Frankfort Avenue in Crescent Hill
Frankfort Avenue in Crescent Hill
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It’s strange when doing the right thing is going beyond the call of duty. After enjoying a pleasant although chilly walk through the Crescent Hill neighborhood in December, I was standing at the curb of the intersection between Frankfort and Birchwood Avenues. As a pedestrian, it’s always a little bit difficult to determine just what to do at an unregulated intersection on an arterial road.

Standing on railroad track side of Frankfort, it’s clear that pedestrian amenities are lacking. There is a crosswalk painted at the road but that’s no guarantee of safety. The nearest stoplight was over 300 feet in one direction and beyond sight in the other. There were no sidewalks.

I decided to wait for a break in traffic and cross at Birchwood in the crosswalk. After all, under Kentucky state law, drivers are theoretically supposed to yield to pedestrians at marked and unmarked crosswalks when there is no traffic light. Easier said than done.

After waiting about a minute, a motorist in the far lane stopped. Traffic near me continued to barrel through the crosswalk and I assumed the opposite driver was waiting to make a turn.

After another minute it became clear that this stopped motorist was actually yielding to me, a pedestrian in a crosswalk. I kept trying to find a break in traffic in the other lane as it was clear no driver was going to observe proper right of way. In the meantime, stopped drivers behind the one polite individual began laying on the horn and passing in the parking lane.

In the end, I made it across and was quite flattered by the generosity of the original motorist stopping and yielding. But isn’t this supposed to happen every time? That’s what the law says, doesn’t it? Just one driver doing the right thing, however, was enough to make me feel a little better on the cold and cloudy day.

But when it comes down to it, why don’t more drivers properly yield to pedestrians? I have talked about those fancy crosswalks with the flashy lights that get in drivers’ faces about yielding and they don’t even always work. Is it that drivers don’t care? Don’t know any better? Just plain don’t like people not inside a car?

I believe most violations are made without the driver even recognizing he or she did anything wrong, but with Louisville’s pedestrian safety record in the gutter, how do we raise awareness of these issues? Enforcement or education? What are your thoughts?

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Branden Klayko


  1. Don’t look for any support from our local councilmember TWP. She spins the traffic as emblematic of the advances of our lovely neighborhood in the new Southern Living. Ours may be a neighborhood that others appreciate for our artisan bread and our deservedly esteemed booksellers, but for those of us who walk, especially with children, there is a lot of improvement to be made. Thanks for bringing up this issue.

  2. What do you expect? People don’t stop at malfunctioning traffic lights either. Try getting off the freeway on a busy road when the traffic lights are out. That’s what I got to do on Shelbyville Rd. last week with my parents in the car…good times indeed.

  3. Half of me believes that the blame rests with the insulation most people have become acclimated to after years and years behind wheels. Many people, safe within the confines of their car, with few/hazy/distant memories of walking as transportation simply cannot empathize with the plight of a pedestrian. The insulation to the environment offered by today’s cars is so strong, I believe it can have the same, negative effect even on those who often get around by walking. All else being equal (same street designs, culture, distractions, etc) I think if all cars were semi open-air, with low-tech, noisy tires and suspensions, people would drive slower and pay more attention to their surroundings.

    The other half of me believes that the disrespect drivers tend to show pedestrians and bicyclists stems from a “me-first” mentality which eschews social responsibility and respect for the common man. Flying through crosswalks, poor excuses citing ignorance of the law, and buzzing pedestrians and bicyclists is not near as prevalent in other countries.

  4. I have voiced my complaints about Louisville drivers before… but I think we should also call attention to the very particular and odd situation on Frankfort. Many people use Frankfort as a thoroughfare between, say, St. Matthews and east and south on their way Downtown. They may or may not think of Frankfort as a ‘pedestrian’ street. It’s just a passageway. That perception is amplified by the one-sidedness of commerce. The track side is like a wall that few few thing emerge from. When I park along the track side and am going to, say, Carmichael’s or Heine, crossing is always fraught with confusion and fear.

    The whole situation calls for some imaginative signage, etc., as well as more sense and awareness from drivers.

  5. I thought that under Kentucky state law, motorists are supposed to bring their vehicles to a complete stop when pedestrians are crossing roadways in a striped crosswalk with & at a traffic signal (“crossing with the green light”) or at a “flashing” caution signal (like the signal under the University Hospital-Ambulatory Care Bldg bridge on Jackson Street). Otherwise, striped crosswalks that do not have a traffic signal or caution signal can be used by pedestrians but do not require traffic to come to a complete stop. At the latter crosswalks, pedestrians use them when traffic clears, which is admittedly tough on Frankfort Avenue and Bardstown Road, but once in the crosswalk, the pedestrian then has the “right of way” and at that point, motorists then must stop their vehicles.

