In case you doubted my sincerity when I said the pedestrian situation here in Biloxi was horrendous, I snapped a picture. This is the only cross walk on Pass Road between Keesler Air Force Base and Popps Ferry Road, a distance of three miles.
Now for those of you in the Midwest, you may not understand how dire this is. This isn’t like the Great Plains. We don’t have alternate routes of travel. There are two east-west roads on this part of the sand bar they named Biloxi. For about 5 to 8 miles, there are only two ways to travel east an west. Take Highway 90 (otherwise known as Beach Boulevard) or take Pass Road. As you can imagine, Pass road is fairly busy. There are no shoulders, there are not consistent sidewalks on both sides of the road, and there are few crosswalks.
Say you went shopping at Wal-Mart and you wanted to walk to the library before catching the bus back to base. You head east on Pass, walking on the sidewalk, enjoying the green canopy above you. The fence surrounding the abandoned golf course is overgrown and sagging but you don’t mind as it helps break up the scorching sun. You watch where you put your feet as the sidewalk has begun to heave and not much has been done about it that you can tell. You continue to walk, wishing they’d put the sidewalk a few feet from the street. The noise is distracting and the push and pull of wind preceding and following the passing cars is disconcerting to say the least.
Ahead of you, you see a bus stop. As you approach the bench, you realize with a start that the sidewalk on your side of the road ends. You do not spot a crosswalk button in the immediate vicinity of the bench. You glance across the street but see no crosswalk light. You glance down the road, thinking perhaps you can just walk in the road a bit. Seeing the lack of shoulder and the indifference the drivers show for you as you lean into traffic makes you think twice about that course of action. As you pull your head back out of the line of fire, you notice, about 10 feet away, a yellow crosswalk button.
“Good” you start to think and then you realize, “Wait…that’s…how…what…?” The sidewalk ends in front of the bench. Another six feet down the road is a utility pole, to which is attached the familiar button. You look to your left and wait for a gap in traffic. You dash to the button, press it a couple of times – to be on the safe side – and sprint back to the relative safety of the sidewalk.
After what seems an unreasonably long wait, the light finally changes, traffic stops and you are able to safely cross. You continue on your way and shortly reach the library…well, you are in line with the library but the library is on the other side of the street. The side you just crossed over from. And now, there is no light. No crosswalk. Nothing. You look both ways, trying to gauge your speed against the oncoming traffic. As you assess the risks involved in finding a couple of books to read during your lunch break, you realize, maybe it would be better to just walk back to base and skip this whole “library” thing.
You begin the trudge back to base, walking through parking lots and driveways as the sidewalks fades in and out of existence. You walk through someones front yard when the sidewalk mysteriously ends in a fallen tree branch. You weave between utility poles placed in the middle of the walkway and the privacy fence of military housing. You begin to relax and enjoy the walk.
Then you get to McDonnell street. Here the sidewalk doesn’t just fade out; it does a disappearing act without any real skill. That is, it can’t bring itself back. Thinking you will just cross the street at the light, you look for the cross walk button but, wait, it doesn’t exist. You look left and right, stepping off the curb to see around the trees and utility poles placed just behind the curb. Traffic doesn’t appear to be slowing or thinning.
You sigh and hitch your backpack higher on to your shoulder. Feeling guilty, you tramp across front yard after front yard, following in many other pedestrians’ footsteps down the dirt trail carved into the soil. You finally reach the gate and are able to cross quickly. You show your ID to the guard and thankfully step into a world where there are sidewalks, crosswalk, speed limit enforcement, and drivers who respect a pedestrian.
As much as you dislike the military sometimes, it’s good to be home.
And that’s life here in “anti-pedestrian-ville.”