Basic Rules of Thumb for Downtown's Upside-Down World

Don't let your kids read this. What I'm about to tell you isn't exactly "adults only" material, but it is intended for those old enough to know the difference between right and wrong. There are rules about the Right Way to do things and the Wrong Way to do things. And people need to know those rules. People need to teach their kids those rules. For example, you need to teach your kids how to cross a downtown street within a crosswalk when the pedestrian signal says walk. Trust me when I tell you that you don't want your kids to learn about things like right and wrong from me.

This is about a completely different kind of rules. These rules aren't particularly concerned with right and wrong. In fact, except for the first one, they go against everything you should tell your kids about navigating downtown. They're not about how things are supposed to work. Rules like those only work when everybody else is obeying the rules, and that rarely happens. This is real-world advice. And these tips are more about staying safe and getting the most out of downtown without a lot of hassle. Call them guerrilla rules.

Rule #1: Look before crossing the street.

I know this seems basic, but I can't emphasize enough that you cannot rely on drivers downtown to do the right thing by stopping at lights when they're red, or yielding to you when you've got the right-of-way in a crosswalk. Red light or not, stop sign or not, for the most part, drivers are going turn onto a downtown street without stopping if they think they won't get hit by another car. They are generally more concerned about a few tons of metal hitting them than about something squishy in their path. If you happen to be crossing at an intersection, also look behind you. This is the direction that the vehicle that is going to turn left into you will be approaching from. There are reasons this is rule number one. Disobey it at your peril.

Rule #2: Jaywalk in the middle of the block.

Cars will have a harder time sneaking up on you from around a corner if you give yourself a little distance. Recent events suggest that crosswalks are not the safest zone for pedestrians. See also: Rule #1.

Rule #3: Pay no attention to pedestrian signals.

Remember, drivers don't care what your pedestrian signal says. If they care at all, they care about what their traffic light says. Green means proceed with abandon, yellow means speed up to make the light before it changes to red, and red means to check for cross-traffic before completing a turn. Also recognize that many pedestrian signals downtown are designed to facilitate vehicular traffic flow, not to permit pedestrians to cross. As an example, Union Avenue is a one-way street onto Gay Street. Yet when the light is green for Gay, the walk signal for the Gay Street sidewalk is red. A similar situation exists at Gay and Wall Avenue. These are just two examples of how the general rules for how things should work don't apply downtown, and why guerrilla rules are important. See also: Rule #1.

Rule #4: Do not trust pedestrians.

Even though the light just changed, and the signal they're supposed to obey is red, they will step out in front of you. After all, you weren't moving when they got to the intersection, so it stands to reason that you will never move. In fact, some will pay no attention to pedestrian signals at all. Also, be aware when proceeding along streets that pedestrians may jaywalk in the middle of the block.

Bonus Tip: Drink before driving.

As you should be aware, parking at city-owned garages is free in the evening and on weekends. Often, however, you may wish to visit downtown during the day on a weekday. In such cases you should take advantage of happy hour at one of our many fine watering holes and wait a bit (i.e. long enough to be sober and safe) before departing. The parking attendant will eventually leave and you can gleefully slip out after hours, rendering your entire day of parking free. If you have been discouraged by your physician, family, or probation officer from consuming alcohol, be aware that spending time shopping or dining will yield the same opportunity.

Most of these are the Wrong things to do. But if you follow these rules, you'll find your time spent in downtown Knoxville to be safer and more enjoyable experience. Please remember that the above is offered solely by the author of this column as a public service, and the preceding is in no way endorsed by Metro Pulse, the E. W. Scripps Company, the City of Knoxville, or the Knoxville Police Department.

And kids, don't mention to your parents that you read this.