Opinion Columns & Blogs

Foot traffic gets a brake in SLO, Paso

If you’re hustling around the downtowns of San Luis or Paso Robles in the few remaining days before Christmas, here’s a reassuring thought: You probably won’t get run over when you cross their respective streets. Let me explain.

San Luis Obispo resident Madeleine Johnson recently sent me a column from the Bakersfield Californian penned by the Californian’s editorial page editor, Robert Price.

A man who is obviously possessed with good sense and impeccable taste, he wrote: “I probably visit San Luis Obispo, that charming Central Coast city (impeccable sense) 120 miles west of Bakersfield, a couple of times a year. I like to shuffle along the tree-lined main drag, Higuera Street, and stop for lunch at Big Sky Cafe or SLO Brewery (good taste). Invariably I am taken aback by a strange and vaguely unsettling local custom (uh-oh).

“I’ll simply glance toward a crosswalk — not having even remotely committed myself to the act of stepping off the curb — and a moving row of cars will ease to a stop, their occupants looking at me expectantly. Some will even smile. What manner of madness is this … In SLO, drivers seem to admire pedestrians.”

Price goes on to cite a recent report called “Dangerous by Design” that was compiled by the nonprofit group Transportation for America. The report, he notes, found that the most dangerous place in California to be a pedestrian is his hometown, Bakersfield. And, yes, San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles were found to be the safest.

That’s where Madeleine came in; she wanted to know: “Did I miss this study’s results in The Tribune, or was it not reported in the local paper?”

Well, Madeleine, it’s been reported now. And, yes, that indeed was the finding in the report: San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles are the safest towns in which to stroll.

I’ve witnessed this courteous phenomenon for years. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen a jaywalker cross the street in mid-block, only to have a driver chirp his brakes in an abrupt stop. Now, rather than glaring at the jaywalker, or giving the guy a single-digit salute, the driver will actually SMILE and sometimes wave at the wayward walker.

I’ve got several theories about this:

(1) People take the motto “Enjoy the SLO Life” literally;

(2) Both Paso and San Luis have made a priority of pedestrian safety, with well-marked and blinkered crosswalks in mid-block;

(3) The downtowns of both cities are enticing, attractive places with canopied trees towering over the streets and a good mix of interesting shops and stores that invite slower driving;

(4) People who live here are just incredibly attentive drivers; and

(5) Those who live and drive on the Central Coast are simply imbued with the Christmas spirit year ’round.

Of all the options, I’ll take the fifth: We live in communities where “good will toward (wo)men” isn’t so much a fleeting seasonal thought as it is a way of life.

Bill Morem can be reached at bmorem@thetribunenews.com or at 781-7852.