Heisenberg Crosswalks

crosswalkI’ve written about pedestrians before. I don’t mean to be pedantic but I’m driven to hammer my point home.

To me, there’s very little “uncertainty” about crosswalks.

You clearly don’t know who you’re driving over, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger, Skywalker. I am the danger. A guy puts the pedal to the metal and someone gets plowed and you think that of me? No. I am the one who stalks!

–Heisenberg Crosswalk, Braking Bad

In the local news of late there has been a lot of discussion about “dangerous crosswalks.” That got me thinking. What is it about the crosswalk itself that makes it dangerous?

The fact that it exists? That it leaps out and surprises pedestrians? That it has a concealed carry permit? That it lulls pedestrians to sleep with a false sense of security? “Come to me,” it whispers in the wind. “Tread upon me. I will protect you. I will keep you safe. You can trust me.”


What is a crosswalk? It’s a few dribbles of paint on a certain location of asphalt. It usually spans an entity known as a street a.k.a. a place where cars move about. That’s it. And you think it’s going to protect your sorry ass in a battle to the death with a car, the greatest technological achievement of all time in American history? I don’t think so.

Note: This is not an article about “fault” in terms legal or otherwise. That’s a human concept that may completely contradict the point I’m making. I’ll leave consideration of such things to philosophers and theoretical thinkers. May they also debate the word “should” and how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. No, this article deals with the harsh reality of life and death, science and physics. If pedestrians want to stay alive, I believe they should consider these words. If not, they can walk on.

I read a story in the news about a stray bullet that killed a person three miles away. Three miles! Compare and contrast that with a person who strode into a crosswalk and was hit and killed by a car.

What’s the difference?

I would argue that it is one of preventability. There was absolutely nothing the person hit by the bullet could have done to prevent the freak accident that took his life. The person in the crosswalk? They could have done something different. They had actual choice. They could still be alive if they had done something different.

I submit that there is no such thing as “dangerous crosswalk” due to the Heisenberg Crosswalk Principle, which states: “There is no fundamental limit to the precision at which it can be known if a person with position x in a crosswalk will be struck by a vehicle with momentum p.” There is no uncertainty about it.

crosswalk-graphThe physics seem simple. If a person steps in front of a moving vehicle there is a good chance the person may be hit. Even in a crosswalk. There is no crosswalk fairy that floats around temporarily suspending these basic immutable laws. The physics are what they are. That’s the way it is.

Right of way is a red herring to crosswalks. A pedestrian may feel that possession of right of way in and of itself is enough to justify entering a crosswalk. The physics say otherwise. One recent case involved a 16-year-old girl in a school crosswalk. The approaching car was blinded by the morning sun (and thus should have stopped but didn’t) and struck her so hard she flew through the air and hit her head on the asphalt, literally knocking her teeth out.

If there is no such thing as a dangerous crosswalk then the inverse must be true. There are dangerous pedestrians. These are people who step in front of an object with mass and momentum without first making sure it is safe.

It does not matter if the signal is theirs. It does not matter if the law is on their side. It does not matter if the driver is drunk, speeding, texting or running a red light. Concepts like right and wrong do not apply. It is only the physics that will determine the outcome.

If I was a pedestrian, and I was armed with data that suggested only four percent of vehicular traffic would acknowledge my existence (see inset graph), would what I do?

That should be a rhetorical question but I’ll be obtuse and answer it anyway. I’d damned well be sure that it was safe before crossing the street. I’m pretty sure this is what my mother taught me by the age of two and one case where it was justifiable to rip my arm out of its socket and send spittle flying while she yelled in my face. Somehow, on a primal level, that caught my attention. It said to me, “Hey. This shit my mom is saying seems important. Maybe I had better listen.”

I would never assume that a car could see me. I would never assume a car would stop. They probably do and they probably will, but the consequences of a bad decision are simply too high.

Society will continue with half measures to try to make crosswalks safer. Signs will be put up. Flashing lights will be used. Ultimately, however, technology and social engineering is not up to the task. Not with my life it ain’t. Thus, the ability to survive rests in the feet of pedestrians themselves. It’s physics.

Walk. Don’t walk. It’s not up to some sign or anything else in the universe. It’s up to you.

7 responses

  1. This post was like seeing a car crash. I just had to pull over and read. 🙂


    1. Weird, because I was trying to be pedestrian. I like to stay in step and blend in.


  2. Snoring Dog Studio | Reply

    Yep. I’m the pedestrian in town and I always pay attention to vehicles and assume they won’t see me. I’m amazed at how many drivers assume they’re the only ones out there as they zip around town, barely stopping at stop signs.


    1. That is wise. When it comes to being a pedestrian my philosophy is “trust but verify.” And I skip the trust part. This week I had the right of way but didn’t go until the driver acknowledged my existence and gave me a friendly wave.

      Last night the signal turned to walk and car with its blinker on making a right turn lurched towards the crosswalk. At the last minute the car noticed the situation and stopped. Only then did I step off the curb.

      Being a pedestrian is like the modern version of jousting.


      1. Snoring Dog Studio

        No kidding, shoutabyss. No trust. None. Especially now with smartphones as a mandatory vehicle accessory.


  3. My part of the world frequently has bouquets at intersections where a pedestrian was plowed over in a crosswalk.
    You know, if you’re looking for free flowers…


    1. That’s the universe’s way of reminding you to pay attention.


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