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WALKING TO IMPROVE HEALTH HAS ME RUNNING FOR MY LIFE

Since our ancestors walked from place to place, crossing mountains, fording streams and leaving one continent for another, I decided to walk while doing errands. Walking takes me places, allows me to see the sights and gives me needed exercise. It also helps the environment. I conserve gasoline and reduce pollution.

While others complain about traffic in huge cities like Tokyo and New York, I found drivers there respectful and mindful of pedestrians. Ottawa drivers stopped for me even when I didn't get completely across the wide street before the signal changed.

As I walked in Paris, I witnessed drivers unwilling to give one another a break, but who always deferred to pedestrians. While strolling in Kansas City, my companion and I waited to cross a street. A driver stopped and blocked both lanes, allowing us to reach the other side safely.

A 1998 Reader's Digest article cited Washington, D.C., and Boston among five metropolitan areas having the worst drivers. I have walked in both cities without incident. The author of that article should come to Western New York.

Since moving a year ago, I have walked Kenmore's streets, reminiscing about teaching here nearly 40 years ago. Local traffic frightens me. I am not a careless walker: I stop at corners and look both ways. When I cross Delaware Avenue, I do so at a traffic light. Still, I fear for my life.

Once a driver on his cell phone paid no attention to the stop sign he was supposed to obey. I dashed to the opposite curb just as he hung up his phone and screeched to a stop.

Another pedestrian and I nearly reached the middle of Delaware when a mini-van came roaring around the corner toward us. "Look out!" I shouted to my fellow foot travelers. We stood still, unsure of where to go to avoid injury. Suddenly the driver saw us and swerved. She continued on, leaving us shaken, but unhurt.

Not all drivers obey traffic signals. One day I began crossing in front of a stopped Metro bus. The traffic signal indicated it was safe for me to proceed. A driver attempted to pass the bus and ignore the signal. Thankfully, I heard his vehicle, so I hesitated.

Just last week, I began to cross at a corner with a four-way stop. An older woman had paused her car at the stop sign opposite from me. Although I was in the crosswalk she would have to drive through, she proceeded and narrowly missed me.

I choose to walk, but not everyone has the choice. Some cannot afford public transportation, or find it does not meet their needs. Others cannot afford a motor vehicle. Many people must walk in all kinds of weather.

According to a retired traffic policeman, the cause of most accidents is driver inattention. Children with school bags and people with canes or walkers depend upon those behind the wheel to remain observant. "Watch out" should be everyone's slogan, not that of only pedestrians.

I pass a man who regularly travels the Delaware Avenue sidewalks in a wheelchair. His courage fortifies mine as I watch him cross the street. I worry about him when poor weather may obscure driver's views.

When I want exercise from a good long walk, I plan a trip for out-of-town. I don't feel safe walking here. Inattentive drivers have made me wary and ready to take up running . . . for my life.

SANDY MCPHERSON CARRUBBA, a freelance writer from Kenmore, may start carrying a home-made stop sign when she walks locally.

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