Pedestrian Crossings

Pedestrian Crossing
Pedestrian crossings are typically marked with a bright yellow pentagon in school zones or a diamond anywhere else and walking figures.

What Is A Pedestrian Crossing?

Pedestrian crossings are areas designated for foot traffic, that are intended to increase pedestrian safety and facilitate the flow of vehicular traffic. They are absolutely vital in maintaining order in the streets and protecting both drivers and pedestrians on the road. While pedestrian crossings have been around for quite some time, their definition and markings have changed and evolved over the years.

In 1992, the Uniform Vehicle Code1 defined a crosswalk as “part of a roadway at an intersection included within the connections of the lateral lines of sidewalks… or elsewhere distinctly indicated for pedestrian crossing by lines or other markings on the surface.” According to this definition crosswalks at intersections need not be marked if they occur as a continuation of a sidewalk at an intersection. However, the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices stipulates that a crosswalk may be marked with paint or other materials.

Most commonly in the United States and around the world, crosswalks are denoted by zebra crossing stripes, alternating between white and a dark color. These stripes are used both at intersections with lights and crosswalks without lights. In general, pedestrians are given the right-of-way at all crossings, though this absolute focus on pedestrians has historically resulted in mixed safety results.
Children at Crosswalk
September 25 1962—Mrs. Elliot Knauer of 4919 Dorchester holds up a hand-made STOP sign at the intersection of 49th and Dorchester. From SmartSign’s collection.

History of the Pedestrian Crossing, and its Effectiveness

The first country to actively attempt pedestrian safety was England2 . Prior to motor vehicles, foot traffic would compete mostly with horse and carriage traffic. Early regulations involved mandatory forfeiture of any animal or cart involved in a fatal accident. However, those regulations soon changed to encourage people to adopt more mobile transport, leading to an increase in pedestrian fatalities.

The use of designated foot traffic crosswalks with lighted indicators and zebra stripes began in England and is still in use today. The signals were manufactured by railway signal makers and consisted of a lever that was raised and lowered by a police officer.

In 1929, local traffic authorities3 could designate crosswalks for pedestrians, but pedestrians were granted right of way over all vehicles so long as they adhered to traffic signals. By 1955, legislature required “walk” and “don’t walk” signals at intersections. Crosswalks near schools and in residential areas with heavy pedestrian traffic receivedadditional markings and signs. By 1978, laws were passed to ensure all vehicles must yield to pedestrians on curbs or in crosswalks, while pedestrians must yield to vehicles when not in these locations4 . This law reflects a growing awareness of different parties on the road, and effectively prohibits “jay-walking” or crossing outside of a clearly marked pedestrian crossing. The exceptions to these rules stipulate that vehicular and foot traffic must yield to emergency vehicles with lights or sirens. In 1994, crosswalk rules were slightly amended to require drivers to grant right-of-way to pedestrians, and not just yield.

Some Relevant Statistics

Jackie Coogan Safety Poster
The Brooklyn Safety Council used Jackie Coogan to attract children to this poster, which was distributed in hundred thousand lots in Brooklyn. When the Jackie Coogan poster was issued by the council, not a soul was killed by traffic in eleven days.
Even with all of these regulations, pedestrian fatalities continue to occur. While all pedestrians are at risk, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration5 finds that young boys between the ages of 5 and 9 are most likely to be involved in a pedestrian crash, while older people, though less likely to be hit, are more prone to suffer a fatality. The NHTSA also finds that speeding is a contributing factor in about one third of fatal crashes, and alcohol is involved in approximately 40%. With an estimated 70,000 pedestrians killed yearly worldwide in motor vehicle collisions, the importance of firm laws, proper signage, and careful attention is clear.

Crosswalk Signs

Beware of the careless walker
October 10, 1950—A propaganda poster to remind drivers to look out for careless pedestrians and to keep pedestrians mindful of their own actions.
Perhaps the greatest defense against pedestrian collisions is caution from both motorists and pedestrians alike. Pedestrian crossing signage, usually a yellow pentagon- or diamond-shaped sign with two figures walking, can warn drivers on approach to areas with heavy foot traffic. Zebra crossings and standing signs advising drivers to yield also serve this purpose. Additionally, pedestrians need to be mindful of crossing in the proper places. Jay-walking, or crossing outside of crosswalks, can be dangerous, as drivers are often unprepared for an unexpected pedestrianin the street.
Cities have always seen high levels of pedestrian collisions, and taking precautions with safety has been shown to successfully lower the number of fatalities and accidents. Showing respect and sharing the road are the easiest ways to lessen the danger that pedestrian traffic poses.
Since the days of horse drawn chariots and through the changes in transportation, pedestrians have always competed for safe road space. Signs and markings help them achieve safer roads, but only as much as the people on the road pay attention to those around them.
1 US Department of Transportation: Federal Highway Administration, "Pedestrian Safety Guide and Countermeasure Selection System: Crash Statistics." Last modified 2004.Accessed June 18, 2012.
2 Ishaque, Muhammad M., and Robert B. Noland. Centre for Transport Studies, "Making Roads Safe For Pedestrians or Keeping Them Out of The Way: A Historical Perspective on Pedestrian Policies in Britain." Last modified 2005.Accessed June 18, 2012.
3 Jordan, Laura. The Connecticut General Assembly: Office of Legislative Research, "Traffic Regulations." Last modified January 31, 1997.Accessed June 18, 2012.
4 Weingroff, Richard. US Department of Transportation: Federal Highway Administation, "Highway History." Last modified April 07, 2011.Accessed June 18, 2012.
5 Burnell, Tamiko. US Department of Transportation: Federal Highway Administation, "Pedestrian Safety- Report To Congress." Last modified August 2008.Accessed June 18, 2012.

Like this topic? Check out our related products: