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Rules of the Road, Part II

(The second installment of a three part series to review the rules of the road for drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists)

Did you know that the only time a pedestrian can cross an intersection diagonally is at a signalized all-way walk?

Last Friday we looked at the rules of the road for drivers highlighting some of the commonly misunderstood rules and laws.  Today we continue our foray into the rules of the road from the perspective of the pedestrian. Even if you spend most of your time behind the wheel, we’re all pedestrians at some point every day, so it’s important to understand these principles. 

It is entirely possible that the “rules of the road” for pedestrians are more misunderstood or misinterpreted than the rules of the road for drivers.  After all, we don’t get a permit to learn how to properly walk on a sidewalk or cross the street and you don’t need to pass a knowledge or skills test to become a licensed walker.  Instead, our lives as pedestrians start at a very young age and our walking behaviors are learned from Mom and Dad, in school, and from observing other walkers. 

So let’s take a look at a few of the “rules of the road” for pedestrians and clear up some misconceptions. 

As we pointed out last week, every intersection contains a crosswalk whether marked or unmarked and drivers are required to stop for pedestrians at these locations.  This law, without a doubt, is the most unknown or misunderstood law on the books.  Most people are unaware of this despite the fact that this is true throughout the state of Washington.  So it is perfectly legal to cross the street at an intersection even without the aid of crosswalk striping on the pavement. 

But did you know that it actually against the law to dart out into the roadway or suddenly enter a crosswalk?  The law states that no pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to stop.  Darting out into the roadway is frequently a contributing cause in vehicle-pedestrian collisions.  Stopping at the curb before entering the roadway signals drivers that you intend to cross the street. 

Another little known “rule of the road” for pedestrians is that there are certain circumstances that require the pedestrian to yield to vehicles.  Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway.  So if you’re crossing your residential street to go chat with your neighbor, be sure to yield to cars before you cross. 

In all circumstances, pedestrians should be certain that drivers see them before they enter the roadway.  And don’t let the fact that you are crossing the street in a marked crosswalk lull you into a false sense of security.  Be on guard for drivers that may not see you due to darkness, inattention, or other factors.  Wearing bright, colorful, or reflective clothing can help drivers see you as you attempt to cross the street.

At traffic signals, walkers should always obey the pedestrian signal which will indicate “walk” or “don’t walk” via symbols or text.  Most people have a pretty firm understanding of these two phases, but what exactly does the “flashing don’t walk” phase indicate?  To understand, let’s review the entire pedestrian signal cycle.  The “walk” phase is intended to move pedestrians off the curb and into the crosswalk but not necessarily across the entire street (See our previous post that has more detail about how we determine crossing timing for peds).  The “flashing don’t walk” phase is intended to inform pedestrians that they should not begin to cross the street if they are still on the sidewalk or curb.  Pedestrians already in the crosswalk should continue crossing the street and vehicles should remain stopped to allow pedestrians to complete the crossing during the “flashing don’t walk” phase.  Crossings should be complete by the time the solid “don’t walk” phase appears. 

It’s important to note that pedestrians should not cross the street between adjacent, signalized intersections which are common in neighborhood commercial areas and in downtown Seattle.  Crossing in these mid-block locations should only be done if a marked crosswalk is present. 

Mid-block crosswalk between two signalized intersections in the U-District

The only time pedestrians should cross the street diagonally is when movement is allowed by a traffic control device.  Seattle has several intersections that contain “all-way walks” or “pedestrian scrambles” where pedestrians may cross diagonally.  This configuration is often installed in areas with heavy pedestrian volume like the intersection of 1st Avenue and Pike Street in front of the Pike Place Market or at the intersection of California Avenue SW and SW Alaska Street in the West Seattle Junction.  

There are plenty of other obscure pedestrian “rules of the road” to review.  Want to what side of the street you should walk on if sidewalks are not present?   What should you do if the crosswalk and the curb ramp are not perfectly aligned?  For the answers to those questions and more, click here and here

Tune in to the SDOT Blog next Friday when we look at rules of the road for bicyclists.