What is a crosswalk?
CROSSWALK: (a) That part of a roadway at an intersection included within the connections of the lateral lines of the sidewalks on opposite sides of the highway, measured from the curbs or, in the absence of curbs, from the edges of the traversable roadway, or (b) Any portion of a roadway at an intersection or elsewhere distinctly indicated for pedestrian crossing by lines or other markings on the surface.
SIDEWALK: That portion of a street between the curbline, or the lateral line, of a roadway and the adjacent property lines, intended for use by pedestrians.
Why pedestrians cross mid-block
The Orlando metro area has once again received the dubious distinction of being ranked the worst in the nation for pedestrian safety by the Surface Transportation Policy Project’s Transportation for America (T4America) campaign. Their Dangerous by Design report puts four large Florida metro areas at the top of the national list: Orlando, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Miami-Dade, and Jacksonville. Dangerous by Design focuses on how too many of our arterial and collector streets are designed in such a way as to make walking difficult and dangerous.
Wider roadways encourage faster motorist speeds and complicate crossings for pedestrians. Using local pedestrian crash data, I found that, per centerline mile:
- 4-lane arterials and collectors had 2.2 times as many pedestrian crashes and 5.7 times as many pedestrian fatalities as 2-lane collectors
- 6-lane arterials had 4.3 times as many crashes and 14.8 times as many fatalities as 2-lane collectors
- 6-lane streets had 2.0 times as many crashes and 2.6 times as many fatalities as 4-lane streets
Pedestrian safety experts have noted from observation that motorists are very unlikely to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks at speeds above 30 mph, but of course most of our arterials and collectors are posted at 35 to 50 mph.
We have, as a community, abandoned most of our crosswalks. Motorists and pedestrians (and even many in law enforcement) do not really understand what a crosswalk is. Florida Statutes (based on the national Uniform Vehicle Code) define a crosswalk as the continuation of the parallel lines of the sidewalk across the roadway at the intersection, whether those lines are actually painted down or not. The definition of a sidewalk is broader than just pavement; it’s the area between the roadway edge and the right-of-way line available for pedestrian use. (Imagine you were in Minneapolis in January. How would you know where the crosswalks were with 6 inches of snow on the pavement? There must be some other way to define a crosswalk besides markings.) And this means all intersections, not just the signalized ones. The chance that a motorist will yield to a pedestrian at an unmarked crosswalk is as close to zero as you can imagine.
So we are left with only the marked crosswalks being seen as actual crosswalks. But even for those, the ones not reinforced with a traffic signal or a stop sign are rarely recognized by area motorists. I’d say “test it yourself” but I don’t want to be responsible for anyone’s death or injury. Worse yet, some motorists believe a crosswalk is an indication of where pedestrians are permitted to cross the street.
A crosswalk not respected by motorists is of little use to a pedestrian. As anyone who has crossed at a signalized intersection in this area knows, and as Keri’s brilliant animation shows, even the well-marked ones with pedestrian signals are routinely violated by area motorists.
What is the most common message to pedestrians from local safety professionals? “Be safe! Cross only at crosswalks!” This ignores the fact that pedestrians are permitted to cross mid-block at most locations, provided they yield to roadway traffic.
We are left with an environment built intentionally to encourage high-speed auto travel, and that effectively eliminates the pedestrian right-of-way at all but signalized intersections. Pedestrians are left with the choice of greatly extending their walk distances to cross at a signal, or negotiating their way across a number of lanes of high-speed traffic. Since crossing at an unsignalized crosswalk is of no benefit, most cross mid-block; those unlucky enough to be hit get the added insult of being deemed “at fault” for failing to yield right-of-way to roadway traffic.
How do we reclaim our crosswalks and make it safe to cross the street again?
[Sidebar: the Dangerous by Design report is unfortunately marred by the lumping together of bicyclists with pedestrians. They don't use bicyclist fatalities in the rankings, but too often equate cyclists as having the same problems. Pedestrians On Wheels syndrome (P.O.W.)]
Flash animation and illustrations by Keri.