Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Love Your Neighbor on the Road

This post deviates a little bit from my normal writing (though I haven't posted in so long, what is "normal"?), but I feel like I've just gotta say this.

As I was driving home this morning, driving gently to not cause some serious head bobbing by the sleeping baby in the backseat, I approached a roundabout intersection where I noticed a bicyclist waiting to cross. Because he was waiting at a crosswalk, and because it's actually both law and courtesy to stop for pedestrians, and because I sometimes cross the street at that very same place and know how frustrating it can be to have car after car zoom past, I stopped to let him cross.

The red minivan behind me didn't appreciate my slowing, and she whipped around me and zipped past the cyclist, who was just about to inch out from the front of my car to the next lane. I shook my head in frustration because this happens all the time. Seriously, friends: All. The. Time. She maybe saved herself 30 seconds, a half-minute that she could have ended up regretting for the rest of her life.

And you know what? We keep seeing these news reports of pedestrians getting hit by cars! In the last week, two teenagers have been hit by cars on the same street, and after I got home and logged on for a Facebook rant about this woman, I saw that a bicyclist had just been hit by a car several miles away.

I have a theory about why this keeps happening, and it has several layers. First, it starts with simple ignorance on the part of both pedestrians and drivers. Who has the right of way? (hint: the weaker one, i.e. the pedestrian, should ALWAYS have the drivers looking out for them; on top of that, you are legally required to stop at a crosswalk if there is somebody waiting at it.)

Then, there's the layer of distraction - as far as I could tell, this woman wasn't on her cell phone (or she might have rear-ended me), but that seems to be pretty common. I'm amazed at how many people I see driving around on their phones, even after my city made that illegal. They did it for a reason, folks, and it's not just to inconvenience you or to drive up city revenues.

Then, there's the layer of experience. We are such a car-dependent society, that I don't think people even think about the pedestrian experience. We don't understand how vulnerable somebody on a bicycle is because we've never ridden a bike down a city street. We don't think to look for pedestrians at cross-walks because we don't actually have a scope of experience that acknowledges that people these days walk, for fun or for exercise or to get somewhere, and sometimes in the course of walking, those people have to cross streets. As far as many people are concerned, crosswalks at uncontrolled intersections simply don't exist.

And, the final layer, which I think is the most problematic: the human heart. We're so caught up in ourselves, we're so busy getting somewhere, we're so busy thinking about what we're going to do when we get there or what we forgot to do where we're coming from, we simply don't have capacity in our hearts for others. There is no looking out for the interests of others, either in the home or on the road. There is no loving your neighbor as yourself because we don't know our neighbors and we don't care to know them.

Dan Doriani has written a great book on interpreting the Old Testament called Putting the Truth to Work. In one helpful section, he works out some of the implications, both positive and negative, of the Ten Commandments (these are also fleshed out, less "popularly" in the Westminster Catechisms - question 135 of the larger catechism, if you're interested). When the Lord tells us not to murder, he is also telling us to actively protect the lives and the well-being of those around us. Doriani's example is hand rails in staircases: a simple measure that helps to protect the life and the physical well-being of anyone who might use those stairs. It seems to me that stopping at a crosswalk has a similar implication.

If you are a not a Christian, it is still common courtesy to follow the Golden Rule, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you are a Christian, it is incumbent upon you to show your Savior's love to all those you encounter, and that love is shown in both the most profound and the most simple of ways, whether they ever know your identity or your faith. Yielding to pedestrians is one of the least of these.

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