Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Driving in Boston and all that Jazz

It's been a while since I've last posted. It seems like lots and little have gone by since. In late September I went to the Beantown Jazz Festival. The free festival is an all day street celebration of jazz. There were both big name performers and local talent that played on stages set up along a three block or so area in the Roxbury section of Boston. If you like jazz, it was the place to be on a saturday afternoon in Boston. I even have the long-sleeved t-shirt to commenorate the event.

Last week I went to traffic court for a moving violation ticket. Had I just paid the fine, my insurance company would have been notified and my insurance rates would have gone up. In Maryland, you get three occurrances before the insurance company takes any action; up here, well, it's very different.

In Massachusetts, pedestrian right of way is taken very seriously. It's very easy to get ticketed for not stopping for a pedestrian to cross the street in a crosswalk. Many drivers are almost paranoid about this and will stop anytime/anywhere for a pedestrian to cross the street, regardless of whether the person is actually in a crosswalk.

In Baltimore, it's common practice that if a car in front of you stops in the street for whatever reason, you'll quickly whip around them. Up here in Boston, if you did that, you'd probably kill someone.

What happened to me was that I had stopped for a redlight on a street that dead ends into a cross street. I was also talking on my cell phone. I needed to make a left onto the cross street and then make a quick right onto another street to continue on my regular route to work. (It's typical in Boston for streets at intersections to not line up; for intersections to have five or more streets converge. Believe me, it can get very confusing.)

The light changed, I turned left and noticed that a person on a bicycle was on my right, shadowing me (this morning, as I made that same set of turns, a car was shadowing me. Instead of it turning right from the right lane, me having turned left from the left lane, it had also turned left - but that's another story about Boston drivers). As I started to make the right turn, paying attention to the bicyclist, I noticed a pedestrian with a stroller on the sidewalk at the crosswalk. I figured I had the right of way and so kept going.

All of a sudden there's a cop behind me, signaling me to stop. He gave me a ticket for not letting the pedestrian walk across the street. He told me that the "cell phone was probably a distraction" for me and that if it had just been a guy wanting to cross the street and not a guy with a stroller, he wouldn't have given me the ticket. I said I was more concerned about the bicycle and the traffic behind me (this being about 8:40 a.m.) and since the guy with the stroller was on the sidewalk I believed I was okay. He just looked at me.

You don't argue with a cop; I thanked him for the ticket and went to work. That same day I checked the box for a hearing and sent it off.

At the hearing I found that there's a cop who represents all cops, so you can't get off by virtue of the ticket-issuing cop not showing up in court. Also, you're not before a judge but rather in front of a hearings official. You go up and sit in front of the cop and the official who reads what the ticket says and then asks you for your story. You have the right to appeal the official's decision to a real judge and almost everyone who was found responsible did.

When it was my turn I went up there and gave my story. The official asked me where the guy with the stroller was standing, on the sidewalk or in the crosswalk. On the sidewalk, I said. "Not responsible," he said, rolling his eyes. That was my day in court and another day in Beantown.


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