  6. How expensive could it be to install a traffic signal that is triggered by the pedestrian pushing a button? There is a cross walk on river road that i fear will receive this upgrade after a pedestrian is hit.

  7. As I understand it, Jeff, the pedestrian still has the right of way here. This is an excerpt from the KY Driver's Manual (see the whole PDF here):

    "When traffic-control signals are not in place or in operation, the operator of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way, slowing down or stopping if need be to so yield, to a pedestrian crossing the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger.

    "Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at a 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.

    "The law requires drivers to yield pedestrians in the crosswalk."

    The driver always has to yield to pedestrians at marked and unmarked crosswalks with or without traffic lights.

    Stu, a flashing traffic system similar to the one installed at U of L on Floyd Street would likely cost $22,000+. That's how much the UL facility cost with free installation from the city. It is fairly effective although some drivers still don't know how to use it or what it means.

  8. Thanks for the reference to the KY Driver's License Manual. It's been a long time since I drove around Bowman Field with a State Trooper.

  9. Are traditional signals with pedestrian triggered wireless buttons cheaper than flashing yellow lights on weight or motion sensors? They are probably safer. What about signals that are fixed on poles and not over the road like in Jeffersonville, IN? Are these legal? If you are adding a pedestrian triggered stop light on a state highway do you have to have 17 public meetings, 4 studies, a blue ribbon commitee, a T.P.S. report, and the governor's signature?

  10. Taking a (very) cursory glance at the multitude of KY Transportation Cabinet webpages, I’d venture to say that committees, studies, meetings, and a topping of TPS reports would all be necessary to implement any changes, no matter how prudent, to the crossing in question.

    I’m a little iffy on the city-state relationship with road management within metro limits. I am under the impression that the city recently took over traditional road maintenance responsibilities from the state, but I’m not sure if that is absolute. Or who would have final say in something like this. I’m not sure who one would address the TPS reports to; Metro or State.

    A while back, I became fed up with the sad state (completely worn away) of crosswalk markings near my house. (They are quickly worn away due to the sheer amount of traffic and the type – many large trucks. I see this as all the more reason prominant, durable crosswalk markings should be necessary.) I went back and forth for a while with city, councilwoman, et al but, ultimately, a Roadway Safety Request (RSR) submitted to the state department of transportation got the job done. In a very timely fashion, I might add. Unfortunately (and inevitably), the markings were 75% worn off within a month. :-/

    Speaking only to my situation, it seemed like jumping through flaming hoops, TPS reports in hand. And that was only to get EXISTING markings re-lined. I tend to think traffic-device additions to crosswalks would probably require a huge effort for normal citizens without much political clout.

  11. Those that focus on safety overmuch miss the point. The safest treatment there is to completely remove all the crosswalks, thus further discouraging our hero from crossing the road on foot. No traffic engineer is going to get chewed out for removing the crosswalk, because no one can die using a facility that (s)he designed in the way (s)he intended. This effect is chillingly real in the business of providing for “soft traffic”.

    Another ingrained concern of engineers is to protect against motorized vehicle congestion.

    In the real world, we would gladly cope with a little motorized congestion to be rid of the #1 threat to our quality-of-life along state-run arterials: CARELESS DRIVING, including God damned SPEEDING!

    We need to change the engineering focus from walking SAFETY to walking ACCESS. If Brandon has to get in his car for every trip to Heine Brothers, then he’s going to get fat, melt icecaps, and squish your runaway pet cat. All of these are socially undesirable outcomes that the engineers undervalue compared to the very small chances of Brandon getting hit. Instead, lets provide him a means to cross that street with dignity – using the ultimate transportation: his feet. If we have to inconvenience other roadway users in the process, then tough cheese for them. They choose to use socially undesirable modes of transportation, and they have less social right to the public space than the preferred behavior.

    Now the counter-argument to this is that there are more of these socially irresponsible folks out there (motorists). That’s true at the moment. But that’s the product of a massive intervention on the part of government. There was a conscious campaign to legally encumber the movements of people on foot, and to limit the liablity of motorists for hitting them. Furthermore, human habitat is currently designed not for the human form, but for humans in motorized avatars.

    We can change these destructive priorities. Europe did it in the 60s-80s and now enjoys vastly superior traffic safety – but more importantly much more ACCESS. Plus Americans go there on vacation, and I see precious few European tourists coming here for the Midwestern sprawl. Their ideas are better than ours. Let us copy them.

    @Jeremy M:

    Don’t get discouraged. Engineers love to solve problems. Tell them your problem and not your recommended solution, and see what they come up with. See if TWP will back you up with some email support. It may be that there’s a technology out there that solves your problem without you even being aware of it – but the Engineers probably know it because that’s their job. Look at the planned improvement of Lower Brownsboro Road pioneered by Public Works, CCC and even Tina “Speed Racer” Ward-Pugh. 😉

    If that doesn’t work, join and start a thread about it. 🙂