We need to change the way we think about crosswalks
Linda G. Sibley
Friday, September 1, 2023
Linda G. Sibley
Safety signage, like this, is needed at crosswalk intersections without traffic signals, to remind pedestrians, cyclists and those on scooters and skateboards to stop and be aware of drivers before they enter crosswalks.
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I nearly hit a middle-schooler on a motor scooter on the first day back to school.
It was early in the morning on Aug. 10. Traffic on four-lane Hamlin Groves Trail was heavy as usual. I was waiting for a break in the fast-moving traffic to make a right turn out of my Horizon West neighborhood.
Finally, there was a break in traffic. But just as I started to pull out, there was the boy! On his scooter in the crosswalk! Inches from my bumper!
Heart pounding, I watched him scoot off, no doubt oblivious to just how close he’d come to being struck by my Toyota Rav SUV had I been just milliseconds quicker to lift my foot off the break and hit the gas. Had I even allowed my car to roll forward, I would have hit him.
Initially, I was horrified. But horror quickly turned to rage because near-miss incidents like this one routinely occur at Gwinnett Drive and Hamlin Groves Trail as well as at other crosswalk intersections along this road where the only traffic control device in place is a Stop sign. Cyclists, runners and pedestrians are in danger of getting hit by vehicles at these intersections because they don't stop to ensure the driver is even aware of their presence.
For more than five years, I’ve worked with other Hamlin residents to bring this dangerous uncontrolled crosswalk intersection to the attention of the past and present Orange County commissioners and members of Orange County traffic engineering staff.
Often, landscaping and the curvature of the roadway forces drivers to stop within the crosswalk simply because they can’t see oncoming traffic when stopped at the Stop sign. We’ve advocated for dark-yellow traffic signage to be placed before the crosswalk intersection, warning pedestrians to “Stop. Look. Be Seen. Proceed.”
A few years ago, Orange County stenciled “Eyes up. Ears Open. Look for cars” on the sidewalk before the crosswalk intersection. That is totally inadequate.
For years, messaging from pedestrian and cycling safety organizations have created a feeling of safety entitlement when pedestrians and cyclists step into a crosswalk.
Pedestrians, runners, cyclists, and, yes, people on scooters, have taken it as an article of faith that they have the right of way in a crosswalk, often cursing the drivers who dare to block their paths. So ingrained is this belief, many folks don’t even bother to check to see if drivers notice they’re in the crosswalk as they blow on by. But when drivers are forced into the crosswalks just to look for oncoming traffic, that’s a recipe for disaster — and perhaps one reason Florida ranks third in the nation for pedestrian traffic fatalities, according to a report by the Governors’ Highway Safety Association. Last year, Florida had 3.70 pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 residents, compared with New Mexico (4.40) and Arizona (4.17).
While those on foot, bicycle and scooter have been taught and believe they have the right of way, an informal survey of law enforcement agencies in Orange, Lake and Polk counties and the Florida Highway Patrol, revealed an inconsistent interpretation of Florida’s statute for pedestrians and crosswalks. Some departments and officers take the view that pedestrians and cyclists always have the right of way, and it’s unlawful for vehicles to stop in crosswalks. Others interpret the statute to mean pedestrians and cyclists must yield to vehicles in the crosswalk at uncontrolled intersections.
This is why the statute needs to be changed to delineate the responsibility for safety. We’ve all gotten the message that crosswalks are safety zones for pedestrians, so we need to raise awareness that at crosswalks where there’s only a Stop sign or where traffic visibility may be low, everyone needs to take responsibility for crosswalk safety. That means, pedestrians and cyclists need to stop before entering uncontrolled crosswalks to make sure drivers see them.
In addition, Orange County must prioritize installation of safety signage at uncontrolled crosswalk intersections to warn pedestrians and sidewalk cyclists to stop before entering crosswalks. Our master HOA is currently deciding what kind of signage should be installed at this particular intersection, but it shouldn’t be an HOA responsibility. This is a county responsibility. And one more reason the statute is ripe to be revised.
Drivers, pedestrians, runners, cyclists and scooter riders share the responsibility for crosswalk safety so we all arrive at our destinations alive.
An avid runner and cyclist for decades, Linda G. Sibley became passionate about crosswalk safety after witnessing two fatalities at crosswalk intersections. Sibley is also the CEO of Neighbors Helping Neighbors and Horizon West Boomers.