No pedestrians in the universe hate to wait at crosswalks more than pedestrians in San Francisco do. This dislike is so complete that if San Francisco were its own country, as 79% of the U.S. population almost certainly wishes it were, the national pastime would probably be something called “making the light.”
If you stand near a crosswalk for a few hours it is not unlikely that you will observe groups of seemingly sane people begin their approach at a leisurely pace only to break into a sprint as they step off the curb, with one of them usually screaming, “We can make it!” as they fly past you. San Franciscans know by heart which street crossings give you a 12-second countdown, a 17-second countdown, or the holy grail of pedestrian crossing signs: the 30-second countdown, and visitors will soon learn that there’s not a lot a San Franciscan can’t do in half a minute.
Some San Franciscans are so finely trained in crosswalking that they can go whole days without ever seeing a red hand. So calibrated are they to the rhythm of the lights that they can actually tell you how many seconds are left on every pedestrian crossing signal in all of San Francisco, and if they are truly an Olympic caliber crosser, the entire Bay Area.
This information could save your life in a city where drivers will run you down faster than crazed Midwesterners at Walmart on the day after Thanksgiving, and if you’ve ever seen Braveheart you still have absolutely no idea what San Franciscans have to go through just to go to work.
Crosswalking has become such an important part of the identity of San Franciscans that knowing your “count” or how long it takes you to cross a street, has replaced where you live on the barometer of social hierarchy. Some people can cross the intersection at Church and Market in 17 seconds and some people just can’t. There are even rumors that the new club “12 and Under” that opened last week in SoMA is checking counts at the door and not admitting anyone whose number is over 12. Do you know yours?