Stop, Look, Listen, Think! - Please be careful when crossing the street in Paris.

5:27:52 pm on April 14, 2012

While watching the news on Thursday evening, I was saddened to hear the report about an eleven year old boy who had been hit by a car while crossing avenue Gambetta in the 20th arrondissement. He was on his way to a fencing class with a friend and lost his life in the process.

For some inexplicable reason, I've gotten into the fast-paced Parisian habit of crossing the street as soon as the light turns red for the cars, even though it's still red for the pedestrians. Since I look like I know what I'm doing, people who have been patiently waiting for the light to turn green often follow my lead. Please don't!

Last Saturday evening, Stéphane and I were hurrying to meet the other Boston University Global Day of Service volunteers at Quai de Jemmapes. As the light had just turned red for the cars, we were preparing to cross the street like the man in the first photo. Fortunately, we weren't talking on our cell phones or otherwise distracted because we noticed that a car was approaching the intersection at a rapid pace. Realizing that it was going to hit the car in front of it that had already stopped for the red light, Stéphane and I pushed each other back onto the sidewalk away from the street. BAM!

5:28:21 pm
It happened in the blink of an eye. The dark blue car seen in the right of the photo hit the first car and the force of the collision hurtled it past the crosswalk. Had Stéphane and I stepped into the street without looking, we would have been just another story on the evening news.  Looking at the times entered on my camera for each of these events, I was stunned to see that only 1:09 minutes had elapsed since the first photo. The policeman was able to arrive on the scene so quickly because he had been across the street caring for a man who had been beaten senseless by ten other men. There's a good chance that the driver in the second car was distracted by the crowd gathered around the victim and wasn't watching the road.

5:29:13
Needless to say, the driver of the first car, wearing the brown leather jacket, wasn't pleased to have been hit from behind while sitting at a red light. Please remember to stop, look, listen and think before crossing the street in Paris. Your life may depend upon it!

According to official police statistics, 27 pedestrians were killed in Paris in 2011. 45% of them were crossing the street when the light wasn't green or were crossing in the middle of the road rather than at a crosswalk.

Comments

  1. Scary close call and a good reminder. I think my problem isn't so much crossings with lights but zebra crossings (can't remember what you call those Stateside) with no lights. Living in Nice taught me that aggressively stepping out into traffic is the only way to get cars to stop for you and it's a habit I've kept up, striding into traffic while often even the French are hesitating on the sidewalk.

    One other thing I had to get used to moving here (other than looking the right way when crossing the road of course) was that at home there are no painted lines on the road at intersections controlled by lights, so I would keep just assuming it was an uncontrolled crossing and stepping into the road without even looking for the green man!

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    1. Regarding zebra crossings, I've always used the very boring "cross walks". I'm not 100% sure, but I think that's how many (most?) Americans refer to them.

      I know what you mean about having to be aggressive to get cars to stop in France. Unlike other places, pedestrians don't have the right of way here...well, we're supposed to but we rarely do!

      I haven't been to NZ yet but had quite a few years of driving on the left when we lived in Indonesia and Trinidad. SInce we never (or rarely) walked anywhere in those countries, I didn't get used to looking left and still have a problem when I'm in England.

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  2. VERY good and timely reminder!

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    1. Unfortunately, it took the boy's death for me to stop and think about road safety. It's something that's easy to forget as we rush about the city.

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  3. Thank you for the reminder MK! I've had a lot of close calls while running because of what Gwan said, the zebra crossings (cute name!) and also because I find there is no "yellow" light period here. I find myself waiting at a red light for 15 seconds sometimes because I just havent figured out the timing yet. What I do know is that those vespa guys will not wait and i've almost been hit a few times!

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    1. Oh! I know - those vespa guys are reckless! The other thing that scares me is that a green light for pedestrians doesn't always mean that we're completely protected because quite often cars are turning left or right at the same time that we're supposed to cross the street. And taxis - I always pay extra attention to them because they push the boundaries of safe driving. Stay safe while you're out jogging!

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  4. And, when you are in Boston be very careful to watch for bikes. While a few obey traffic laws, many enjoy being outlaws and won't stop at lights, stop signs, crosswalks etc.

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    1. Thanks for the warning, Penny! My daughter just got a bike and is loose on the streets of Boston. After seeing a cyclist get hit by a car during one of my visits, it's one of the things that keeps me up at night!

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  5. oh our intrepid reporter with her camera at the ready, well done! You highlight a really good message with a tragic impetus. Is it true there is no yellow light in France? I didn't recall that being the case.

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    1. There are yellow lights for cars, which is when most people start to cross the street, but there aren't yellow lights for pedestrians. When I looked at the first photo again, I realized that the light was actually yellow for cars but red for pedestrians when the man had already crossed the road.

      Quite often my camera is hanging around my neck because I always miss interesting shots whenever it's in my purse. In this case, I had just taken it out because I wanted to get some photos of the Salvation Army truck. When I saw the crash, I thought I might as well snap a couple of pictures of it as well.

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  6. It's always so sad to hear of a child/young person's death. Poor parents and grandparents....

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    1. My sentiments exactly. Plus, the driver who hit the boy had already had his license suspended and seems to have had traces of cannabis in his system. According to eyewitnesses, the boys were crossing the street on a green light for pedestrians. One of them was able to move out of the way and one wasn't. Very tragic.

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  7. Oh so sad about the little boy. But a good reminder for me and what a narrow escape! My problem in Paris, like Gwan, is looking to the right instead of the left as we do here in the UK..and yes I often will follow the locals instead of waiting for the green light to show. but I find motor cycles are the worst, often come whizzing round a corner and don't stop.

    My (irish family)husband has a habit of shouting "green side up lads!" when we are crossing the road in Paris, in reference to a joke about Irish men and grass. Makes me laugh very time. Remind me to Tell to you when I see. you.

    Goodness Mary Kay! car crashes, narrow escapes and men beaten senseless! IS PARIS SAFE? (Joke!)

    Denise
    Love form Bolton

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    1. Denise, as a frequent visitor to Paris, surely you must know that it's one of the most dangerous cities in the world (joking!). But in all seriousness, last Saturday confirms that different people are going to have very different experiences in Paris depending on where and who they are. My experiences as a middle-aged white woman in the 16th are going to be vastly different from those of a man who's a minority in the 10th.

      Can't wait to hear your husband's joke - it won't be much longer until you're back in Paris! Woohoo!

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  8. Poor lad, that's so dreadful. French drivers aren't great at zebra crossings, it has to be said. Here in Boussac it's bad enough so goodness knows what it's like in a busy city.

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