Numerous people contacted Traffic Lab this week to chime in on pedestrian right-of-way rules. Here’s what a few said.
Earlier this week, Traffic Lab spotlighted the Washington law that says pedestrians have the right of way at all intersections, no matter their traffic or design.
Numerous readers responded to the story via emails and online, sharing their own experiences of crossing Seattle-area streets on foot, or waiting for pedestrians as drivers. Some offered tips on etiquette to avoid accidents and keep traffic moving.
Here are few of the responses. Some have been edited for length and clarity.
Road rage on Rainier Avenue South
Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., Sabey Corp., Seattle Children’s hospital and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.
My family owns a car, but I take transit and ride my bike for almost all trips. I frequently find myself needing to walk across Rainier Avenue South at one of the many unmarked intersections up and down the corridor.
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Cars that voluntarily stop for pedestrians are rare as hen’s teeth. On those occasions that someone stops in one direction for me to cross, cars coming the other direction will — rather than stop — honk and often curse me out for so foolishly endangering myself and slowing their progress.
— Dan Eder, Columbia City
Bicycles pose dangers, too
Working on Capitol Hill at Seattle Central College, I’m amazed by how much trust pedestrians put in drivers and what they are supposed to do regarding pedestrians’ right of way. What used to be a lesson for preschoolers on pedestrian safety (“Be sure to look both ways before stepping off the curb to cross the street”), I now find myself sharing with college students in my classes (“Take your eyes off your phone for a second and pay attention before stepping off the curb”).
Of the two close calls I’ve had as a pedestrian near our college, both involved bicyclists — not drivers — who ran stoplights. A student saved me from being hit by pulling me back as I stepped into the crosswalk when the “walk” signal changed for us. Being hit by a bicycle running at high speed can be as dangerous as any other vehicle.
— Karleen Wolfe, Rainier Beach
Advice for drivers
Far too often, I see drivers wait to turn after someone steps off a curb on the opposite side of a three-lane road. The drivers wait until the pedestrian is all the way across the road and on the other sidewalk before they turn. This causes huge backups, particularly in downtown or other very congested areas.
— Allison Goodman, Bellevue
“Pedestrians need to work with cars”
It’s one thing when pedestrians won’t pause to let a car finish its turn, or they won’t pick up their pace to help a driver clear an intersection. But when a car is already in an intersection and a “don’t walk” sign is flashing, pedestrians do not have the right of way to step into the street and cross. This happens every single day — people simply keep walking into the crosswalk without a glance. They don’t look left and right, as we were raised to do years ago.
Pedestrians need to work with cars by using eye contact, being visible and remaining attentive — not screen-focused. Or, we all lose.
— Doug Kaimakis, Magnolia
“I’m nervous about being hit”
Drivers making right and left turns rarely look for pedestrians before they turn. Or, they just don’t care and barrel through their turn and then stop suddenly before hitting a pedestrian. I work in the Washington State Convention Center tower, and this happens very frequently at the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Pike Street, where drivers are turning toward Capitol Hill. I have witnessed this many times at other intersections as well.
As a crosswalker who constantly has a 2-ton car stop short only a few inches from me each week, I’m nervous about being hit.
— Annette Tortorige, Seattle
To pedestrians: Be visible
My job requires me to drive many miles throughout the city and the county. I completely understand that pedestrians have the right of way, but there is one thing that they need to remember, in addition to not being distracted: If I can’t see them, I can’t give them the right of way.
— Stephen Fickenscher, Fremont
When a pedestrian is standing at a corner, it’s sometimes not clear whether they intend to cross. They may be staring at their phone. They may be waiting for an Uber.
I once received a warning from a police officer for not stopping for a pedestrian who was merely standing at the corner. They did intend to cross, but the intent wasn’t obvious.
— Richard Amster, Capitol Hill
An issue here
Not enough Seattleites know that pedestrians have the right of way. It’s much better in other places like Missoula, Mont. I almost always was given right of way even on the curb approaching an unmarked crosswalk.
— Ben Roberts, Seattle