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Don't Cross in the Middle in the Middle in the Middle

Today's column on pedestrian deaths starts out with a reference to the wonderful, catchy ditty that the New York City traffic safety folks used in the 1960s to teach kids how to cross the street. Remarkably, while the original film appears to be long gone, the song was reproduced by the rock band They Might Be Giants and the likeness is pretty good.

Here are the lyrics and here are a couple of web versions of the song.

What's striking about the lasting power of the song is that it not only sits in the brain as a sticky piece of music but it serves as a parent-like reminder for many of us who grew up with it--as I dart into traffic in the most suicidal way, which I of course still do, I occasionally here the jingle in my mind. Does it ever hold me back? Here and there, yes, but I have to admit I love the ditty for its intrinsic cheer as much as for its efficacy.

Meanwhile, readers responding to today's column have brought up some superb points:

Antonia Balazs passes along a link to a wonderfully campy but probably reasonably effective street-crossing film that she and other Britons watched while growing up there in the 1970s.

David Biderman notes the problem of motorists running into garbagemen and garbage trucks. I'd never really thought of this before, but now that he mentions it, I recall seeing drivers scooting around garbage trucks all the time. He write: " When motorists see a garbage truck in their neighborhood, they usually speed up to go around it, forgetting that there is often a worker on the ground collecting trash cans or recycling." (Biderman works for the solid waste industry trade association, running their safety program, so he has a special expertise and cause here.) "There have been numerous fatalities and injuries in recent years to sanitation workers. Even more puzzling is the frequency with which motorists drive directly into stopped garbage trucks."

And reader Roger Kurrus, a retiree from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is one of several readers who question the advice that generations of young people have been given to always cross at the corner. In fact, he writes, federal research conducted in the 70s found that "encouraging kids to cross at intersections wasn't necessarily desirable in neighborhoods. Intersections are far more complicated and risky than mid-block in low traffic situations, so a message to cross only at corners was not necessarily a good one."

By Marc Fisher |  February 25, 2007; 6:35 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Come on Marc, you can do better than this. How's about a blog on Fenty who instructs the DC police to use lights a sirens to cart him from meeting to meeting?

Posted by: Curious | February 25, 2007 3:23 PM

Way back in 1970s, Ontario commissioned a wonderful animation from The Canadian Film Board "demonstrating" a high-speed snowplow - it got stuck in the snow. The message -- don't drive too fast when it's snowing or you will rear-end the snow plow in front of you.

Posted by: Mike Licht | February 26, 2007 9:31 AM

Anyone who has spent time walking on low-traffic city streets could tell you that Kurrus is right: the middle of the block is often much safer.

Posted by: Mike | February 26, 2007 12:28 PM

At least if you cross in the middle of the block you have less worry about turning Metro buses.

Posted by: SoMD | February 26, 2007 2:58 PM

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