Something There Is that Doesn’t Love a Crosswalk*

If you guessed “Nashville drivers”—you’re right!

Despite the fact that the law states “Traffic should yield to pedestrians when the are preparing to cross or crossing the street at a marked or unmarked crosswalk,” and the presence of brand-new, neon yellow signs helpfully pointing out the crosswalk I use every day during my commute, drivers rarely yield to pedestrians in this city.

The Beatles would have had to wait ages to cross the road if they'd tried to take this picture in Nashville

The Beatles would have had to wait ages to cross the road in Nashville.

In some ways I can understand why drivers might not stop for me—after all, I stay on my bike to cross and am not, strictly speaking, a “pedestrian.” But I see it happen to women, men, parents with children, on a daily basis—all of them waiting patiently on the corner, sometimes in a light drizzle or blazing sun, until there’s a big enough opening in traffic or until a driver with 1.) manners or 2.) knowledge of the law can carve 30 seconds out of their busy day to let someone cross safely.

So I was dismayed, but not really surprised, when last week Nashville was named one of the least friendly cities for pedestrians (with a very active headline on the article—I think Tom Vanderbilt would approve). The failure of drivers to yield in crosswalks is an indicator of how much drivers in this city (and America as a whole) are encouraged to believe the road belongs to them—even the people who are more sympathetic toward cyclists and pedestrians. Of course, it also reflects how the roads in this city are built to suit cars, not alternative methods of transportation.

One of the Wednesday editorials reacting to the earlier article had some encouraging suggestions (the other will not be mentioned):

Much as the state produces public-service advertisements about seat-belt use, Nashville could educate motorists about the law that requires them to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, as well as to observe reduced speed limits in area of high foot traffic. . . .

The bottom line here should be safety. It trumps both street aesthetics (though less-cluttered streets will also be safer) and the need to get around town in a hurry.

Wouldn’t it be nice?

Now that I’ve scared you off the streets in Nashville entirely, I’d like to encourage any local pedestrians and cyclists to come out during peak hours (7-9 am and 4-6 pm) next Tuesday. The Metro Planning Office is conducting a count of pedestrians and cyclists in certain areas in order to make decisions about infrastructure changes—so the more alternative road users we can count, the better! I’ll be helping out in the Belmont area, so wave if you see me and the Bat.

What are crosswalks like in your city?

* with apologies to Robert Frost

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27 thoughts on “Something There Is that Doesn’t Love a Crosswalk*

  1. Mamavee says:

    It’s a problem. MA has pretty strict laws on crosswalks. I remember moving from NYC tohere and being confused as to how to cross a street without a light. I would stand at the sidewalk waiting for people to stop. I realized that I needed to step out in the street to make the cars stop. Often times it works, but it still freaks me out.

    Also I think a lot of drivers do not look at the periphery to see if people are waiting to cross. I know when I drive- it takes work and being poractive about scanning my eyes right and left and going at a slower speed to be able to stop as soon as I see someone. I was rear ended once b/c I stopped for a cross walk. the person was waiting. I saw them and stopped. the person behind me told the cop ” she stopped for a person who wasn’t crossing yet” Luckily the cop saw through her BS and gave her a ticket.

    I’ve been in cross walks and had people blow through the other side. It makes me nervous as my kids really want to walk ahead of me but that is dangerous b/c they won’t be seen. I believe there were two childhood deaths this year of elderly people running through cross walks and hitting the kids *while the kids were crossing with their parents*. I cannot imagine my lifelong rage if that were to happen to my family.

    I’m not sure what to do about it. Our state does really well compared to other states, however it’s still not good enough.

    • Trisha says:

      You’re right: so many people just don’t look, and it is something of a challenge since we’re taught mostly to focus on the road. Pedestrians in cities like Nashville are less common so people often don’t see them because they aren’t looking for them.

