Tuesday, December 23 2014 @ 04:50 AM UTC
Contributed by: B' Spokes
By Benjamin Ross, Dissent
The rules for pedestrian crossings nationwide are set out in the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, known to specialists as the MUTCD. Chapter 4C specifies when red lights can be installed. One rule concerns vehicle traffic that approaches busy highways from a side street. It takes 240 cars in four hours to justify a traffic signal.
Under the same conditions, at least 300 people must walk across the main road before a red light can be installed. A pedestrian, in other words, counts for four-fifths of a driver.*
Even then, no signal is allowed if there is another light within 300 feet. This distance is considered a short enough detour to impose on pedestrians, even though, at a steady pace, a 600-foot round trip on foot takes two-and-a-half minutes. Drivers’ time is valued quite differently: engineers classify an intersection as “failing” if an average car is delayed in rush hour by a minute twenty seconds.
If pedestrians don’t use the crossing because it is unsafe, moreover, no light may be installed. Determining where to install traffic lights by counting people who step onto a dangerous highway, critics point out, is like deciding whether a bridge is needed by observing how many people swim across the river.
Absent a traffic light, might Cobb County at least paint simple crosswalk stripes at the Nelsons’ bus stop? No, it may not. The 2009 revision of the MUTCD banned new crosswalk markings on roads where heavy traffic moves faster than 40 miles per hour—just the sort of environment where the only people likely to walk are those who cannot afford a car.
The ostensible rationale for this edict rests on a little known and less enforced provision of traffic law. In most states, a pedestrian crossing the road at an intersection with no traffic signal always has the right of way, whether or not there are stripes on the pavement. Pedestrians, therefore, should need no help getting across the street. In theory, markings exist only to prevent collisions by warning drivers of the need to stop. But in a massive federal study, researchers observed that, in practice, “very few motorists stopped or yielded to pedestrians either before or after marked crosswalks were installed” at intersections with no traffic light.
This much, surely, was already obvious to anyone who’s ever navigated the suburbs on foot. But the study’s conclusion was somewhat more surprising: on roads with four or more lanes, pedestrians were more likely to be hit by drivers in a marked crosswalk than when crossing at a corner without crosswalk markings.
They concluded that the absence of stripes makes it safer to walk across wide roads.
Not only does this defy common sense, but the highway officials’ own behavior contradicts it. Their safety campaigns never advise pedestrians to avoid striped crosswalks and cross at unmarked intersections.