“Motorists are required to exercise due care to avoid a collision with a pedestrian; pedestrians must not place a motorist in the position that it is impossible to avoid a collision.”
– Nevada Driver Handbook, October 2011 edition
On its face, it seems simple. Drivers, please don’t hit pedestrians. And pedestrians, please don’t jump in front of moving cars. If we could reduce every struggle to these basic terms, wars might be averted and that Hunger Games movie would have been, like, six minutes long and ended with an ice cream social.
But there’s a gap between what we understand and what we know, and for the duration of this insanely hot summer, I will be walking in that gap and hoping you don’t hit me with your car.
I recently returned to Las Vegas after a decade in Seattle. I left Vegas in 2002 with a car, but I sold it in 2004 when it became too expensive to maintain, and I haven’t owned a car since, because I didn’t need one. Seattle is a city of walkable neighborhoods, connected by an ever-expanding web of public transportation. When I needed to get somewhere in Seattle I took a bus, hopped the light-rail or walked. All told, I probably spent less than $50 a month getting around town, and you should just see my ass from all that walking. It’s high and tight and dy-no-mite.
Las Vegas presents, er, challenges to my car-free lifestyle. We have two walkable neighborhoods: the Strip and downtown. The bus network is much improved, but it still has sizable holes in its coverage area. And I probably don’t have to tell you that the days get hot enough for you to steam an artichoke in your underwear. I do plan to get a car, but I’m going to wait until September, because I want to save up for a really nice one—that Fiat 500 is just plain cuddly—and because I want to know if the freshly urbanized downtown Las Vegas is truly ready for pedestrian living.
You’re more than welcome to join me in this crucible. Car-free living, in a city that’s built for it, is fucking great. In its way, it’s as freeing as living with a car. I don’t have to worry about parking, maintenance, the price of gas—truth be told, I don’t even know what a gallon of unleaded costs at this precise moment. And I can ignore those Geico Lizard commercials like whoa.
But Las Vegas is built for cars. To most drivers, pedestrians are little more than speed bumps with ambition. So when I take to the streets, I take care to follow these rules, some of which are drawn from the Nevada Driver Handbook—great reading even for non-drivers, available online at DMVNV.com—and some of which come from my personal experiences in a decade on foot.
Walk across the street with purpose. Remember that the middle of the street is a place where it’s best to spend as little time as possible. Drivers have to yield to pedestrians who are still in a crosswalk after a light turns green, but you can’t expect them to be happy about that.
Make eye contact with drivers before you step in front of them. Don’t assume they see you; I can pretty much promise you that they don’t. Two Seattle drivers struck me before I learned this lesson. (I looked good getting hit, though. Have to admit it. Rolled onto the hood like Shatner.)
If you’re walking a road with no sidewalk, walk on the side that faces traffic. I don’t know why the manual says to do this; I guess it’s so you can get a good, lingering look at the drunken shitheel who’s about to kill you.
Use the crosswalk. I admit I’ve broken this one a number of times. Vegas’ blocks aren’t normal city blocks; they’re the megablocks of a sci-fi dystopia. Someday we’ll land spaceships on these things and we’ll be glad that our traffic lights are a quarter-mile apart, but until then, we have to walk out of our way to cross the street safely … or wait until there’s absolutely no cars coming, and jaywalk like we mean it.
Put the phone away when you cross the street. No texting, no talking, no reading. This is a basic survival thing; drivers want to kill inattentive pedestrians, and they’re only half wrong in that. Drivers are cited for pedestrian collisions no matter who was at fault, but that’s small consolation to a dead pedestrian with an unfinished sext.
Look, I know this is insane. Las Vegas is a car town, full stop. Vegas Seven’s “Ask a Native” columnist, James Reza, who steadfastly believes that pedestrians were put on this planet only to vex him, has resolved to run me down on sight. And I’ll probably get heatstroke between here and the Artifice, with no one to mourn me but this town’s bicyclists, who will probably perceive me as a misguided kindred spirit.
But I’ve got to try this. We’ve been talking a big game for a while—prostrating ourselves before The Smith Center, yearning for a touch of Tony Hsieh’s garment. We want to have walkable neighborhoods; we want to leave our cars at home when we go barhopping; we want that stupid and useless monorail to mean something. But until we make a habit of putting on our big-city shoes and walking confidently past the carport without that wistful, over-the-shoulder glance, none of those things will happen. Pedestrian culture begins with pedestrians, striding confidently into the breach. Paths have to be beaten.