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.

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What City of Sacramento ISN’T doing

The City of Sacramento, that bastion of doing the least amount possible, has failed to notice that progressive cities in the US and worldwide are making changes to their environment to make is safer for people who walk and bicycle, and more efficient and welcoming for people outside of cars.

What the city is NOT doing, that it could:

  • Accept responsibility for maintaining sidewalks, as an integral part of the transportation network. The city continues to shirk its responsibility, spending funds on motor vehicle infrastructure instead of maintaining walker infrastructure.
  • Installing leading pedestrian intervals (LPIs) at every traffic signal in the city. The same eleven have been in place for years; none have been added. The recent legislation, AB 2264, only applies to state highways; it is up to cities and counties to implement on other roadways.
  • Daylighting intersections. This means removing parking from within 15-20 feet of the crosswalk or stop bar, either by painting and enforcing red curbs, or building curb extensions (bulb-outs) at every intersection. Upstream, approaching the intersection, is the big safety feature, downstream, leaving the intersection is much less important. There are interim solutions here, such as painting curb extensions and using soft-hit posts (vertical delineators).
  • Implementing construction zone requirements that accommodate walkers and bicyclists. The current city policy is to provide safe bypasses only if it does not in any way inconvenience drivers. The public has asked that a policy be developed along the lines of the Oakland construction policy, but the city has stonewalled against that.
  • Making transportation improvements that benefit walkers and bicyclists, except with county, state or federal grants. The city simply will not spend any of its general funds on improving transportation safety.
  • Waiting until a roadway is completely repaved to reallocate roadway width to bicycle lanes or separated bikeways, or transit. Compounding this issue is that the city doesn’t share with the public the repaving projects that it intends to do, so the public has no chance to comment beforehand.
  • Lowering speed limits citywide. While it is true that spot reductions have little effect on travel speeds, there are a growing number of cities that have lowered speed limits citywide, with a significant reduction in speed.
  • Enforce traffic laws. The Sacramento Police Department has essentially stopped enforcing laws related to the safety of walkers and bicyclists. This of course is also true in many other places. Police don’t see traffic safety as an issue worthy of concern. Of course so much of law enforcement is used as pretext to oppress, and I’m not in favor of any of that, but if the police won’t even enforce failure to yield to people in the crosswalk, what use are they? We would all be much safer if traffic law enforcement were removed from the police, largely automated, and the money saved diverted to real community needs. Yes, defund the police.
  • Painting marked crosswalks at every intersection. Yes, I know that unmarked crosswalks are legal crossings, but most drivers either don’t know or don’t care, so marking crosswalks is critical.
  • Remove beg buttons. These buttons, which sometimes a walker must press to get a walk sign, and sometimes don’t need to press (this is called auto-recall) are a direct attempt to discriminate against people walking. The city, after much pressure from the public at the beginning of the pandemic, set five crossings to auto-recall, out of the thousands. Of course they didn’t change the signing, so people walking don’t know this. The city it being intentionally obstinate in its defense of this outmoded requirement.
  • Remove pedestrian prohibition signs unless that is a demonstrable safety reason for the prohibition. There are numerous signs all over the city that were placed solely to preference motor vehicle drivers over people walking. The default should be that every one is removed unless the city wishes to do a traffic study to justify them.
  • Install traffic diverters (mode filters) all over the city. These diverters, which allow bicyclists free travel but turn motor vehicle drivers aside, are the single most effective safety measure that city could implement. But the city has decided to take these off the menu of solutions, for no reason that it has ever been made public. The few that exist are in the central city, almost none in other neighborhoods. Another example of privileging the already privileged over lower income neighborhoods.
  • Charge for parking, eveCavrywhere. Residential neighborhoods, where there is usually open parking space, would be charged through permits for the cost of maintaining that portion of the street. Any place where parking is in short supply, market rates for parking should be charged. Giving away free parking is subsidizing drivers and throwing your tax money in the trash.

I could go on with this list for pages. In fact, I have: walking policies for SacCity, and many related posts. But the city is still not taking meaningful action on any of these items, so I will keep reposting. For as long as it takes. And it will probably take quite some while before the city gets over its culture of doing the least amount possible.

Caveat: The city has disinvested in lower income and high minority neighborhoods, probably for its entire history. The first steps should be taken in these neighborhoods, with input from the residents, of course, and not in higher income and non-minority neighborhoods which have always gotten more than their share.

the blind spot of roadway re-design

It has become popular these days to claim that the only real solution to traffic violence is re-design of roadways to prevent bad driver behavior, and to eliminate traffic enforcement as a solution to bad driver behavior. I’m not in disagreement with this. Re-design does prevent a lot of bad driver behavior. Traffic enforcement is very often a tool of oppression by law enforcement on people of color. All true.

But… There is also a blind spot. Roadway re-design does not force drivers to yield to walkers in the crosswalk. Sure, if traffic is going slower, it is less likely that collisions will be fatal to the walker, and perhaps slightly less likely to result in a collision at all, with more reaction time. But a driver that won’t yield at 35 mph is a driver that won’t yield at 25 mph. Failure to yield to someone in the crosswalk is sociopathic behavior, in that it intimidates people against walking, and it is psychopathic behavior in that it prioritizes driver convenience over the lives of others. These people are mentally ill, and they should be removed from our roadways. Not just ticketed, but their drivers license pulled and their vehicle confiscated.