    • Catherine says:

      I used to live in MA, too. When I first moved there I was shocked at how people would pretty much slam on the breaks as soon as a pedestrian was anywhere near a crosswalk. Then I got totally used to it, and had a very tough time adjusting to DC life–where even crossing in a crosswalk with the light, while cars have red lights can get you killed by a Metro bus. Happens several times a year, and just happened yesterday (well, the girl hit is still alive but unresponsive, with no ID, as she was out jogging).

  2. dottie says:

    Yes, and Nashville needs more sidewalks! Businesses thrive in pedestrian-friendly areas such as downtown and Hillsboro Village, so you’d think shop owners would be all over the cause.

    In Chicago there are a lot of stop signs everywhere, so if a driver is forced to stop at a stop sign, he or she lets pedestrians cross before starting again. When there is no stop sign, it’s a field day for drivers. I have been known to stand 1/4 of the way in the street, pointing up at the crosswalk sign, staring down drivers – and still usually 10 go by before someone stops. The CPD have been doing sting operations recently (they also did them last year). The video shown on the news is hilarious, in a bad way. One clip shows a car swerving around a pedestrian/undercover police officer instead of stopping. They gave out dozens of tickets this way.

    I believe that in Chicago, cyclists in crosswalks are afforded all the protections of pedestrians, but I’m too lazy to look it up right now.

    • Trisha says:

      Oh, I have a post coming about sidewalks. ;-)

      Like you I’d think cyclists also have protection in crosswalks but unlike the pedestrian thing it’s not something we ever learned in driver’s ed…

  3. Cyclin Missy says:

    Motorists yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks is hit or miss in Grand Rapids. The pun is intensional. Some drivers are courteous and attentive, some just don’t realize or perhaps don’t care what they’re doing.

    I’ve watched countless cars blow through a crosswalk while a pedestrian was crossing or starting on the corner with the right of way. I was hit by a car while riding my bike in a crosswalk. It would have happened again last week, if I hadn’t literally expected the car to do the wrong thing and protected myself.

    This aggravates me to no end.

  4. Ken Hurd says:

    I live in Calgary Canada, and we’ve had similar problems… However things have started to get a little bit better. Police have started setting up ‘stings’ in high traffic locations, essentially having a ‘dummy’ pedestrian attempting to cross the street and those vehicles that don’t stop are pulled over after the crosswalk and ticketed (~$300 if memory serves).

    Ultimately I think it comes down to mentality – If you haven’t done something, or aren’t sensitive to it (ie. your friend rides to work, or your wife always complains about crossing the street) you just don’t “see” those things – You will however notice a $300 drop in your chequing account ;-)

    The real thing that baffles me is drivers impatience. As a cycling commuter the thing that has really struck me (and has in turn made me a better, more relaxed driver, I think) is that driving takes zero effort. Want to slow down? Press the brake. Want to speed up? Hit the other pedal. The only effort a driver needs to put forth is to pay attention… And most can’t even do that.

    Put everybody on a bike for a month and traffic problems would decline greatly.

    • Trisha says:

      Bingo, Ken. Since I started walking and riding my bike I have come to that same realization. Is it really that arduous to have to spend a minute longer in your climatized, fully automatic (for most people) vehicle? After riding through two summers in Tennessee, I say no. :)

    • Mamavee says:

      Yes yes yes! I love it as a pedestrian in the pouring rain and coming to a crosswalk etc and havve a car not want to stop for me. I mean who is getting wet? WHo is dry no matter how long they sit patiently at the corner? It drives me batty. And the same about momentum ( although I am a big proponent of personally stopping on a bike at a stop sign/red light etc) cars can start and stop easily so I do get their impatience to do so.

      I have slowed my speed and impatience consideralby since biking. I wish everyone would too, it would make the streets so much safer.

  5. dukiebiddle says:

    “I’d like to encourage any local pedestrians and cyclists to come out during peak hours (7-9 am and 4-6 pm) next Tuesday…”

    *tisk tisk tisk* Shame on you for trying to juke the stats. ;)

    I think the crosswalks with the yellow sign are pretty confusing. Most drivers and pedestrians don’t really realize that the pedestrian has the right of way. In my town, those signs have been replaced with this sign mounted about 3 feet off the ground. They seem to work much better.

    • Trisha says:

      Great point, Duke. Though you’d think the arrow pointing to the crosswalk, and the fact that it’s a sign you’re tested on for your driving test, would make it perfectly clear, people could subliminally associate those signs with hazards rather than road users (deer, after all, don’t have the right of way). I have started seeing some of the signs you linked to around Nashville, too. It does make things a lot clearer for drivers.

      • dukiebiddle says:

        But remember that thread here where we were discussing hand signals? Those are on the driver’s test too. I’m not excusing drivers, I’m just trying to anticipate their thinking before they run over me.

    • Elaine says:

      They’ve put in some of those signs around here, and it seems like they work. The busiest crossing on my trail commute had one for a while, and cars seemed to stop more often. At some point it got knocked over (or something) and the traffic is back to “normal.” :(

  6. dukiebiddle says:

    I think the problem with the old yellow signs is that they look exactly like the “DEER CROSSING” and “FALLING ROCKS” signs, making everybody forget their true meaning and think they mean “keep an eye out for stupid pedestrians who forget to look both ways.”

  7. Johnny says:

    I think it’s semi-universal that drivers ignore crosswalks, and I’ve seen cyclists do it, too. Hell, I got runover on one of those that cross the sidewalk, and the driver didn’t even get ticketed! In MD, you lose points on your license (2) for driving through a crosswalk with a pedestrian in it. 3 if you hit them!

    But: No one enforces anything.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      3 points for striking a pedestrian. Ha! That’ll teach them.

      Isn’t the MD charge for doubling the speed limit 5 points? Not that you should double the speed, but I’d think actually striking a pedestrian would be worse than going 51 in a 25 mph zone.

      • Johnny says:

        The cops that showed up when a woman ran over my foot and ruined my big toe didn’t even take a statement from me, let alone ticket her. She admitted she didn’t see me, which is like admitting she wasn’t looking, which was like admitting it was her fault. But it was Friday afternoon and all.

  8. Amy says:

    I was hit in a crosswalk last week after being 3/4 of the way through the crossing. It’s nuts.

    When I lived in MA, the crosswalks were much better marked and people knew to step into the street and the cars all stopped! You’ll get run over doing that here in IN, even though the law is the same. OTOH it’s dangerous for me to stop in a car for a ped because that implies the ped can cross, while the other cars will go around me and may hit the ped (or rear end me). Difficult situation.

  9. E A says:

    Ah – I loved the crosswalks when I visited Vancouver and Seattle a few years ago. All the motorists stopped for pedestrians and waited for us to cross. It was amazing. I still hesitated – not quite believing my eyes – but at any crosswalk (whether there was a stop sign or not) the motorist automatically stopped for pedestrians. Only in the Pacific NW?

  10. susancyclist says:

    Although I don’t disagree with your point about drivers and crosswalks, when you are on your bike you are a driver and on a vehicle. You should be obeying the traffic signal for drivers, not walkers. Stop at a red light and proceed on a green.

  11. Zweiradler says:

    I dismount every time I want to use a crosswalk because drivers only have to stop for pedestrians, not cyclists (at least in Germany). Many cyclists here use crosswalks without dismounting, but I find that too risky (and I don’t want to ignore the traffic rules). It is however quite rare in my town that a driver doesn’t stop at a crosswalk. They are probably scared by the idea of hitting a pedestrian. :)

  12. 2whls3spds says:

    The “Right Turn on Red” law was one of the worst things to ever happen to pedestrians. Many areas do better than others when it comes to pedestrian facilities. The town I live near has the curb cutouts for crosswalks and wheel chairs, but no crosswalks or sidewalks…go figure.

    Drivers need to have recurrent training to maintain a license, just to prove they are competent to operate a 2 ton piece of equipment. Personally I think simulators wouldn’t be out of the question.


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