Crosswalk violations call for strategic plan
Jen Gaffney of Baltimore raises what has become a perennial issue in Baltimore -- one that the city needs to address with a comprehensive strategy rather than a Band-Aid. It's the penchant of local drivers to tune out the existence of pedestrian crosswalks. For a past column, I observed the behavior of Baltimore drivers around a well-marked pedestrian crosswalk. What I found is that any pedestrian who relies on a crosswalk to assure the right-of-way better have paid-up life insurance.
Here's Gaffney's account:
I work in Harbor East, and along with many other people, I park in the Little
Italy parking garage on Exeter Street. Each morning and evening, we have to
cross Eastern Ave at Exeter, where there are lines in the intersection which
indicate a pedestrian crosswalk. There is no stop light at this intersection,
which means no pedestrian lights. However, motorists do not stop for pedestrians here, and actually it seems like they speed up when they see someone trying to
cross the street.
Since it's a busy street, pedestrians wait a very long time
for traffic to clear in both lanes. When people get impatient, it becomes a
dangerous situation as they dart out in between cars.
Do you know how to request the city install a "Stop for Pedestrians" sign like
I've seen in other neighborhoods? (Looks like this:
http://www.seton.com/in-street-pedestrian-crosswalk-signs-l2216.html) I feel
like this would make the Exeter at Eastern intersection much safer.
I'll pass along this request to the city and I hope transportation officials will put a sign in place. But even if they do so, I doubt that alone will make crossing safe. What this city requires is a coordinated strategy of using signage, advertising, law enforcement and political leadership to send a message to drivers to watch out for pedestrians -- or else. At the same time, city officials ought to show they're ready to crack down on wayward pedestrians.
First, that would involve a signage strategy. The city should start with the premise that what it's doing now is insufficient to grab drivers' attention. After all, it's tough to talk on a cell phone and look out for pedestrians entering crosswalks. Flashing yellow lights might help, along with pedestrian-activated crosswalks.
That's expensive though. And by itself, it's likely to be ineffective. Baltimore drivers are just too used to plowing through crosswalks without slowing down.
What's also needed is a highly visible, well-publicized enforcement campaign. The police ought to set up sting operations at strategic crosswalks such as the one in Harbor East and relentlessly ticket drivers who fail to stop. Special attention should be given to those who plow through crosswalks while talking on cell phones.
Cadets could be tasked with playing pedestrian -- as they could be trained to assert their rights while obeying the law. They could also accompany officers to court. After all, learning to testify is part of the job.
The city shouldn't just pick on errant drivers. The officers should be just as aggressive in issuing jaywalking tickets to pedestrians who fail to observe the law.
When the sting occurs, local news media ought to be invited to cover the event. Believe me, they'll show up for that. It's great street theater. Repeat a few times at different locations, back up the message with a public service ad campaign, and the message will filter out.
Don't count on police to make this a priority on their own, however. It would likely require a push from the mayor herself. And to get the mayor's attention, it sometimes requires the City Council to weigh in.
So what does the city have to say to this? Getting There invites a response.