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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Distracted Walkers

The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who said he received no respect, liked to talk about the time he was arrested for jaywalking.

A crowd gathered to watch the police officer take him out of the intersection for walking against the traffic light, Dangerfield explained. Making matters worse, one bystander shouted, “Don’t take him alive!”

The anecdote came to mind last week when USA Today published a front-page story about municipalities who want to reduce the number of accidents involving people who become distracted by their phones while walking.

Fort Lee, New Jersey has begun issuing $85 tickets to those observed walking carelessly, the article reported, and the Utah Transit Authority is levying $50 fines for distracted walking near trains. Delaware is approaching the problem by placing large stickers near crosswalks in Wilmington, Newark and Rehoboth Beach. The stickers say, “Look Up.”

New York’s distracted pedestrians generally fall into three categories: the Oblivious Walker, the Head Set Wearing Multiple Bag Carrier, and the Baby Carriage Pushing Yapper.

The Oblivious Walker’s natural habitat is Penn Station, where you can find them careening through crowded spaces with their head down, sometimes even reading a book. The bottom line: the Oblivious Walker has turned their self-awareness level down to zero. Once they’ve finished reading, the phone conversation they’re having, or the text message they are composing, is of greater importance than anything you might be doing. My current strategy, if I’m looking to conserve energy, is to seek out Oblivious Walkers, and get behind them. The path they clear is amazing.

The Head Set Wearing Multiple Bag Carrier’s silhouette should be incorporated into the LIRR’s logo. Substantial amounts of research show that human beings are not wired to perform multiple tasks simultaneously. Nevertheless, head-set wearers, after putting their multiple bags in the empty LIRR seat next to them, often proceed to make a call, or send a text message. I travel light on the LIRR and feel I owe it to myself and the general public to be aware of my surroundings. Head sets are great to use when you’re seated, not so much when the headset wearer is walking because it signals to others that the wearer is neither paying attention nor able to hear. The multiple bags just take up too much space. There are college students hiking through Europe with fewer belongings on their back than some LIRR commuters.

The number of Baby Carriage Pushing Yappers appears to be growing. There are many reasons it is a bad idea to talk on the phone, or send a text message, while pushing a baby carriage. I’ll focus on two of them.

The first is the child’s safety. They’re depending on the Yapper to protect them, and by using their phone while pushing the carriage, the Yapper has taken his or her eye off the ball, with potentially catastrophic implications when crossing a busy intersection. The second thing will take years to develop but nonetheless emerge over time. When the child is old enough to talk, they won’t want to interact with the Yapper because the person who pushed their carriage was always interested in chatting with someone else.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: