Yield to walkers? Nah.

This is essentially the second part of my red-light-running bullies post. Except that it applies to every intersection, not just signalized intersections.

This is another driver behavior that accelerated with the pandemic. But it didn’t start there. It primarily started with the election of Donald Trump. There was a noticeable change in driver behavior immediately after the election. Many drivers apparently thought, well if the president can say and do whatever he wants without consequence, so can I. It was really noticeable to me how belligerent drivers became. I’m guessing that it was because many drivers see people walking and bicycling as ‘other’, people with different values and political views. Used to be communists, then it was “lib’rels”, and I won’t use the current round of words here. If you are walking or bicycling, you are ‘other’ and if you are walking or bicycling and black or poor, you are truly the enemy. God meant us to drive, and anyone who thinks otherwise or gets in my way is against both God and me. That may sound outlandish, but it does accurately reflect how many drivers view the world.

But back to the driver behavior. Most drivers no longer yield to people using crosswalks. Of course most drivers are not aware that there is a crosswalk at every intersection, whether marked or not. And the DMV is complicit in this, they make no effort to educate drivers about pedestrian right-of-way. The law doesn’t require a driver to stop until the walker steps off the curb (or ramp) and into the street. Common decency would mandate yielding to waiting walkers, but common decency is not common among drivers. Once the walker has stepped into the street, they have the right of way. But most drivers will not stop. They may change lanes to avoid the blood splat on their car, but they won’t stop.

There are drivers who do stop, but when I look at them, I see the fear in their eyes, that they are going to get rear ended by an inattentive driver, or that on a street with more than one lane in the same direction, another driver in another lane will fail to stop or even slow, and they will have to see someone die right in front of their eyes. I understand that fear, because both these things happen with disturbing frequency.

There are solutions:

  • Law enforcement could actually ticket drivers who don’t yield to people in the crosswalk. LE does sometimes do crosswalk stings, but only with extra overtime funding from OTS, never on their own dollar or own time. Of course officers are just as guilty of not yielding as other drivers. I’ve almost been hit by CHP officers a number of times.
  • Automated enforcement of failure to yield could be implemented. I searched for but could not find any references to this, but it theoretically should not be hard, one sensor for the crosswalk and one for the roadway. Probably more advanced countries have solved this, but of course in more advanced countries they have additional solutions and better drivers.
  • Paint all crosswalks. Yes, this would somewhat expensive to do and to maintain, and shouldn’t be necessary, but if drivers don’t understand the law, better to spend more money than to waste more lives.
    • Roadway re-design is of course the ultimate solution.
      • Curb extensions (also called bulb-outs) shorten the crossing distance for walkers, and significantly increase visibility between drivers and walkers. An immediate solution, which can be implemented in a week, is to paint a curb extension and demarcate it with vertical delineators. The temporary can be replaced over time with curbs and planted areas.
      • Convert multi-lane one-way streets into single lane two-way streets. Though this doesn’t solve the failure to yield issue, it does eliminate the multi-lane threat, when one driver stops but other drivers in the same direction do not.
      • Change all three-lane streets, whether three-lane one-way, or three-lane as part of an arterial stroad, to two-lane. We don’t have to, initially, change the roadway. Put up some red vertical delineators to mark off the closed lane, as has been done effectively on N Street in Sacramento and for many construction projects. Allow parking there, perhaps. Blow a hole in the asphalt and put in a few trees. Dump construction debris. Many possibilities.
      • Even better, narrow streets to one-way single-lane streets. I’ve written about his before, but tweet today from Strong Towns reminded me of how important this can be. Hoboken became a true Vision Zero city largely with this type of design. See tweet below.
    • Raised crosswalks and raised intersections force drivers to slow somewhat. Both of these are expensive to implement and take time to plan, but they are real and effective solutions.

Author: Dan Allison

Dan Allison is a Safe Routes to School Coordinator in the Sacramento area. Dan dances and backpacks, as much as possible.

One thought on “Yield to walkers? Nah.”

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