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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Cross your fingers, then the street

Friday, June 3, 2011

Back in more innocent days -- when the only stoplights in Greencastle were two along the west side of the square and one at the Bloomington-Washington "T" -- I foolishly wondered aloud why there wasn't a traffic signal at Franklin and Jackson streets.

Granted, I might be a little partial to that placement since it is literally right outside and below my window, but I have watched legions of citizens (senior or otherwise) defy death, gravity and the laws of nature to cross from the north side of the square to the Banner Graphic office or the parking lot next to it.

"That's what the crosswalks are for," my question was so bluntly answered by a grumbling office old-timer.

Oh sure, maybe you can toddle over the crosswalk and see if you can dodge semis, log trucks and pickups as they come around the corners of the square. You might be standing in stripes, but a solid hit is likely if you aren't literally on your toes.

You put your left foot in. You put your left foot out. You put you left foot in. And you shake it all about.

That might be "The Hokey-Pokey" to some people, but it's about the only way to navigate the crosswalk on any side of the courthouse square in Greencastle.

It's like the song says: You do the hokey-pokey and you turn yourself around. That's what it's all about.

That and being able to dodge two-way traffic that may or may not stop for you.

The other afternoon on the way to a courthouse errand I decided to brave the crosswalk chaos. Traffic was moving in both directions as I stepped off the curb in front of Horizon Business Center. Nobody even slowed down.

One guy glanced in my direction, but I think it was to ogle the two young women strolling up Jackson Street behind me. A woman driver was busy on her cell phone looking all around, apparently in hopes of finding a parking space. A carload of teenagers blew right through the crosswalk oblivious to anything around them. Obviously school's out for summer.

Creeping forward, I glanced south at the stoplight; it was still green for Jackson Street traffic. I'd have had a better chance hopping a Conrail train at The Monon than I would have stepping into traffic and living to tell about it.

While it's a tough predicament for pedestrians to dip their toe in the crosswalk waters, it can be nearly as troubling if you are behind the wheel trying to navigate the square traffic.

Knowing what to do when you see those zebra stripes on the pavement is like trying to remember what to do while approaching a traffic signal flashing yellow. I am always afraid some poor pedestrian is going to step off the curb and either expect me to stop cold or do the hokey-pokey while I'm trying to push in the clutch, downshift and pray.

I'm always afraid that I might stop but the vehicle right behind me -- most likely a big Walmart rig or a Dixie Chopper semi coming through the downtown -- won't see me braking and will run right up my bumper.

According to Indiana traffic law, when you are behind the wheel, you have a duty to "drive with care around pedestrians within a crosswalk by slowing down or otherwise ensuring their safety when approaching."

You must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians crossing the street in a crosswalk at an intersection, or any marked crosswalk.

The proper technique is to stop your vehicle in front of the crosswalk "at/or before the limit line" and allow that person cross the street.

Yeah, I'll believe it when I see it!

Also worth noting: It is considered illegal to block a crosswalk with your vehicle. Rules of the road say you must keep it clear for pedestrians while you are otherwise stopped for a traffic tie-up or red light.

And in most states, drivers only have to wait until a pedestrian has finished crossing the half of the crosswalk on the side of the road the driver is driving on. After that, the driver may proceed.

All of which brings us back to the hokey-pokey crosswalk dance.

Legend has it that "The Hokey-Pokey," written in the 1940s, was inspired by an ice cream vendor's creative sales pitch. (Apparently in the pre-cone days, ice cream often came wrapped in disposal wax paper called -- for some reason left off the Rosetta Stone -- a hokey-pokey).

So just remember, when you approach a Greencastle crosswalk, you can be hokey all you want. Just don't be pokey ... unless, of course, you enjoy the sound of screeching brakes.

Let's be careful out there ...