We are a family of pedestrians. We gave back our hire car (the huge lovely gas-guzzling SUV beast) on Monday and now have no car planned in the future. Naturally now we have no car, this was the week that Tom took his Californian driving test (and passed of course). And I still have to phone the DVLA between 1 and 4 am my time, to get my driving record sent to me. Strangely each night I find myself putting this off until tomorrow.
So right now, no car. Tom is on the BART and Caltrain which takes longer but is less stressful and not at all crowded even though the New Year has started properly. He always gets a seat. The girls and I walk to school each day. As it almost never rains and isn't cold here, this is fine. In fact I think we enjoy it more than driving. Walking in San Francisco is pleasurable not just because of the weather but also because the pavements are wide and there is almost no one else around. The Americans do love their cars. I am surprised by how many houses in the city have garages. It is much more common than not. The ground floor of most houses is given over to a garage often big enough to park at least two large American cars. In some cases the garage is bigger than the house that goes with it. In the UK I suspect these would all be converted into bedrooms and living rooms but here having somewhere to put your enormous car is rated very highly. Parking on the street in SF is tricky mostly because whole streets are series of driveways into these ground floor garages so you're not allowed to park in case you block someone's way in. As a non-car-owning couple, Tom and I are very relieved that we don't have to think about this every evening and particularly on Tuesdays because street cleaning on Wednesday means you can get towed or ticketed.
So we walk. And here in the land of the free, the pedestrian has many laws/rules to follow just like the car. You are not supposed to cross just anywhere. You must go to the junction and then there are also rules. Those lights you see - walk/don't walk, or here a big red hand or a white man walking - are to be obeyed. I once saw a man told off by a policeman for attempting to cross an empty street when the red hand was showing. And he wasn't just told off, he had his papers checked. Apparently there are more complicated laws which probably most people don't know about. Even when the light goes green for you, you are supposed to wait for any vehicles already in the intersection to clear it before crossing. Here's another blog giving details of this and other possible pedestrian traffic violations.
I wondered, is it just that after several decades of walking in the UK, I am just unaware of the many laws governing being a pedestrian there? Well there are some laws. But they are of the "don't walk on a motorway", "don't cross railway lines when there's a red light" and "don't jump on a moving vehicle" variety. Everything else is advice and yes, you can cross anywhere and you are advised to use the pavement/sidewalk but you don't have to.
Does everybody break the rules here? Well mostly, no, I don't think they do. At least they don't jaywalk (cross at somewhere other than a designated crossing point). I think this is partly because nipping across the street for a short cut is generally pointless on a grid street system. You spend your life walking in straight lines here so you may as well cross at the end as anywhere else. Also cars stop for people and they don't beep at you. At many junctions as a pedestrian you have the right of way. I've seen plenty of people crossing without really looking, so sure are they of their right of way - I don't advise this myself and am keeping up with the Green Cross Code.
And of course the other reason that people don't break the rules is because they are only walking to their car, parked 20 yards away.
Meanwhile, one apparent side effect of all my walking since arriving in the US, is that I am losing weight. I recommend it. I shall call it the "For Heaven's Sake It's Only 10 Blocks And It's Not Raining Eat Anything You Like" diet.