Why did the pedestrian cross the street… like that?

I just watched a pedestrian cross Bennett Rd like this. She walked almost 200 feet out of her way to avoid the crosswalk. There wasn’t much traffic. She easily crossed the three northbound lanes, waited in the median for one car to pass, then crossed the two southbound lanes.

In every community meeting I’ve been to for pedestrian safety, there’s all this hand-ringing about getting pedestrians to use crosswalks. The DOT and law enforcement expect pedestrians to walk a half mile out of their way to cross our blown-out arterial roads at signalize intersections with marked crosswalks. They just can’t understand why those pesky peds won’t just use a crosswalk.

Perhaps there’s a clue here.

If you want to change behavior, you have to first understand the reasons for it. People behave the way they do for many reasons, real and imagined. For the most part, people choose to do what they do based on experience, perceptions and beliefs, not lack of information.

So, why did she cross the street like that?

22 replies
  1. bencott
    bencott says:

    you can’t trust turning drivers to yield. when you cross mid-block, you only have one direction of travel to worry about at a time. i can’t tell you how many close calls i’ve had as a ped in a crosswalk with a walk signal. people just don’t want to stop.

    • MikeOnBike
      MikeOnBike says:

      Right, if you cross midblock, then you only need to watch for one direction of traffic at a time. Thanks to platooning, there are often very long gaps in one direction or the other.

      I suspect the real reason was to avoid waiting for the ped signal. At large intersections, the walk phase is typically only a few seconds per cycle.

  2. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    She did it because drivers turning right on red will be looking for oncoming traffic, and not looking for pedestrians, making crossing at the crosswalk (at least perceived as, I’ve got no evidence for it) more dangerous than the way you described. And if the light is a long one, standing around waiting for the crosswalk signal to turn green is far more annoying than going out of the way far enough that drivers will see you after they’ve turned.

  3. Todd S.
    Todd S. says:

    As others noted, crossing a street away from an intersection means fewer directions for you to get hit from. I also noticed in the picture it looks as if your trace goes over a median. Possibly the pedestrian knew she was too slow to make it all the way in one shot, so she goes half way, stops on the median, and then finishes when an opening breaks for her.

  4. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    Perhaps she’s an actuary who KNOWS that pedestrians get hit much more frequently in crosswalks than outside them and combined that with a little analysis to get “just far enough” away from the crosswalk to stay safe.

  5. NE2
    NE2 says:

    Putting safety considerations aside, it’s completely legal to do this since the next intersection to the south has no traffic light. On the other hand, crossing legally in the crosswalk means pushing the button and waiting for a walk signal.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      That’s exactly right. Whether or not that knowledge of arcane pedestrian law factored into her reasoning, she did get across the street and back to the opposite corner before I got a green light to cross Bennett on Maguire. She crossed legally by yielding to other traffic. If she’d gotten hit, she would have been at fault.

      • NE2
        NE2 says:

        Interesting question, but I don’t think she would have been at fault if she stepped into the southbound lanes while Bennett had a red, then that light turned green and a southbound driver hit her. The law doesn’t seem clear about this situation:

        “Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.”
        But the vehicles are stopped at the light. Does that mean they’ve legally given up right-of-way?

        “Notwithstanding other provisions of this chapter, every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian…”
        Leaving an intersection without seeing an obvious pedestrian crossing the street would presumably violate this.

        • Keri
          Keri says:

          “Due care” applied to a motorist who hits a pedestrian? Are you joking? They don’t even hold them to that standard when the ped is IN the crosswalk!

          • NE2
            NE2 says:

            In this case the vehicle would be stopped when the pedestrian enters the road. One would expect that even our courts would side with the pedestrian if they’re crossing right in front of a car when the light turns and the driver doesn’t notice that there’s an object directly in front when removing his foot from the brake.

            Of course this isn’t a problem (going back to the original situation of crossing away from the light) if you’re fast enough that you know you’ll make it across before any cars waiting at the light.

  6. BikingBrian
    BikingBrian says:

    Another way to look at it is this: if you take it as a given that motorists won’t properly yield to pedestrians in marked crosswalks at intersections, then it is likely safer to avoid the turning conflicts by crossing mid-block. Sad, but true.

  7. Eric
    Eric says:

    Makes perfectly good sense to me. I’ve done it myself.

    Why stand around waiting for a button to take effect and when it finally does take effect, it doesn’t stop motorists from zooming at you, honking at you and buzzing you while you are in the crosswalk?

    Better to cross where turning cars aren’t.

  8. Keri
    Keri says:

    So, between the wait for the signal and the added conflict from turning cars, it’s not only not worth it to walk out of your way to go to a crosswalk, it’s actually worthwhile to walk extra distance to AVOID a crosswalk.

  9. NE2
    NE2 says:

    I have crossed like this, solely because of legal considerations:

    I would probably do the same if continuing straight only if a cop were present.

  10. acline
    acline says:

    At some point I think we have to just say it: Crosswalks, jaywalking laws, and etc. exist more for the convenience of more proper humane attitude about driving large, dangerous machines, then theses pedestrian controls might not be necessary to control pedestrians.

    • NE2
      NE2 says:

      I didn’t say it because I thought it was obvious 🙂
      Pedestrian signals that turn to don’t walk while the main light stays green are the equivalent of bike lanes. Does much of the pedestrian community feel the same way about them? Do they push for more walk signals even if they have a shorter walk time than the light’s green time?

    • NE2
      NE2 says:

      Then she could have gone back to the light to cross without any distance penalty. There was definitely an active decision to cross away from the light.

  11. Will
    Will says:

    I’ve been thinking about this, and I keep drawing parallels to bike lanes. Are we supposed to believe that zebra stripe paint is going to keep pedestrians safer “just cause”? Instead it just seems to direct peds to cross where there are more turning conflicts, and hence more danger.

    Is it really safer to cross at intersections?

    • NE2
      NE2 says:

      Unfortunately the alternative is worse – ‘no pedestrians’ signs on all four sides of an intersection. Pennsylvania has done this for a while on state routes (and there everything that goes anywhere is a state route), though I’ve read that they stopped recently after a DOT chief’s car broke down and he had to walk to get help.

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