No technology that I’m aware of will automatically enforce yielding behavior, or ticket failure to yield. Red light running cameras are legal in California, but are installed on only a tiny fraction of signalized intersections, and are not even used in many localities. Speed cameras are illegal in California (to protect the guilty). I have never heard of cameras focused on failure to yield.

Law enforcement has essentially stopped enforcing failure to yield. I’ve never seen someone stopped for this violation, and the traffic stop statistics say that it almost never happens. Law enforcement doesn’t care. It sees walkers as second class citizens. After all, they are often lower income and sometimes homeless, people that law enforcement feels obligated to oppress, not to serve. I myself have experienced law enforcement officers failing to yield to me in the crosswalk a number of times. CHP is the worst offender, but all the agencies are guilty.

What provoked this post? I was bicycling home along P Street from the store. A woman was crossing. The driver in the left hand land stopped for her, as did I. The driver in the right hand lane not only did not slow to see why, but blew through the crosswalk, very nearly hitting the woman. I caught up with the vehicle, and saw that both the driver and passenger were high-income, white, and young. When I tried to talk to them about their violation and nearly hitting the woman, they blew me off and implied that I was crazy for even caring about this. This is the drivers we share the road with.

Yes, let’s re-design the roadways. But in the meanwhile, lets enforce failure to yield with serious consequences. The lives of people walking are too valuable to sacrifice to drivers, for even one day. I realize there are equity implications of traffic enforcement, but my anecdotal observation says that the worse drivers are high-income white males. Hardly the oppressed class.

CVC 21950

Walkable Sacramento #8: enforcement

Street redesign is the ultimate solution to the epidemic of serious injury and fatality of walkers, and intimidation of walkers by drivers, however, in the interim, while streets are being redesigned, enforcement can save lives and increase walking.

There are real equity issues with the enforcement of vehicle codes violations. Given that I do not have a way of automating enforcement of failure to yield, that must happen with traffic stops. These stops should be closely monitored to reveal and correct bias.

  • Enforcement will be focused on the three violations that most affect walker safety, in order of priority:
    1. Recognizing that failure to yield to pedestrians both leads to higher serious injuries and driver intimidation of walkers, failure to yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk (CVC 21950) will be the top traffic enforcement priority for the police department. The goal will be elimination of this violation within three years.
    2. Recognizing that speed directly affects the likelihood of serious injury and fatality, make speed enforcement (CVC 22348) will be the second priority. Use automated speed enforcement whenever possible to eliminate the proven racial and income bias in enforcement.

21950 and Vision Zero

California Vehicle Code 21950, failure to yield to pedestrians, is in my opinion the most important violation as it applies to implementing Vision Zero in Sacramento. The Vision Zero Sacramento Action Plan (draft) says “Launch high-visibility enforcement campaigns against speeding, failure to yield to pedestrians, distracted driving, and impaired driving. Campaigns will focus on HIN corridors.” The state code says:

  (a) The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.
(b) This section does not relieve a pedestrian from the duty of using due care for his or her safety. No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. No pedestrian may unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.
(c) The driver of a vehicle approaching a pedestrian within any marked or unmarked crosswalk shall exercise all due care and shall reduce the speed of the vehicle or take any other action relating to the operation of the vehicle as necessary to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian.
(d) Subdivision (b) does not relieve a driver of a vehicle from the duty of exercising due care for the safety of any pedestrian within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.

VEHICLE CODE – VEH, DIVISION 11. RULES OF THE ROAD,CHAPTER 5. Pedestrians’ Rights and Duties; http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=VEH&sectionNum=21950; retrieved 2018-12-15

So, how is the Sacramento Police Department doing on enforcing this code against drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk? Well, from the ‘Sacramento Police Vehicle Stop Data’ (http://data.cityofsacramento.org/datasets/sacramento-police-vehicle-stop-data) of the last two years, there were 101 violations of 21950 recorded, out of 61,151 violations. This is 0.17 percent, or, other violations were 582 times more common.

Anyone spending more than 10 minutes standing on the corner of any busy pedestrian intersection could count a hundred violations of this law. I know this because I do it. It is part of my job and it is also part of my advocacy. In two years the police only wrote 105 citations? I will also add that I have seen Sacramento Police Department officers in motor vehicles violating this very code hundreds of times, on myself and on others. Even the bicycle mounted officers are frequent violators. I will say that officers have yielded to me in the crosswalk, but it is much more common that they don’t. I’m not saying that they are trying to run me down, rather than they don’t wish to be slowed or inconvenienced, and so will cross through the crosswalk when I’m in it. They are, in this sense, just like other drivers.

So what is this disconnect between what is important and what officers do? I’m going to be blunt here. The police not partners in achieving Vision Zero, in fact they are the main impediment to Vision Zero. If they persist in their windshield perspective that pedestrians are the problems and drivers don’t mean to cause harm, pedestrians will continue to die, and drivers will continue to not face consequences for their violations, for their assaults, for their murders.

