Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Newton Pedestrian Crossing Sting

As the TAB is reporting, Newton and BC cops conducted a sting operation at three Newton crosswalks and ticketed or warned 48 drivers for failure to yield to pedestrians. Excellent work, but what lasting impact will / should come of it?

1. It demonstrates, pretty vividly, the breadth of the problem. All three are significant crosswalks. I travel over the crosswalk on Beacon near Lawrence every day. It's clearly marked. It's in an area -- by a college campus -- that you'd expect to see pedestrians. Site lines, especially during no-parking times, are excellent. Yet, motorists routinely ignore pedestrians. Eleven examples in 90 minutes seems, if anything, low.

2. It might just increase compliance. It's frequently noted that enforcement is only effective enforcing speed limits and stop signs when the enforcement is substantial and frequent at a particular problem location ... a commitment that no police department can make. But, I've often wondered if that's true for crosswalks. I wonder if publicity from such stings -- more than even the threat of tickets -- might gain for Newton the reputation as a place where crosswalks need to be monitored by motorists. Unlike speeding and running stop signs and traffic signals, most motorists probably recognize a duty to stop for pedestrians, they just aren't paying close enough attention when they approach crosswalks. Which leads to the next point ...

3. It demonstrates that we need more pedestrian-operated signals -- flashing lights. People don't pay close attention to crosswalks because, in all but a few places with high pedestrian traffic and no traffic signals, the odds of a pedestrian in a crosswalk are very low. Travel cross the city and its likely that you'll drive over a bunch of crosswalks and see no pedestrians. The beauty of a pedestrian-actuated signal is how it captures the attention of a driver when the attention is needed: when there is actually a pedestrian in the area.

4. It's not just a safety thing ... directly. Safety is clearly an issue. Too many people get hit or killed in what should be a safe zone. There is also, though, an insidious effect on walking based on the perception of safety. If crosswalks aren't respected, people don't feel comfortable crossing busy streets on foot. Which means that people either drive when they don't need to, or those busy streets divide our neighborhoods. On a personal note, the nine-year-old son of NS&S has friends to the east and friends to the west within a quarter-mile of our home. He's far likelier to do something with the friends east because he has to cross Parker Street to get to the friends to the west.

So, bully for the cops for confronting an important public safety issue. If this is going to have any lasting effect, though, it can't be a one-off. And, it's only one piece of the puzzle.


dr2chase said...

If you leave a few shopping carts near a crosswalk, they can be pretty useful for signaling your intent to cross. Just push the cart in front of you and start walking; if it looks like the car won't stop, just step back and leave the cart in the crosswalk, to indicate that you really meant it.

Steve R said...

dr2: Lexington is piloting an idea at one crosswalk for flags: pedestrians pick up a flag on one side, flag cars to stop, cross, and put the flag in a container on the other side: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/12/10/in_lexington_a_plan_for_protecting_pedestrians_on_mass_ave/
The choice of colors was dumb (green... yellow would be the right color), but the program seems to help. It's the poor-man's version of pedestrian-actuated warning, and lighter than a shopping cart (which the grocery store might eventually collect.)

Steve R said...

Another problem I've noticed is that at some crosswalks, the move-able crosswalk signs have a penchant for migrating to the curb. (e.g., Parker at Cypress and Cypress at Braeland) At the curb, they're considerably less visible. I find as a driver that those moveable signs, when they're in the middle of the street, are far more visible than the crosswalk itself. They're a visible reminder that something similarly vertical (a child) might enter the roadway right there.

MamaVee said...

I personally would love to have a citizen's watch on this. I would love ( perhaps too much) to give out warnings to people. The NPD said it's too hard though to make the case stick. But If I just stopped people and took their names and license and reminded them of the crosswalk laws... Not that I have a lot of time on my hands but man I wish I had some official sign and ticket pad to whip out while crossing and being nearly run down.

Herzog said...


You are absolutely brilliant. That is the best idea I've heard in a long time. I'm now thinking about ways to implement this at a difficult crossing I frequent. It's near a hospital, so I may use one of their large wheelchairs instead.

Anonymous said...

I also like those little "State law, STOP for pedestrian" signs that are placed in the middle of an intersection, they do a very good job.

I petitioned Boston to install two on Park/Buswell, and they did, but it took 14 months. The result was VERY noticeable once they finally showed up. Before, you had to throw yourself in front of cars to get them to stop. Now, they slow as they get close and almost always stop.