The other day, I was crossing the street in the middle of the block, listening to a small voice of conscience chiding me for the ‘dangerous’ act. Then I realized that I had actually chosen to walk partway up the block, rather than using the crosswalk, and that my primary reason for doing so was my own safety.
Intersections try to combine two purposes that mesh poorly: allowing pedestrians to cross roads and allowing drivers and cyclists to make turns. It is obvious that these two goals conflict. People crossing the street don’t want vehicles passing through their area of travel – especially vehicles that move in unexpected directions and at unpredictable speeds. Cars making left-hand and right-hand turns tend to do both.
Perhaps it makes sense to divide these two purposes, then. Put stoplights in the middle of blocks and let pedestrians cross there, leaving intersections exclusively for turning. It might slow down the flow of traffic a bit, but I am actually in favour of moves to make driving less convenient in cities. It would make life safer for pedestrians, by making the crosswalk unambiguously their space when the light is in their favour, and the slowdowns caused by the potential lights would be partially made up for by freeing drivers from having to worry about pedestrians when making turns.
Sure, it would be better to reserve city centres entirely for people on foot, bicycles, and public transit vehicles. This plan is less radical, won’t generate the same outrage from big box stores, and may well save some lives.