If you wish to reply that we all need to work together, and consider perspectives, well, please present evidence that this has worked in the part, or some construct that says it will work in the future. I’m not seeing it. In case you think I am picking on Sac PD, things are actually worse in other jurisdictions, but since this is where I live and observe the issue every day, it is the place I focus on.

By the way, thank you Don Kostelec @KostelecPlan for getting me fired up about all the ways in which our entire system is biased against pedestrians, and that those people whose job it is to consider and act on safety are mostly only concerned about drivers and traffic flow. I encourage you to follow his ‘The Twelve Days of Safety Myths‘ series.

Vision Zero and traffic enforcement

Sacramento essentially has no traffic enforcement currently, which has led to significant increase in:

  1. running stop signs (not talking about illegal failure to come to a complete stop, but running at full speed or slowing only slightly)
  2. failure by drivers to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk (actually in the crosswalk, not just waiting to cross).

If these issues of non-enforcement and encouragement of unsafe behaviors is not addressed, the Vision Zero effort will fail, no matter what other actions are undertaken.

I have been watching patterns of driver violation in the central city for seven years, as my profession provides me the interest and skills, while my sense of preservation as a pedestrian gives me the motivation. I can state unequivocally that both violations have increased significantly over that time. While it once felt safe and even a bit welcoming to walk in the central city, it does no longer. Why? That is harder to say, but I think that the lack of enforcement of these laws by the Sacramento Police Department has contributed to the problem. Drivers know they won’t be held accountable for failure to yield, and so they don’t. Of course a few do, but with drivers in the other lanes on multi-lane one way streets failing to yield, pedestrians are at just as much risk as if no one yielded.

I have been wanting to delve into traffic enforcement data for the City of Sacramento and all other locales in the region, but that is a major undertaking I haven’t gotten to. A sampling of data below will provide some context. Traffic stop data for years prior to 2016 is not available online, so I can’t speculate about trends in the data.

California Vehicle Code (CVC) “22450. (a) The driver of any vehicle approaching a stop sign at the entrance to, or within, an intersection shall stop at a limit line, if marked, otherwise before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection.”

Using data from Sacramento Traffic Stops, 2016 had 30001 stops, 2432 of which were for 22450, 8.1%. 2017 had 32267 stops, 2642 of which were 21950, 8.2%. Stand on any single corner in the central city, and you could see this many violations in a day. Clearly, this law is being only lightly enforced.

CVC “21950: (a) The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.”

Using data from Sacramento Traffic Stops, 2016 had 30001 stops, 66 of which were for 21950, 0.22%. 2017 had 32267 stops, 43 of which were 21950, 0.13%. Stand on any single corner in the central city, and you could see this many violations in an hour. Clearly, this law is not being enforced.

Rolling the right on red

An article in the Sacramento Bee today by Tony Bizjak (Back-Seat Driver), Lawmaker challenges California’s $500 fine for right-turn violations, talks about the infraction of not stopping on red before turning right, and whether the fine is appropriate. The article invited people to comment. I’ve written several times about what I think about stop signs, so what I’m writing here is just about traffic signals.

My first reaction is that the people favoring lower fines, or no fines at all, for this infraction are the many of the same people who go ballistic when a bicyclist rolls through a stop sign. This is part of a typical attitude that the things I do on the road are OK, but what other people do endangers me and the social order, and they should be treated harshly. This attitude does not recognize that laws are (theoretically) in place to reduce wrong behavior and not solely for the purpose of punishment.

California Vehicle Code (CVC) 21453 says:

(a) A driver facing a steady circular red signal alone shall stop at a marked limit line, but if none, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if none, then before entering the intersection, and shall remain stopped until an indication to proceed is shown, except as provided in subdivision (b).
(b) Except when a sign is in place prohibiting a turn, a driver, after stopping as required by subdivision (a), facing a steady circular red signal, may turn right, or turn left from a one-way street onto a one-way street. A driver making that turn shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians lawfully within an adjacent crosswalk and to any vehicle that has approached or is approaching so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard to the driver, and shall continue to yield the right-of-way to that vehicle until the driver can proceed with reasonable safety.

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Scofflaw bicyclists, or drivers?

I was walking around midtown this afternoon, and riding this evening, watching the behavior of bicyclists, and wishing it was better. I saw bicyclists running stop signs without looking, failing to yield to pedestrians crossing the street, and not taking turns at intersections. Yes, we’ve all seen it before. But what struck me is that almost all of these bicyclists are also car drivers, and they are exhibiting exactly the same behavior driving their bike and they do driving their car. These are all the same thing motor vehicle drivers do. The only real difference is that the car drivers  are almost all exceeding the speed limit, whereas the bicyclists are not.

Though there are some car-fee people living in midtown, and the number is growing, it is not large, and most of the people riding also drive. What they are showing is the same me-first attitude that shows up on the streets all the time, and it shows because these people are me-first whether they are riding their bike or driving their car. The problem is not bicyclists, it is attitude.