Greetings from the Met-Low. This column may sound like an extension of the Annual Festivus Airing of Grievances, because it is.
Darkness is really getting on my nerves. Literally. The professionals call it “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or SAD. I am not sad. I am irritated. Nothing is more irritating than being in a state of slightly irritated and someone saying, “oh, what’s wrong, are you sad?”
What is with all these people walking along the shoulder of the highway after dark? As a solid Gen Xer who walked everywhere at all hours in my delicate youth, it was drilled into us to walk facing traffic, wear light-colored clothing at night, and look both ways before crossing the street. This mantra apparently has fallen out of use, particularly the light-colored clothing.
On a serious note, I am seeing more and more pedestrians at night on Methow Valley’s main arterial highways: Highway 20 and Highway 153. This is not just in the Methow Valley, I see a greater number of pedestrians on the highway throughout Okanogan and Douglas Counties.
A series of New York Times articles this month raises the alarm of an increase pedestrians struck by vehicles after dark. Around 1980 in the United States, pedestrian fatalities from vehicle impacts began a rapid decline, reaching the lowest count in 2010. Since then, pedestrian deaths steeply increased, with no clear reason. The only common factor in these deaths is that they happen at night. The rise in pedestrian deaths in the last decade occurred primarily in working people ages 18 to 64.
Contributing factors listed in the New York Times article referred to bigger cars, an aging population with poor night vision, and the advent of smartphones since 2009. The evening hours are when people often text dinner orders, arrange social activities, and send after hours work messages.
And that brings me to another Festivus Grievance: texting work-related messages after 6 p.m. Send an email like a civilized human being, preferably after dinner while drinking wine and listening to a string quartet. You could, quite literally, save a person’s life.
If you have a loved one who must walk along a busy road after dark, there are several affordable options to make a night walk more visible. Ace Hardware sells reflective strips for $5, Amazon has even better sew-on reflective strips for clothing, under $10. A reflective chest halter with an LED light in the center of the chest and a red light centered at the back sell for under $30. Other options to be more visible are illuminated vests, armbands, and dog collars.
Transportation researchers and planners agree it is more effective to design roads for safety for both pedestrians and vehicles than to put the onus on pedestrians who have no other route options. There are no pedestrian/cyclist lanes along the highway, and there is no public transportation running southbound from Twisp after 4 p.m.
For my New Year’s wish list, I am hoping a fresh set of eyes would consider a Methow Valley Parks District that included ski trails, the pool, and considerations for pedestrian and cyclist lanes. Other scenic areas of Washington state have a visual separation between bike lanes and vehicle lanes. A dedicated cyclist and pedestrian lane along the Methow Valley scenic corridor would create a safer experience for everyone, and potentially save a life.