queue from you on what to do and when to go. Practically, owning the intersection is meaningless, especially when its you against a five-ton truck.

Once positioned on the edge of the curb at the intersection I listen to the traffic flows. If there is a lull, I know that I’ve likely missed the point in the cycle where it’s safe for me to cross. Even if I’m informed that the crosswalk indicator is “walk” when I’m without a trusted guide I will generally wait another full cycle of the traffic lights to ensure that I have the time I need to get through the intersection. There are a few and I mean a very few people that I implicitly trust to guide me through an intersection.

Traffic patterns are very important. When walking with traffic, in the same direction your traveling, you have to listen for cars that are turning right, right in front of your path. I always turn my head to the left to listen for oncoming traffic that may turn in right, right in front of me. I also listen for cars that are coming towards me turning left across my path. Only when the traffic I’m walking with is moving do I know for sure that it’s safe for me to cross the intersection. I still keep my ears open for people who are in a hurry that turn just in front of me or just behind me. When walking against traffic it’s much the same, only when the cars are coming towards you is it safe to cross. It always scares me people turning in the intersection while I’m crossing the street. I’ve had several occasions where I feel the wind from a car rushing to get through the intersection just in front of me or just behind me. There are the rare occasions where I hear a car struggling to stop, as I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s critical to be attentive follow your discipline and rigor and get to the sidewalk and safety.

Good intentioned sighted people often try to help me. Friends will till me don’t worry about it, “I’ll help you cross!”. They will involve me in their undisciplined routine of jaywalking or cutting corners. I get very uncomfortable and concerned for my safety. On more than one occasion a near miss to remind me that a sighted person’s envelope of safety is much different from my own. It’s not just about getting across the intersection, ideally in one piece. It’s the obstacles in the road, stepping down from a curb and stepping up on another curb, avoiding the cracks in the asphalt, an uneven manhole cover. With divided roads maneuvering around medians between separated lain’s of traffic, or cars that are protruding into the pedestrian cross walk. It’s not a trivial exercise.

There are generally three signals I have to use to make a decision to cross the street. The traffic flow which I will use as a definitive source of information. It’s the smart thing to do, respect the laws of the concrete jungle and give right of way to bigger mindless objects inhabited by distracted drivers and oblivious passengers. Other pedestrians who are an unreliable source of information at best. Sighted pedestrians go when it suites them not when the traffic has stopped or the walk light is on. There are places where the traffic lights are mere suggestions anyway. Sometimes I have the traffic light information available to me, but generally not. Most of the time when I cross the street I have other pedestrians to indicate that the traffic will move soon, only when, and I mean only when the traffic moves do I cross the streets. I don’t follow pedestrians across the street, ever. This is my multi factored authentication to cross the street safely. Sometimes there are no other pedestrians and if I can see the traffic light, I use the traffic signal and the traffic flow as my two factors of authentication for safety. If I can’t see the light and there is no traffic, thankfully a very rare occurrence? You gamble you role, your dice and you take your chances.

This is obviously a simplification. I do orientation and mobility excursions with my wife generally but a sighted guide to learn my route before I do it on my own. There are other complications, hybrid cars bicycles, motorbikes. There are places where it’s just unsafe to be and you plan to avoid them. I have a list of intersections I will not cross. Its safety first, don’t ever assume that a sighted person’s envelope of acceptable safety will be large enough to include you. Generally, a sighted person’s envelope of safety is too small for you. Take total responsibility for your own safety and cross only when you feel safe and at your own discretion. It will keep you alive.

About the Author:

Kyle has ocular albinism and has been legally blind since birth. Kyle leads a very active live and is besides his professional career involved in many projects for persons who are different.

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