This crosswalk in Seattle is a great idea. The yellow bump pad at the pedestrian curb cut acts as a button that stops traffic mid-block when stepped upon. When activated, flashing lights on lamp posts and actually in the crosswalk itself flash to warn motorists to be aware of pedestrians. Plain and simple this is an elegant and safe way to allow pedestrian crossing mid-block (or really anywhere). (via Streetsfilms)
Louisville has its own slightly less elegant system in place in several locations around town. Giant yellow signs with constantly flashing signals remind motorists to yield to pedestrians at certain mid-block crossings. The idea is that when a pedestrian is present, drivers must stop and let him or her cross immediately. It’s not always effective, though. The pedestrian has to be very cautious not to be hit by the driver who isn’t paying attention, thinks cars always have the right away, or doesn’t know what the signs mean. That’s probably why there are always around six giant neon yellow signs and flashing lights strapped to poles at these locations, cluttering up the urban streetscape. The idea is good, though.
The best crosswalk I’ve ever experienced, however, was in Portsmouth, England. The idea is the same as the crosswalks in Louisville we just described, but it actually works. There are light poles painted with black and white stripes with flashing yellow globes that indicate the pedestrian crossing. If a pedestrian is near the poles, traffic stops. After asking a taxi driver why the motorists always stop, he replied the enforcement was very strong, often with video cameras and the penalties were steep (something like a 200 pound fine if caught not stopping).
Before knowing how these crosswalks worked, I was standing on the sidewalk near a pole just looking around. Traffic stopped. I hadn’t intended to cross, but 30 seconds later, traffic was still stopped. After realizing the drivers wouldn’t go until I crossed, I hurried across the street never feeling so valued as a pedestrian. This type of crossing appears throughout England and works because penalties are enforced.
As you noted, enforcement is the key to creating a culture where motorists respect – or at least comply with – the pedestrian's right-of-way. You can put up all the signs and lights you want, but I don't think it will work well without police enforcement.
I was just in Seattle last week and walked across that crosswalk! It was very responsive, moreso than it seemed that other crosswalks in the city are.
[…] Broken Sidewalk Compares Ped Crossings in Seattle, England, and Louisville (via Streetsblog.net) […]
I agree with John’s comment. We won’t make progress without enforcement. I live in Old Louisville near Central Park. I often cross the street from St. James Ct to the Park using the marked crossing. Not once has a police car from the Old Louisville station stopped to give me right of way in the crossing – and I have kids and dogs in tow. So… the point is, we need to make sure the metro police subscribes to the ‘pedestrians have a right of way in the crossing’ rule, first!