The PLEA: Crosswalk Cred

The PLEA: Crosswalk Cred

Crosswalk Rules

As a pedestrian, at intersections you generally will have the right-of-way. In fact, the rules are fairly simple.

When there’s pedestrian crossing lights or traffic lights, here’s how they work:

If the light changes before you finish crossing, you still have the right to get across the street.

At all other intersections, pedestrians will normally have the right-of-way over vehicles even if the crossing is not marked. This includes uncontrolled intersections and controlled intersections with stop and yield signs.

Pedestrians also have the right-of-way at marked mid-street crossings. If traffic lights are part of the mid-street crosswalk, these lights must be obeyed.

Uncontrolled Intersections: An Analysis

Even though pedestrians have the right-of-way, you still need to exercise caution. This was well-illustrated in a 2005 study published by the United States Department of Transportation. The Department studied 1000 unmarked and 1000 marked pedestrian crossings from various locations across the United States. Every marked and unmarked crossing studied did not have traffic signals or stop signs.

Once variables such as the volume of vehicle traffic and pedestrian traffic were factored into their findings, some interesting characteristics were revealed about pedestrian safety at marked and unmarked crossings. Here are a few highlights:

  • Streets with higher speed limits had roughly the same number of pedestrian-vehicle collisions as streets with lower speed limits. This was true regardless of whether or not the crossing was marked. Not surprisingly, though, the collisions that took place on higher-speed streets were usually more harmful to the pedestrian.
  • On streets with lower volumes of vehicle traffic, the rates of pedestrian-vehicle collisions were roughly the same regardless if the crossing was marked or unmarked.
  • On streets with higher volumes of vehicle traffic, more pedestrians were struck by vehicles at marked crossings than at unmarked crossings. The researchers speculated that this was because pedestrians who are statistically more prone to being hit by vehicles (seniors and children) were more likely to cross these streets at the marked crossings.
  • Marked or unmarked, the most dangerous crossings were multi-lane roads. Often, one vehicle would stop for a pedestrian, but vehicles in other lanes would not stop.
  • As a whole, their study revealed that 28% of crashes were the fault of the pedestrian.

The study concluded that because marked and unmarked pedestrian crossings had roughly the same number of pedestrian-vehicle collisions, simply painting in crosswalk lines or marking them with signage would have little or no impact on pedestrian safety. City planners had to do more.

The study suggested that to improve pedestrian safety, crosswalks needed to be built with such improvements as:

  • medians on multi-lane roads for pedestrians to take refuge
  • traffic signals to stop traffic
  • curb extensions to reduce crossing distance
  • traffic calming measures such as speed bumps and raised crosswalks
  • lighting to reduce nighttime collisions

The presence of a marked crosswalk, alone, may have given pedestrians the illusion of being safer, but in practice they did little to improve pedestrian safety.

Always Look Out for Drivers

If anything, this study reinforced the importance of being vigilant when crossing the street. Even when you have the right of way, don’t take any chances. Before crossing, look left, right, and left again. And make eye contact with drivers to make sure they see you.


  1. Do you feel safe as a pedestrian? What improvements could be made to your community?
  2. How could you lobby for changes to your community’s pedestrian infrastructure?