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A bitch crosses the street 

Impatience makes being a driver unpleasant and being a pedestrian terrifying

On Sundays, for the modest fee of $10, this really cute pet boutique-slash-dog groomery in the Highlands lets people like me — poor people, with small bathrooms — use their nice, big tub to give their dogs baths. It's great because I live in the neighborhood, so I can walk there rather than being forced to let my dog pollute my car with her stink, which tends to have unpleasant notes of human foot odor and spoiled produce. I still like her, though.

On a recent walk to have a bath, Pearl and I approached the crosswalk at N. Highland Avenue and Briarcliff Place. The driver of a vehicle heading north on Highland stopped when he saw us waiting on the curb, and as we reached the center lines, a woman in a convertible driving southbound stopped to let us finish crossing. But as she sped off following the incredibly brief interruption in her journey, convertible lady shouted, with definite sarcasm, "That's attractive!"

I'll never know for sure, but I assume the attractive-but-actually-unattractive thing she was commenting on was the bag of dog crap I was carrying. All apologies for cleaning up after my pet. But I'm also pretty sure I picked up on the subtext of her outburst: that woman was so damn put out that she had to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk that she was compelled to yell at me.

There are lots of traffic laws that we decide we're going to ignore. We speed up rather than slow down at yellow lights. We drive when we've had more than one glass of wine with dinner. And we stop for pedestrians in crosswalks only when it's convenient or absolutely necessary. There's no way we can feign ignorance of the law, either — nearly every crosswalk is accompanied by a sign reminding drivers that state law mandates they stop for pedestrians.

Georgia lawmakers toughened the statute in 1995 by requiring drivers to "stop and remain stopped" for pedestrians, rather than just yielding to them. But, really, how often are drivers disciplined for flouting it? In 2009, Georgia had the sixth-highest rate of pedestrian fatalities in the nation. The Atlanta Police Department doesn't keep track of the number and type of citations it issues, but I'd guess there's little threat of being ticketed unless you actually slam into or run over a person. Pedestrians, of course, have to take some responsibility for their own safety. There are some parts of town where crosswalks exist, but it seems totally unreasonable to expect drivers to stop or even see you. It would be really, really dumb to walk out into a crosswalk on busy, speedy, wide Memorial Drive just because the law says you can.

I drive in Atlanta a lot more than I walk, and I've definitely been guilty of selectively (or at least reluctantly) observing the crosswalk law. I know the root of my reluctance: Even if I don't shout at people who only want to bathe their dogs on a Sunday afternoon, I'm an impatient asshole, just like convertible lady. We pretty much all are, and it's what makes being an Atlanta driver unpleasant and being an Atlanta pedestrian terrifying.

So I'm going to try harder. I'm going to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, even if it will make me fifteen seconds later to my destination or even if I see it's that convertible lady. But I still totally think she's an asshole.

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08/28/2014

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