Let’s take a fresh look at that old fish tale about pedestrians not crossing a street midblock. Think about it~why are we insisting that pedestrians cross at corners? Is that not specifically to treat pedestrians and other vulnerable road users just like vehicular traffic and force them to behave as such, waiting their turn at an intersection?
There is a sad reality on our fatality statistics in Metro Vancouver and basically anywhere on pedestrian crashes. You will find that the majority of fatalities are pedestrians over fifty years of age, mostly men, that are crossing at intersections WITH the walk light. And how are pedestrians getting injured and dying? It appears that the majority of crashes seem to occur with drivers turning left through the intersection when the pedestrian has right of way.
This article by ggwash.org is worth revisiting~author Ben Ross who wrote Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism asks why we insist that pedestrians cross at intersections, suggesting that “careful jaywalking” saves lives. Ross observes that while there are “no definitive studies”, statistical evidence collected from New York’s Vision Zero program can show the way.
“That city, where residents routinely ignore signals when they cross streets, can be thought of as a natural experiment. The majority of pedestrian deaths, and a far larger majority of non-fatal crashes, occur while crossing the street legally in a crosswalk.”
The reason of course is that drivers hit pedestrians when they are turning their vehicles, and the constantly changing traffic lights “maximize” chances of crashes.
“Other researchers, working in places with less foot traffic and fewer striped crosswalks than New York, got results that point in a similar direction. They found that pedestrians crossing big highways are more likely to be struck at marked crosswalks than at unmarked ones. On smaller roads, they found little advantage either way.”
The term “jaywalking” referring to mid-block pedestrian crossings was developed in the 1920’s to free up the street for rapidly moving vehicles. Pesky pedestrians were relegated to intersections that were controlled by engineering traffic standards, with the concept that traffic engineers were better judges of pedestrian safety than the pedestrians themselves.The American Federal Highway Administration (FHA) striped highway pavements with the assumption that pedestrians are safer crossing at intersections with traffic lights and all kinds of turning movements versus mid block two-way vehicular traffic.
Almost a century has now passed, and our traffic laws are still not geared to safety. As this article by Nate Vander Broek points out a midblock crossing is safer, more visible and direct for pedestrians to cross without having to walk to an intersection.
In the early 1990’s the US Transportation Research Board estimated that nearly 27 percent of all pedestrian accidents were caused by the “midblock dash”. Installing correct midblock pedestrian crossings would mitigate that impact, and the FHA estimates that these crossings are workable at speeds of 30 mph (50 km/h). Mid-block crossings can also be hard to use for visually impaired people, and do require education for drivers to be alert for them.
Is it time to revisit the mid-block pedestrian crossing?
Images: Michigancompletestreets.com, NACTO.org