Car And Pedestrian Interactions And Road Design

Crossing the street can be an inconvenient, even harrowing experience on many American roadways. Car accidents with pedestrians increase in areas where road design encourages people to jaywalk or where crosswalks are not properly marked. Even where crosswalks are available, it seems all too many drivers do not respect the fact that pedestrians have the right of way and that traffic must stop to allow them to cross. When a car strikes a pedestrian, the result is often serious injuries and possibly even a fatality. Some cities respond to accidents by removing crosswalks and making it even more difficult for pedestrians to cross. It is not clear if that is an effective or intelligent solution to the problem of car/pedestrian accidents.

Federal standards outline how much time pedestrians must be given to cross at a crosswalk signal. Still, it is up to traffic engineers to set that timing. In areas where there are few sidewalks and a pedestrian must walk a long distance to find a crosswalk, it is inevitable that people will walk along the street and jaywalk. Bus stops, gas stations, shopping areas and other destinations might encourage walkers to make the attempt to get across regardless of whether a crosswalk is in place. The way that streets are designed may leave pedestrians with little choice other than to cross where it is not safe.

Creating a safe crosswalk requires more than painting white squares on the ground. If traffic is moving at 40 miles per hour through several lanes of traffic, the likelihood of an accident at a crosswalk is high. While drivers need to understand their responsibility to pedestrians, so, too, does the city need to understand its responsibility in creating a safe and effective way for people to get around on foot.

Source: Center for Investigative Reporting, “Car is king in street design, to detriment of pedestrians,” by Zusha Elinson, 30 April 2013