Walking in San Jose

There are many positives to being a pedestrian in San Jose. Aside from simply not having to drive in San Jose traffic, I find not having a car to be almost liberating, let alone not a hardship.

No car payments, maintenance, insurance, parking, repairs, fees or taxes to deal with. I don’t worry about my car breaking down. I don’t worry about how much gas costs. I don’t worry about how big the DUI fine is. I don’t worry about the car getting scratched or stolen.

Most of what I want or need is within walking distance. By walking no more than 15 minutes I have numerous restaurants, stores and If I want or need to go further, I can take a taxi or a bus or a combination of the two.

But before I mislead you, I have to say that walking in San Jose presents its own set of challenges. The biggest hazards are the cars, trucks and buses. Unlike my native California, where the pedestrian always has the right of way, the pedestrian NEVER has the right of way in the eyes of local motorists. Technically if you are in a crosswalk (there are some) and the light is with you, you do have the right of way, but insisting on your rights can result in broken bones or worse. Let the walker beware!

There are other things to watch out for when walking in San Jose, among them: missing chunks of sidewalk, assorted debris, holes, open sewer grates, extremely narrow sidewalks, kiosks, people wielding umbrellas, people who have decided that the perfect way to have a chat is to block a narrow sidewalk, not to mention street vendors and sleeping homeless people.

Ticos are not generally discourteous, but if they are in your way (or everybody’s way) don’t expect them to realize it until you say something (‘perdon’ is nice and safe).

A few last tips for you before you walk the mean street. If you need to cross a street, it’s best to cross in the middle of the block, where you can see what’s coming. Wait for a nice big opening and cross. At corners, you never know what the drivers will do. Having a crosswalk and a green light is less protection than being able to see what’s coming from a distance. Downtown SJ is mostly one way streets, and if you can do it, it’s always best to walk towards traffic.

For example, buses make wide turns that sometimes require a foot or two of sidewalk. If you are facing the bus, you have the chance to get out of the way even if the bus driver doesn’t see you (or doesn’t care).

Another tip is to cross with a group of people. If you must cross at a corner, don’t be the first to jump off the curb as soon as the light changes. Let a few other people serve as crash test dummies first. You’ll live longer.

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